Daniel Patrick Moynihan, political ally of Israel, dies at 76

WASHINGTON — Daniel Patrick Moynihan once received a $1,000 political contribution from a woman who wrote that she would have doubled the amount if only Moynihan would spend less time speaking out against the infamous "Zionism Equals Racism" resolution in the United Nations.

Moynihan, who had been U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, sent the check back, noting that "no one is going to dictate to me my conscience."

Moynihan, who died Wednesday at age 76 of complications from surgery, is being remembered in the Jewish world as a tireless fighter for some of the key issues of his time, including Soviet Jewry and the status of Jerusalem.

The four-term Democratic senator from New York, who retired in 2001, was viewed as more than a legislator; he was a frequent consultant to the Jewish community on how to advance its political agenda.

"He had a whole perspective that was fascinating on these issues," said David Luchins, who served as Moynihan's adviser for 20 years. "What he didn't know about, he asked about."

Moynihan was born in Tulsa, Okla., on March 16, 1927, and moved to New York shortly thereafter. He studied at the London School of Economics before starting his political career on the New York mayoral campaign of Robert F. Wagner.

After earning a doctorate in international relations at Syracuse University, he worked at the Labor Department and later served as ambassador to India.

By the time Moynihan became the Ford administration's envoy to the United Nations in 1975, he already was well known for his policy statements on minorities and urban affairs in previous White House administrations. But it was at the United Nations that he first came to the attention of the Jewish community, as he battled the resolution denigrating Zionism that the international body had approved.

"He was a scholar, he thought that words mattered," Luchins said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who served with Moynihan in Congress, said the fight against the U.N. resolution will be the senator's legacy.

"I think he was genuinely shocked and outraged at the reality of anti-Semitism in the United Nations," Nadler said. "I think it was an issue of right and wrong for him."

He continued to speak out against the U.N. resolution after being elected to the Senate in 1976. It ultimately was repealed in 1991.

Moynihan also became intimately involved in the fight for the rights of Jews in the Soviet Union. Jewish leaders said Moynihan often attended Soviet Jewry rallies in New York, and would meet directly with Jewish leaders on the issue, rarely delegating to his staff.

"For him, it came down to inequities among people," said Zeesy Schnur, the former executive director of the Greater New York Coalition for Soviet Jewry. "He couldn't understand why a country would spend so much time, energy and money to hamper a basic human right for people."

"I just think that he had a kind of kinship with us, not only as Jewish people but as people who had ideals and concepts of what the world should be like," said Bernice Tannenbaum, a former president of Hadassah and chair of the World Zionist Organization.

Moynihan is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, three children and two grandchildren.