I found my position quixotic, and I thought it best to tell him so frankly. The Jewish people was at a turning point. If we succeeded, we would realize a millennial dream. If we failed, that dream might be extinguished for generations to come. The key to this turning point in the first part of the UN meeting would lie in the hands of a small island country in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with a population of less than 175,000. It is a quality of multilateral diplomacy that governments may sometimes determine great issues in which they themselves are only remotely involved, but which are of desperate consequence to others far away. Our future as a people depended on its most decisive day on the momentum or atmosphere which would be created by a representative of Iceland. I invited Ambassador Thors to reflect on the historic mystery involved.
He replied with disconcerting emotion. He said that Iceland was far less remote from Jewish destiny than I presumed. In its culture it was deeply impregnated with Biblical memories. Moreover, it was a stubborn and tenacious democracy, guarding its national particularity within its rain-swept island boundaries for century upon century – a people determined to be itself, sharing its language and literature with no other nation, and refusing to abandon its remote island outpost for warmer and gentler climes elsewhere. Such a people could be relied upon to understand the perseverance with which the Jewish people clung to its own specificity and to the recollections of its own patrimony. Ambassador Thors fully accepted my argument that what was needed now was “decision,” not the vain pursuit of “agreement.” If the decision was clear and firmly upheld, it might have the chance of securing acquiescence later on. It was only because all prospects of an agreed solution had been exhausted in the three decades of Mandatory rule that the matter had come to the United Nations Assembly. He would say that if the General Assembly made no clear recommendation, it would be failing its duty, and with that failure some of mankind’s most cherished hopes would subside.
I made for the United Nations General Assembly headquarters, which was in ferment of tension. Newspapermen, television and radio correspondents from all over the world were concentrated in the lobbies, while the delegates’ seats and visitor’s gallery were crowded as they had never been before The United Nations was facing a momentous opportunity at a very early stage of its career. On the podium, pale and solemn were the President of the Assembly, Oswaldo Aranha, Trygve Lie and the equally well nourished Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Cordier. Aranha called the meeting to order and invited the representative of Iceland to the rostrum. Thors, to my relief, was magnificent….From that moment on, the debate went inexorably our way.
Finally the speechmaking came to an end, and a solemn hush descended on the hall. Aranha announced his intention to call for a vote in alphabetical order. Some of us who were present still retain a memory of the tone in which Cordier recited the votes. “Argentina?” “Abstain.” “Afghanistan?” “No.” “Australia?” “Yes.” “Belgium?” “Yes.” “Bolivia?” “Yes.” “Byelorussia?” “Yes.” And so it went on. When France loudly said “Oui,” there was an outbreak of applause in the hall, which Aranha sternly suppressed. By the time we had gone half way through the alphabet, we knew that we were safely home. Finally, after the announcement of Yugoslavia’s “abstention,” we heard the historic words: “Thirty three in favor, thirteen against, ten abstentions, one absent. The resolution is adopted."
There will probably be very few Icelanders who know this story and wonder how their country fell from being a model of courage and principle to one of self-regard and mock bravery. One doubts it will be widely told in Reykjavik.