NEW YORK, Jan. 16 (JTA) It has been almost a decade since the United Nations rescinded its notorious “Zionism is Racism” resolution, but some Jewish groups are still fighting that lingering sentiment.
On Tuesday, a committee of the influential U.N. Economic and Social Council finally recommended that Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, be elevated to “consultative” status.
ECOSOC’s final verdict, which is expected to be positive, is slated for June at its general meeting in Geneva.
Three times during the past year, several Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority had frustrated Hadassah’s efforts to attain such status, attacking the 89-year-old humanitarian organization as inherently political due to the “Zionist” in its name.
The Palestinian representative and others delayed a vote by demanding that Hadassah answer questions such as whether its hospital in Hadassah- Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem was in fact a “settlement.”
But in recent months, a number of high-profile political figures including the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had joined several influential Jewish groups to pressure ECOSOC to embrace Hadassah.
The ECOSOC committee approved Hadassah’s application 9-5.
The United States, Turkey, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Germany and Romania approved Hadassah’s application. Sudan, Algeria, Cuba, Lebanon and Pakistan voted against, while three members abstained.
“Our record speaks for itself,” Bonnie Lipton, Hadassah’s national president, told JTA after the meeting.
“Although it was pointed out that the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution was rescinded, there was still a strong feeling that this is so, that we are a political organization, not a humanitarian organization. But we know we have a lot to offer to make the world a better place, and a healthier place.”
“The irony,” Lipton said, “is that our hospital treats both Israelis and Palestinians, and after terrorist attacks, we treat perpetrators and victims alike.”
With its enhanced status, Hadassah will be able to participate in international policy deliberations, conferences and campaigns, and will lend its expertise in medical research and treatment, refugee relief, immigrant absorbtion and the rescue of children from war-torn countries, said Amy Goldstein, Hadassah’s director of Israel, Zionist and international affairs.
The ECOSOC committee decision was a “hard-fought battle,” as “friends came out of the woodwork for us,” Goldstein said.
She also noted the efforts of Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Yehuda Lancry; U.S. Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.); and Jewish groups like the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.
For the past year, Goldstein said, Hadassah’s national membership has felt as if it were “reliving the nightmare of the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution.”
It just so happened that the biannual Hadassah meeting of the national board coincided with Tuesday’s committee verdict.
When the ECOSOC verdict was announced to the 200-member board, it was greeted with “a resounding cheer,” Goldstein said.