My mother, European and half-Jewish, has lived in America since the 1950s. Before that, she lived in Israel, a proud Jewish nation continually under Arab/Muslim attack. Her years in Israel were interrupted by a four year long stint in a Japanese concentration camp in Java. As a pre-teen, she lived in Austria, leaving before the Anschluss, but certainly in time to see and remember rising antisemitism.
I mention my mom’s picaresque history because I think it affects a decision she has made in her retirement home, one that has only a small number of Jews, and a lot of politically liberal non-Jews: she doesn’t let people know she’s Jewish. She says that, sometimes, “people say nasty things.” I want to tell her that she should stare those people down or politely challenge them, rather than hide who she is.
But who am I to talk? Aside from the fact that she’s creeping up on 90, and needs to manage her own life in the way that best suits for her, it would be the ultimate hypocrisy for me, hiding behind my nom de cyber, to urge her to get into people’s faces. In real life, I never go around touting my conservative credentials — although, to give myself some credit, while I do avoid labels, I’ll always stand up, politely, for my principles. Also, to assuage my guilt just a little more, I am slowly creeping out of my closet.
Her silence — and mine — got me thinking today, though, when I read about Henry Kissinger’s callous response to the plight of Soviet Jewry in the 1970s:
On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”
This was detente and real-politik at it’s peak. Although Nixon wasn’t particularly fond of Jews, it was not he who desired their deaths. Nor did Kissinger. They simply did not believe that it was worth rocking the boat. They had, or so they thought, a perfectly balanced containment, and anything that messed with that status quo was a bad thing. And if the price of messing with the status quo was two million Jewish lives — well, no use crying over little things like that.
Jonathan Tobin, though, makes an important point:
The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.
This echoes what Natan Sharansky has written: People who live under totalitarianism start doubting their sanity. The reality of their lives is relentlessly challenged by government propaganda which, in turn, is enforced at the point of a gun. You’re pretty sure that you have primitive living conditions, but your government keeps saying that it is offering you paradise on earth. So you start asking yourself “Is this what paradise looks like?”
It’s only when brave souls such as Reagan, brave in that he ran counter to the entire political establishment of his time, state the truth, that the walls of tyranny start to fall. It wasn’t Joshua’s weapons that broke down the walls of Jericho, it was the trumpets. Those of us who have trumpets but refuse to blow them, preferring the security of a status quo that makes us hide from the truth, about ourselves or about the world as we see it, are simply allowing evil to continue.
I know this to be true, and that’s why, slowly but steadily, I’m revealing who I am.