The Battle for Zionism at the UN: Marking 40 Years Since the Historic Speech of the Honorable Chaim Herzog

John Kerry
Secretary of State
United Nations
New York City
November 11, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Moran, thank you very, very much. Thank you for being here, and for lending your success and persona to this event. Mr. Secretary General, it is a privilege to be here with you always, and we thank you for your great work. Ambassador Danon, thank you for helping to sponsor this night. David Harris, good to see you, thank you for your leadership. Ambassador Power, always wonderful to be with you. I love your energy, enthusiasm, and your action. And I think everybody appreciates what you are doing here at the United Nations. (Applause.)

And it is a great privilege for me to be able to be here with all of you. I see many good friends out there, and many who have been laboring so hard in the vineyards. Particularly, I cite Stu Eizenstat over here, whose work I admire. And I thank him for his efforts. (Applause.) And most especially, I want to thank Bougie and Mike Herzog, and the entire Herzog family, for the chance to come here and share some thoughts. And I appreciate the special friendship with Bougie. I appreciate his leadership. I know what it’s like to run for leader of your country and actually come short. (Laughter.) He’s actually born a little shorter than me in that effort, but – and Mike and I have worked very closely together in our efforts the last few years. And all I can say is he is a great intellect, a patriot, and far too young looking to be a retired general, folks. I admire his work. (Applause.)

So, I am honored to be here to share some thoughts, not just about Chaim Herzog and the extraordinary moment when he stood against the forces of ignorance and bigotry, but what this fight means to us today. We are here because we remember so well. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who I had the privilege of serving with in Senate, called it the Day of Infamy, when the abomination of anti-Semitism was given the appearance of international sanction. We are here because we dare not forget what happened to reason and to reasonableness right here, in the United Nations.

We are here to resolve that in our hearts and in our actions we will do all in our power to prevent the hijacking of this great forum for malicious intent. (Applause.) We are here to celebrate an Israeli leader who stood against the tide, and who spoke the truth with historic clarity and brilliant eloquence.

Knowing that I was coming here last night, I took the time at home to go on Google and YouTube. I wanted to revisit these speeches that were given in rebuttal. And I listened. I couldn’t find the video, but I just sat there, mesmerized, listening to these voices, both of them. I listened to the stirring and determined, and passionate voice of Chaim Herzog. And after the vote, the equally passionate and lucid voice of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And frankly, it was probably far more moving and stirring to simply hear the voices without the video, to listen to the clarity within which you could feel the emotion and the anger and the stakes.

Together, I will tell you, as somebody who has given speeches for a long time, these were remarkable speeches. It was clear to me that, though these speeches are part of history, we cannot confine them to history. And that is why we are here. As Ambassador Herzog so eloquently laid out, it was a bitter irony that this vote took place on the 37th anniversary of Kristallnacht, and all that it symbolized for the onslaught of the Holocaust, which he so brilliantly lays out in the beginning of that speech.

It was a bitter irony that this resolution against Zionism was originally a resolution against racism and colonialism, two evils the condemnation of which could have easily been voted for in this body. But that journey to reasonableness was detoured by a willful ignorance of history and truth.

History is full of painful reminders of the words of bigotry left unchallenged that spawns acts of bigotry. And I cannot tell you how proud I was to hear my future colleague speak up on behalf of the United States, declaring with passion and precision the United States rises to declare before the General Assembly of the United Nations and before the world that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act. Extraordinary words. (Applause.)

And Moynihan, Patrick Moynihan, understood that to equate the national movement of the Jewish people with racism and Nazism, as the resolution, in fact, did, was absurd. And, even more than that, it was ominous, because it sought nothing less than to grant a global license to hate. Moynihan spoke of a great evil that had been released on the world, and he was right. In 1975 Ambassador Herzog courageously spoke up against the rising tide of prejudice, which Bougie just told us had been growing over a period of time, and growing in his heart and in his gut at the same time. He spoke with logic and courage, humanity, and, most importantly, he spoke with truth on his side.

It would be too much and too easy to suggest that he turned the tide on that memorable day. But he gave us, all of us, an anchor to hold on to, a connection to justice and to right that has stood the test of time. It would ultimately prevail in 1991, and it is what brings us here today.

Ambassador Herzog, later to become President Herzog, had a keen appreciation of his own responsibilities. He was part of the generation that built the modern state of Israel, that made a desert bloom, and that dreamt and willed the country to life, literally. And so, when he famously warned of two great evils which menaced society in general, and particular – and a society of nations in particular, we all understood the gravity behind those words, because we respected the statesman who spoke them.

When Chaim Herzog stepped forward to denounce hatred and intolerance, he was simply speaking the truth about Jewish history, about Zionism as the expression of a national liberation movement, about how a single resolution spurred a coalition of racists and despots, risked undermining the core values of the United Nations itself.

Too many outside this room fail to recognize the global reality of anti-Semitism today. Too many fail to realize that a witch’s brew of old prejudices and new political grievances and economic troubles and nationalism combine to create dangerous new openings for extremism. So Herzog and Moynihan together have left us a major responsibility to continue to tell the world that anti-Semitism is as abhorrent and vile today as it was in 1975. (Applause.)

More than seven decades after World War II, even decades after the world’s collective horror at the Holocaust, anti-Semitism remains a dangerous menace. And as we gather here, 40 years later, we are resolved to tell the world that we will condemn anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, no matter how their proponents attempt to cloak it in some false mantle of respectability. And just as Chaim reached out to this body in his speech, we need to reach out to the world to raise our voices on behalf of human rights and justice and the fundamental dignity of every human being.

Truth summons us and unites us in common action against anti-Semitism. But make no mistake. Bigotry isn’t just a matter of a threat to Israel or to the Jewish people. It is a danger to all religions, and to all who believe in freedom. That is why truth must unite us in the struggle against violent extremism and against the terrorist bigots of Daesh, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, and so many others, and similar groups throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.

One hundred and seventy years ago, Henry David Thoreau wrote that, “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.” If future generations are to prosper in a climate free from fear, we have to strike at the root. That task is by no means simple. But it is, in fact, within our power.

And here we have to acknowledge another truth: No child that any of you have ever met anywhere at any point in time age two or three hates anybody. Hate is taught. And before we can rid others’ hearts of hate, we have to have the conviction to do so in our own hearts and in our own imaginations. In too many places the wall of ignorance is high and surrounded by a moat of insecurity and denial. In too many places our world is still torn by strife rooted in ignorance or in prejudice or in hate passed down through a generation after generation. In too many places ignorance is abetted by corruption and by the failure of leadership and governance, and a difference of religion or race or creed or culture, of homeland or sexual orientation are somehow seen as threats by too many people. In truth, they ought to be celebrated for enriching our societies through their diversity.

The fundamental struggle for dignity has always been the driving force in all of human history. And that is what guides us. It is a set of universal values and aspirations. And Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in his speech, so brilliantly caught the sweep of history with respect to that quest in every individual for those rights.

We in America know that, even in our own journey, there is still more work to be done. We also know that it is because of the courage and commitment of citizens in each generation that the United States has become closer over time to its own founding ideals, even though there is a journey yet to travel. Our journey has not been without setbacks and difficulties. But I think we can fairly say that we have dared to discuss our challenges openly, and hold ourselves accountable, including through our free press and unyielding commitment to protecting the freedom of expression.

So why do we Americans care so much about the rights of others being respected? Because, in an interconnected world, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Because we have learned the hard way through history that not to speak out is to condemn others to death and, in the end, to lose our own values and our own conscience. And we have learned that our citizens will, in fact, do better and feel safer in a world where citizens we – where the values that we cherish are widely shared.

But there is also, I think, even a deeper reason. Because when human rights tragedies are supplanted by human rights victories, the very idea of progress becomes less rhetorical and more tangible, more real. Because there is no more meaningful agenda for the future than the shrinking of bigotry, the curtailment of conflict, the defeat of terrorism, the prevention of genocide, and a fuller commitment to the rights and dignity of every man, woman, and child.

Why do we care? Because respect for human rights provides the truest mirror of ourselves, the most objective test of how far we have come over the centuries, and how far we still have to go. Because human rights is an idea bequeathed to us by the past with distinct responsibilities. And, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned so clearly as he shredded any scintilla of logic behind the resolution in the United Nations in 1975, he talked to the history of human rights from its first sprouts in the 17th century. And he said, “If we destroy the words that were given to us by the past centuries, we will not have words to replace them.”

Chaim Herzog was a man who understood that truth. And in his moving description of the road from Kristallnacht to Holocaust, he told us that truth as well as anyone I have ever heard. After all, the idea of a sovereign, self-sufficient state of Israel, a modern state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people, was never intended to just be a refuge from discrimination or persecution or worse. Israel has always had a bigger vision. Israel has always built strong defenses, yes. But it has also looked outward, building sturdy bridges around the world through education, culture, entrepreneurship, innovation, and alliances. And no alliance of Israel’s is stronger than the one it shares with the United States of America. (Applause.)

Times may change, but one thing we do know: America’s support for Israel’s dreaming and Israel’s security, that will never change. And that is why we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel here, at the United Nations, and at every international forum. That is why we speak forcefully against efforts to delegitimize or unfairly target Israel for criticism or condemnation. And it is why we remain unwavering in our pursuit of a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, because the vision of Israel itself is one for a Jewish state founded in democracy. And the only way to have that democracy is to have that peace.

The Zionist dream embraces the concept of Israel as a Jewish democracy, a beacon of light to all nations. And that dream can only be upheld by two states living side by side in peace and security. And we all know, from years of discussion and effort, this is not an impossible dream. It is achievable. And as Bougie suggested, it demands courage, it demands leadership, and the very same courage and the very same individual commitment to truth that Chaim Herzog carried with him to the rostrum of the General Assembly 40 years ago.

Change is possible. Fear and bigotry can be defeated. Those are choices we now get to make. As President Herzog reminded us, we all bear responsibility because we all stand before history. So now it is our turn. The rise of bigotry and intolerance and violent extremism is a challenge to nothing less than the nation state and the global rule of law. That is where we are. And the forces that contribute to it, and the dangers that flow from it compel us to prepare and plan, to unite and insist that our collective future will not be defined by primitive and paranoid ideas, but instead, by the universal values of decency, civility, knowledge, reason, and law.

In 2015, today, the legacy of Chaim Herzog that we honor tonight still guides us and more. It commits us to the legacy that we have to leave behind ourselves, and it does so urgently and persistently. That is what you will take away, I believe, from the brilliance of these speeches, from the clarity of their vision, and from the courage of their telling the truth. And let us use tonight, let us use these speeches, let us use this example to heed the call to action, and to define the future. Thank you. (Applause.)