I admit it, after 24 years in this business I was still surprised by the “but-he-was-good-for-Israel” defense of Henry Kissinger I've been reading in blogs, Jewish Week comments and emails.
What Kissinger said, in a White House conversation with that old anti-Semite President Richard Nixon, was this: “The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
That came in a new release of secret White House tapes that were chock full of Nixon's demented bigotry – plenty of anti-Semitism, to be sure, but slurs about just every other ethnic group, as well. Nixon was, if nothing else, an equal opportunity hater.
The gist of the Jewish defense is this: yeah, Nixon was disgustingly anti-Semitic and Kissinger was, as Holocaust activist Menachem Rosensaft said in an op-ed in the Jewish Week, the “quintessential court Jew” who didn't confront his boss's raging prejudices but seemed to play along, but these guys were good for Israel, so who cares?
They “saved” Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, so all sins are forgiven, the argument goes.
Sorry, I don't buy it. Yes, they helped Israel at a crucial time, but the Nixon presidency was a disaster for America in countless ways.
Cherishing Nixon's legacy because of one good thing he did lends unwarranted legitimacy to the long list of bad things – including his vicious bigotry.
Giving Nixon and Kissinger a get-out-of-jail-free card because of Israel suggests Jews will countenance any crime, any malfeasance, any prejudice if it somehow helps the Jewish state – hardly the image pro-Israel activists want to convey to the world.
And further, I'd argue that such arguments just widen the gap between committed, “Israel-can-do-no-wrong” activists and an American Jewish majority that cares about Israel, but about a lot of other issues, including having presidents who aren't horrific bigots and crooks, and is a sure fire way of turning off vast numbers of Jewish young people who know self-serving hypocrisy when they see it.
Kissinger's office put out a statement to the press on Monday that tried to frame his comments in REALPOLITIC terms. I present it here in its entirety.
“The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time. President Nixon and I had raised the issue of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union early in his Administration. In order to avoid questions of sovereignty, we dealt with it as a humanitarian matter separate from the foreign policy issues since, in the aftermath of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, normal diplomatic channels were substantially closed. By this method and the persistent private representation at the highest level we managed to raise emigration from 700 per year to close to 40,000 in 1972. We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the Amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”
Not exactly contrition for a truly offensive statement, is it?
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