Endorsing slaughter in the name of the nation

There’s been considerable amount of discussion in the blogosphere about this exchange between Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon revealed in the newly released White House tapes:

“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.”

Kissinger was even forced to apologize, though his remarks centered on the “inappropriateness” of that gas chamber reference.

But it’s not the first time a prominent figure has made callous references to mass slaughter of Jewish people as an acceptable loss to achieve political objectives. And even more stunning comment, one made much more publicly, in a 7 December 1938 speech by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, delivered at a time when Germany’s genocidal horrors lay well in the future:

If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the people of Israel.

Ben Gurion’s remarks were delivered three weeks after prominent members of the British Jewish community appealed to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to launch a rescue effort to bring Jewish children from Germany to Europe, the basis of what became the famous Kindertransport.

One prominent thinker from the same heritage as Kissinger and Ben-Gurion saw the dangers in belief systems which could so casually dispense with the lives of so many.

Albert Einstein, who declined the offer of the presidency of Israel in 1952, had another take on Zionism, which he described in a speech in the same year that Ben-Gurion was glibly writing off the lives of half of Europe’s Jewish children

In an address delivered in New York on 17 April 1938, eight months before Ben-Gurion’s remarks, Einstein said:

I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical consideration, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain — especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state.


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