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Behind the Headlines ‘the Really Evil Thing’ at the Women’s Conference in Copenhagen

August 8, 1980
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The day after Arab terrorist grenades killed one Jewish 15-year-old boy and injured 20 other persons in Antwerp, Belgium, Ovadiah Softer, a member of the Israeli delegation to the UN Decode for Women Conference, requested the floor at one of the plenary sessions. Complying with a role that such requests be seconded by another nation, the United States eagerly volunteered its support. Instead of giving the floor to the Israeli delegate, the session chairman promptly adjourned the meeting.

That was July 28. Two days later an overwhelming majority adopted a “Plan of Action” which included a denunciation of Zionism as one of the world’s worst evils. Esther Landa, a member of the official U.S. delegation to the conference and a past president of the National Council of Jewish Women, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a phone interview from her home in Salt Lake City that “the really evil thing is that this is the second time a women’s conference has been used for (anti-Zionist) purposes” and has been followed by an anti-Zionist vote from the UN General Assembly.

The first time a UN women’s conference suffered such politization was at the beginning of the UN Decode for Women in 1975, in Mexico City. That conference was followed by a UN General Assembly vote equating Zionism with racism. The second such vote was on July 29 when a resolution was passed calling for Israel to withdraw from all the occupied territories, including Jerusalem.

“We have to acknowledge that they (the Palestine Liberation Organization) are tremendously well organized and well financed” and will “use every UN conference as a forum to push their cause,” Landa said.


Not only Israel, but all democratic countries were subjected to bias in Copenhagen, Landa said. “The democracies did not have much hard in running things,” she said, adding that the PLO and anti-Israel countries at the conference “read history completely differently than we read history, and if it weren’t for oil, I think the world would not pay so much attention to their reading of history.”

Within the parameters of U.S. foreign policy, the official delegation members tried to thwart the virulent anti-Israel attacks. “The stance of the U.S. is not to answer point by point on either attacks on the U.S. or its allies, not to engage in shouting matches with opponents, and not to descend to their (enemies’) level,”explained Landa.

She added that despite U.S. efforts on behalf of a “strong defense of Israel” it was “rather difficult to get the floor because chairs of the sessions were not too receptive to interruptions from the U.S. or other democratic countries.”

Official contact between U.S. and Arab or Third World delegates was nonexistent because “as state officials we were not permitted to converse with diplomats from countries with whom we do not have diplomatic relations,” Landa said. If they did happen to meet, perhaps en route to a session, they exchanged only very brief and general comments, she said.

There was some contact between U.S. and Egyptian delegates and Landa did speak briefly with an Egyptian delegate, She said a meeting was even being planned between an Egyptian and Israeli delegate, but time ran out before this could become a reality. As an official delegate, Landa said the Egyptians acted pretty much as we expected with regard to Israel. For example, an “Egyptian delegate expressed respect for Judaism as a religion but rejected the expansionist policies of Israel.” Landa reported.


“Once the conference was politicized it was unrealistic to expect any results differing from those in New York (at the UN). The American Jewish community was naive because we thought that by exerting pressure on the U.S. government to depoliticize the conference that we could accomplish that,” Landa said. But the cold facts are “we do not have the votes. The other side in the UN accomplished their goals because they have the votes and Israel is the object of all their animosity and hatred,” she observed.

With all the politization “one of the heart-warming things about the conference was the hospitality of the Danish Jewish community,” said Landa. The “very close relationship” between the American and Israeli delegations and the various Jewish leaders “was mode possible through that community.” The Danish Jews provided a place for the American Jews and Israelis to gather. It was at these meetings that Landa was able to meed with Chava Hareli, Israel’s Ambassador to Norway.

As an official U.S. delegate, Landa felt that there were two important positive outcomes from the conference. First was the unanimous approval and signing of a proposal to end all discrimination against women, and second was the fact that many extensive reports were prepared before the conference — focussing world attention on women’s problems.

Unfortunately, according to Landa, the U.S. had to vote no on many proposals because clauses were added and amended to the point where their original good intentions were completely reversed. Although the Europeans abstained rather than opposed the final “Plan of Action,” as the Americans had hoped, Landa reported that many strong statements were mode by the abstainers to the fact that had the Zionism and PLO clauses been deleted, the votes cast would have been in favor of adopting the “Plan of Action.”

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