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December 29, 2010 1:22 am

Kissinger apologizes for comments about gassing Soviet Jews

avatar by Shlomo Shamir

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Photo: Eliezer Cohen.

NEW YORK – Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has apologized for saying in 1973 that if the Soviet Union were to send Jews to the gas chambers, this would not be an American concern. This was one of several remarks Kissinger made to U.S. President Richard Nixon that were recently disclosed and heavily criticized.

In an opinion piece written for Sunday’s Washington Post, Kissinger wrote: “For someone who lost in the Holocaust many members of my immediate family and a large proportion of those with whom I grew up, it is hurtful to see an out-of-context remark being taken so contrary to its intentions and to my convictions, which were profoundly shaped by those events. References to gas chambers have no place in political discourse, and I am sorry I made that remark 37 years ago.”

Kissinger’s 1973 comments were made public about two weeks ago as part of the release by the Nixon Presidential Library of 265 hours of White House tapes that were secretly recorded through a system Nixon had ordered to be installed.

In today’s op-ed, Kissinger argues that “context matters,” and explains the U.S. position in the 1970s on efforts to secure the free emigration of Soviet Jews.

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“Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union had never been put forward by an administration as a formal American position, not because of moral insensitivity but because intense crises imposed other priorities,” Kissinger wrotes, describing the quiet diplomacy that led Soviet Jewish emigration to rise from 700 in 1969 to nearly 40,000 in 1972.

The issue was raised publicly, he added, when the Soviets imposed a tax on Jewish emigration in an effort to restore soured relations with Egypt. Senator Henry Jackson and Congressman Charles Vanik sought to remove the tax through legislative sanctions against the Soviets, Kissinger explained.

“But the issue became intense only when, the tax having been removed by our previous methods of quiet diplomacy, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment was institutionalized,” Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post. He added that his remarks about Soviet Jewry were made during a conversation related to Nixon’s request that he appeal to Jackson and Senator Jacob Javits and explain why their approach was unwise.

“My answer,” Kissinger wrote, “tried to sum up that context in a kind of shorthand that, when read 37 years later, is undoubtedly offensive. It was addressed to a president who had committed himself to that issue and had never used it for political purpose to preserve its humanitarian framework.”

The conversation followed a meeting attended by Nixon, Kissinger, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin, Kissinger recalled, during which America promised delivery of military supplies to Israel along with a peace process and steps to encourage Egypt to drop its alliance with the Soviet Union.

“It was to preserve that strategy that Nixon asked me to call the two senators,” Kissinger wrote.

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