Special Interview New American Voice at UN Panel
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Special Interview New American Voice at UN Panel

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–The "new American voice" heard at the deliberations of the United Nations Human Rights Commission here last month is indicative of the attitude of the Reagan Administration aimed at restoring "the image of a strong America," according to Michael Novak, the theologian and journalist who heads the U.S. delegation.

So far, that voice was raised in the strongest defense of Israel ever delivered by an American delegate at a UN forum when Novak denounced Arab-inspired attacks on the Jewish State.

Equally strong, was the condemnation of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union by Novak’s deputy, Richard Shifter, the U.S. alternate delegate, when he explained why his country abstained from voting on a resolution last week condemning Nazism, apartheid and all forms of racism. He charged that the resolution was a Soviet-inspired "political ploy" that did not take sufficient notice of the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the USSR and elsewhere.


According to Novak, the strong pro-Israel stance of his delegation was taken on the instructions of Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, the permanent representative of the U.S. to the UN in New York. But it is wholly compatible with his own views, Novak told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview here. "When I came to this Commission I heard 30 countries insulting Israel and I felt it was so unfair and cruel that I felt the need to speak up and say the truth. If someone admires a country they should say so," Novak said.

"Friends are needed when alone, not when everyone approves," he continued. "I was in Israel only once in 1975. (Mayor) Teddy Kollek was my host. I was engaged on a study on the future of Jerusalem. My two youngest sons were with me and we spent six wonderful days. I was impressed by the quality of the Israeli institutions, amazed to see so much greenery, such a developed agriculture, so many industries built under conditions of war.

"All the Israeli institutions, the universities the symphonies fulfilled the ideals which we cherish in the U.S. and made me feel a brotherly connection to the type of society (Israel) tried to achieve under difficult conditions," Novak said.


Novak, a Catholic from Johnstown, Pa. whose grandparents came from Slovakia, is a widely published writer whose books and articles have been published in several languages. He has taught at Harvard, at the State University of New York and Syracuse University. At Stanford University in California he was twice named the "most influential professor."

He presently lives in Washington and is a resident scholar in religion and philosophy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative "think tank." Long active in the Democratic Party, he is one of a group of former liberal-to-leftist intellectuals who have moved sharply to the right to form what is called the "neo-conservative movement."

Along with Sens. Daniel Moynihan (D. NY), Henry Jackson (D. Wash.) and the late Vice President and former Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D. Minn.), he was a founding member of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, a group that largely supported Reagan’s Presidential campaign. Kirkpatrick, another conservative Democrat, is also a member of the group. They have been active since 1972 in support of Soviet dissidents, notably Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov and Anatoly Shcharansky.

Asked how a Democrat could serve a Republican Administration headed by Reagan, he said "Reagan’s strength is his ability to bring together people who normally do not work together. He is a great coalition-builder."


Asked how he hoped to accomplish anything in the Human Rights Committee where the Third World Communist bloc and Arab states command an automatic majority, Novak replied:

"My grandparents came from Eastern Europe and to the Jews and Christians from that part of the would there is a common philosophy. My grandmother believed that the world will have a horrible end while the Jewish grandmother believed the end will be a disaster. The pessimism of our grandmothers gave us great power. Any good that happens is a gift. Pearls come from oysters, silk from worms, butterflies from caterpillars and great human vision from poor human clay."

Asked if U.S. delegates to other international conferences would follow the course he has laid down in the Human-Rights Commission, Novak observed that "The American people respect the ego and do not feel right when not strong. What I am saying here will be heard in many places."


Shifter, who is Jewish, was born in 1923 in Vienna and practices law in Washington where, among other clients, he represents the interest of American Indian tribes. He served for 20 years as a volunteer member of the Maryland Board of Education, was active in democratic organizations and in Jewish communal affairs. He visited Israel in 1971 for the wedding of his daughter who worked at Kibbutz Kfar Blum and married an Israeli.

Shifter told the JTA, after his strong statement on anti-Semitism, "We have the courage to stand alone in the Commission and speak up for what we stand for. If we have this courage, others will follow us."

The Novak-Shifter attitude displayed in the Human Rights Commission, caused one sympathetic UN correspondent to report that "The American eagle has found its wings." It prompted the Syrian delegate to remark that a mistake had been made in placing the signs on the delegates’ desks. The American delegates should have been sitting behind the sign labeled "Israel", he said.

The "new American voice" seems to bode well for Israel but may make "life difficult" for some of America’s European allies.

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