JERUSALEM (Sep. 24)
Israeli and American Jewish leaders have warmly welcomed President Bush’s call Monday to the U.N. General Assembly to repeal its 1975 resolution branding Zionism as racism.
Labor opposition leader Shimon Peres said the president’s address proves that he is “no foe, but a friend of Israel and of Zionism.”
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir praised Bush’s words as well, but he and other government leaders also emphasized that the speech would in no way soften their determination to reject American pressure for a freeze on settlement-building in the administered territories.
In his remarks to the General Assembly, Bush said the infamous Resolution 3379 negates the ability of the United Nations to function as a peace-seeking body.
“To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself,” the president said. “This body cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel’s right to exist.”
Bush said that Zionism is “not a policy.” Rather, he said, “it is the idea that led to the creation of a home for the Jewish people, to the State of Israel.”
Ironically, the Israeli delegates to the United Nations were not present to hear Bush’s call for the repeal because they were observing the holiday of Sukkot.
Among Israeli leaders praising Bush’s speech was President Chaim Herzog, who was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time the resolution was passed. He said it would be a “historic moment” if the resolution were repealed.
ATTEMPT TO EASE TENSIONS WITH ISRAEL
Shamir, in a statement issued by his office, said Israel “expresses gratification and appreciation for the president’s speech. The president’s firm words were very encouraging. We hope that other states will raise their voices too against this shameful resolution.”
Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, in New York for the start of the General Assembly session, said Bush’s call for a repeal of the resolution was “only natural. It expresses well the common values which Israel and the United States share with other enlightened nations.”
Levy called for other nations to join the United States in efforts to bring about a repeal.
American Jewish organizations also responded with enthusiasm to Bush’s speech.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether the president’s words will provide an impetus for the steps that must be taken to rescind the resolution. The Bush administration has urged the resolution’s repeal since 1989, but the president did not suggest a timetable in his speech.
The Israelis have indicated in the past that they will not go forward without assurances that they have a comfortable majority of votes.
Dr. Harris Schoenberg, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International, said he believes that support is forthcoming, now that most, if not all, of the Eastern European countries are behind Israel. In addition, a highly-placed Soviet official has offered assurances of Soviet support, he said.
Schoenberg suggested that the time is right for the United States, together with other like-minded democratic nations, to go beyond words of support by introducing a resolution.
In praising Bush’s remarks, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressed the unlikely hope that the president’s appeal would gain the support of the Arab states at the United Nations “and send a dramatic message that Israel’s former enemies may at last be prepared to recognize Israel’s rightful place among the nations of the Middle East.”
Officials in Jerusalem said Bush’s speech had plainly been designed to ease tensions between the United States and Israel, and between the administration and Israel’s supporters in America. In addition to calling for the repeal, the president made no mention of Palestinian rights.
Nevertheless, the crisis atmosphere between Jerusalem and Washington surrounding Israel’s request for loan guarantees to help absorb Soviet immigrants shows few signs of abating.
Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a former U.N. envoy, said Tuesday that praise for Bush’s remarks “should be kept in proportion,” in that every U.S. president since 1975 has spoken out against the Zionism resolution.
(JTA correspondent Jackie Rothenberg at the United Nations contributed to this report.)