Former Secretary of State and presidential adviser Henry Kissinger is defending controversial remarks he made about Jews in the Soviet Union, saying they have been taken out of context.
The comments were recorded in the Oval Office on March 1, 1973, during a meeting between President Richard Nixon and Kissinger, who was then Nixon’s national security adviser.
“Let’s face it: The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger told Nixon. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. It may be a humanitarian concern.”
In a recent Washington Post column, Michael Gerson called Kissinger’s statement “appalling,” pointing out that a number of his Jewish relatives were killed in the Holocaust.
Kissinger responded in a Dec. 26 Post Op-Ed piece
in which he acknowledges that “references to gas chambers have no place in political discourse, and I am sorry I made that remark 37 years ago.”
But he also states: “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.”
According to Kissinger, Gerson suggests that Kissinger and other foreign policy “realists” were “willing to sacrifice Jewish emigration on the altar of détente. The opposite is true. That emigration existed at all was due to the actions of ‘realists’ in the White House.”
Kissinger points out that, before his conversation with Nixon, Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union had risen from 700 a year in 1969 to almost 40,000 in 1972.
He also asserts that he and Nixon sought to preserve the emigration issue in “its humanitarian framework” rather than for “political purpose.”
Kissinger further maintains that a confrontation with the Soviet Union over Jewish emigration at that point would have increased tensions with the Soviets.
At the time, following Egypt’s eviction of Soviet advisers, “an effective global strategy was in place with the opening of China, a broad dialogue with the Soviet Union, and major progress in Egypt and on emigration,” Kissinger concludes in his Op-Ed article.
“It was to preserve that policy that the conversation in the Oval Office took place, and it is in that context that it must be viewed.”
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