Henry Kissinger
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Photo by Bloomberg
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Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has apologized for telling the President Richard Nixon in a 1973 conversation that it wouldn’t be an American concern if the U.S.S.R. sent its Jews to the gas chambers.

Kissinger made the apology in a Washington Post opinion piece which appears on its website and is dated December 26, 2010.

Nixon had met with then Prime Minister Golda Meir, a meeting at which the issue of the oppression of Soviet Jewry had apparently been raised. Kissinger said in a subsequent conversation with Nixon, "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."

"References to gas chambers have no place in political discourse, and I am sorry I made that remark 37 years ago," Kissinger writes in his piece

Kissinger argues in his opinion piece that his comment was largely taken out of context, while emphasizing that the Nixon administration had worked at helping Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union.

"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," Kissinger writes about the said comment.

"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 these events," Kissinger writes.

During the recorded conversation, Nixon can also be heard making many other disparaging comments about Jews on the recording, from telling his secretary "I don't want any Jew at that dinner who didn't support us in that campaign" - referring to the state dinner held for the Israeli prime minister - to stating that "The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality."

Many Jews spoke out against the remarks when they were published, including Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman.

"I think what Kissinger said is horrendous, offensive, painful, but also I'm not willing to judge him," Foxman said. "The atmosphere in the Nixon White House was one of bigotry, prejudice, anti-Semitism, the intimidation of the anti-Semitism, the stories, the bigotry."

"Here is the irony, here's President Nixon, who came to the defense of Israel, who intervened time and time again to protect Israel," added Foxman. "He understood that Israel is part of America's national security interests and yet he was bigoted against Jews, he was a bigot, he was an anti-Semite. And so when Kissinger, in that type of intimidating atmosphere, I'm not ready to judge. I'm sure he wishes he hadn't said it."