In June 1975 I was a member of the Australian delegation to the UN Conference for International Women’s Year. It was held in Mexico City, where for the first time a motion went up condemning Zionism as a form of racism. Australia, along with the other Western nations, was expected to vote against it; the Group of 100 non-Western nations supporting the motion had the numbers but, as ever, power was with the West. Australia had been instrumental in drafting a plan of action to improve the status of women over the coming decade and we were keen to get it adopted.
This meant forging alliances with developing nations and parlaying the opposition to key feminist planks from the Vatican and a number of Muslim states. If Australia voted as we usually did, we risked losing crucial support for the plan; if we supported the motion we would be breaking diplomatic rank and infuriating our traditional allies. In the end, after some hard negotiating, we chose to split our vote, endorsing the plan yet rejecting the motion.
I believed it was a sensible decision but, for me, as for the one other Jew on our delegation, it was not without psychic pain. I knew even then that Israel was a divided society and that Palestinians were discriminated against, but the Holocaust loomed heavily in my mind. Suffering breeds suffering, I told myself, and history had shown all too palpably that the Jews needed a country of our own. Thirty-five years later I have moved on, but UN diplomacy hasn’t. The militarism of the Jewish state and its abusive, separatist treatment of Palestinians, both within its Green Line borders and in Gaza and the West Bank, have been thoroughy exposed. Yet since 1975 there have been numerous such motions equating Zionism with racism adopted by UN instruments, and all have been duly ignored.