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Henry Kissinger, influential first Jewish secretary of state, dies at 100

(JTA) — Henry Kissinger, the first Jewish secretary of state and the controversial mastermind of American foreign policy in the 1970s — orchestrating the U.S. opening to China, negotiating the end of the conflict in Vietnam and helping ease tensions with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War — has died.

Kissinger died at his home in Connecticut on Wednesday at 100, according to a statement posted to his website. He had celebrated his 100th birthday in June with a party at the New York Public Library featuring luminaries from throughout his long career in politics and public affairs, including his current successor, Jewish Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Regarded as a brilliant diplomatic strategist, Kissinger was one of the most influential Jewish figures of the 20th century, leaving an enduring imprint on global politics as secretary of state and national security advisor to two U.S. presidents and as an informal advisor to several others.

With his rumbling German accent, iconic black glasses and legendary charm, he was also a socialite and an unlikely 70s-era sex symbol, dating a string of movie stars and famously quipping that power is “the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

Despite fleeing his native Germany as the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s and losing several members of his family in the Holocaust, Kissinger evinced little sentimental attachment to Jewish interests, telling a friend in the 1970s that Judaism “has no significance for me,” according to Walter Isaacson’s 1992 biography.

The negation of Kissinger’s Jewish identification may have been necessary for a man who rose higher in the executive branch than any Jew before him, and did so under a president, Richard Nixon, known to harbor deep anti-Jewish animus. Others saw it as emblematic of Kissinger’s Machiavellian streak and embrace of realpolitik, the hard-nosed approach to diplomacy that eschews moral concerns in favor of raw assessments of national interests.

After Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir pressed Nixon in 1973 to address the plight of Soviet Jews, Kissinger issued a blunt dismissal.

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger said, according to Oval Office recordings. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

After the recordings were released in 2010, Kissinger apologized for the gas chamber remark in a Washington Post op-ed but maintained his critics were taking it out of context. Kissinger went on to claim credit for the 100,000 Soviet Jews who emigrated thanks to Nixon’s “quiet diplomacy.”

Other elements of Kissinger’s record similarly suggest a more nuanced verdict on his approach to Jewish concerns. At the height of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Nixon ordered an emergency airlift of resupplies to a struggling Israeli military, and memos from the period show Kissinger pushing back against the Pentagon’s reluctance to carry it out.

Later, Kissinger’s efforts to end the war gave birth to the term “shuttle diplomacy.”

Two years later, as Kissinger grew increasingly frustrated with Israeli intransigence in withdrawing from areas of the Sinai conquered in the 1967 war, he pushed Ford to conduct a “reassessment” of relations with Israel. That precipitated a deep crisis between the White House and the Israeli government, but it ultimately yielded an Israeli-Egyptian agreement to resolve outstanding disputes peacefully, which in turned paved the way for the peace treaty that followed four years later.

“There’s no way you could tell the story of Camp David and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty without mentioning Kissinger and the 1973 shuttle diplomacy,” said historian Gil Troy. “If you want to buy into the tough love rather than the love-love approach to U.S.-Israeli relations, the best example would be the March 1975 reassessment.”

Troy also records a less glowing incident about Kissinger in his 2013 book “Moynihan’s Moment.” As the U.S. Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan waged a very public battle against the Zionism is racism resolution at the United Nations, Kissinger pushed back hard, fearing it would undermine his efforts to ease tensions with the Soviet Union, at one point grumbling, “We are conducting foreign policy.  … This is not a synagogue.”

Nixon loved to rib Kissinger about his Jewish origins and his accent. The president later recalled that he told Meir they both had Jewish foreign ministers, referring to Kissinger and Abba Eban. “Yes, but mine speaks English,” Meir rejoined, to Nixon’s great amusement.

After leaving office, Kissinger appeared to shed some of his reluctance to be perceived as Israel’s champion, stating in a 1977 speech that, “The security of Israel is a moral imperative for all free peoples.” In the decades that followed, he publicly defended Israeli interests, arguing that the absence of Mideast peace was the product of Arab intransigence and expressing skepticism of efforts to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran.

That in turn helped secure his embrace by the Jewish mainstream. In 2012, he received Israel’s highest civilian honor from President Shimon Peres for his “significant contribution to the State of Israel and to humanity.” In 2014, he received the Theodor Herzl Award from the World Jewish Congress. At the award presentation, WJC President Ronald Lauder recalled Kissinger telling Meir that he was an American first, secretary of state second and a Jew third. According to Lauder, Meir responded that was fine since Israelis read from right to left.

“He was very insecure,” said Troy. “The trauma of being a survivor, and the trauma of being an immigrant, of being an outsider. The 1970s was not a very Jewish decade. It was strange to have Jews in power, and strange to have Jews in Republican circles of power. Given his own ambivalence, and given the hostile environment that he was in, it’s not surprising that he would be pretty screwy on the Jewish question.”

Kissinger’s legacy remained deeply polarizing decades after he left public office. Despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his work ending the Vietnam War — a deeply controversial choice at the time — many regard Kissinger as a war criminal, responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in the U.S. bombing of Cambodia and myriad other human rights violations in Argentina, East Timor and elsewhere. His role in directing the controversial war in Vietnam dogged him for decades.

After he left office in 1977, hundreds of students and faculty opposed Columbia University’s decision to offer Kissinger an endowed chair, with one student demonstrator likening it to asking Charles Manson to teach religion. The author Christopher Hitchens called for Kissinger’s indictment in a 2001 book, “The Trial of Henry Kissinger,” which was later made into a film. On a 2001 trip to Paris, a French judge sought unsuccessfully to get Kissinger to testify in connection with the 1973 disappearance of five French nationals during the reign of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Kissinger tried mightily to shape the public narrative of his years in office, penning multiple memoirs totaling thousands of pages. But even in his 90s, he could barely appear in public without inviting protests.

In 2015, protestors disrupted a Senate hearing where Kissinger was testifying with chants that he should be arrested. And in 2016, Kissinger’s address to the Nobel Institute’s Peace Forum in Oslo was met with protests and a petition with 7,000 signatures demanding his arrest for violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Heinz Alfred Kissinger was born in Bavaria, Germany in 1923. His father Louis was a schoolteacher and his mother Paula a homemaker. In 1938, the family fled the Nazis for London and later New York, where they settled in a German Jewish immigrant community in Washington Heights. Kissinger studied accounting at City College before being drafted into the army in 1943, serving as an intelligence officer and seeing combat in the Battle of the Bulge.

After the army, Kissinger enrolled at Harvard University, where he earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in political science. As a faculty member in the university’s government department, Kissinger served as an advisor to multiple government agencies.

In 1969, Kissinger was sworn in as Nixon’s national security advisor. He became secretary of state in 1973 and continued to hold both positions following Nixon’s resignation and Gerald Ford’s assumption of the presidency.

As the chief architect of U.S. foreign policy during the period, Kissinger pioneered the policy of detente, helping to defuse tensions with the Soviet Union and paving the way for Nixon’s groundbreaking 1972 summit with Chinese leader Mao Zedong and the resumption of relations between the two nations, eventually leading to the full normalization of ties in 1979.

In Vietnam, Kissinger and Nixon attempted to wind down the conflict by withdrawing American troops and supporting the South Vietnamese Army in its efforts to repel Communist forces. In support of that effort, Kissinger helped orchestrate a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia against Vietnamese Communist forces based there, killing tens of thousands.

Kissinger left office with Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976, but scarcely faded from view. He remained a fixture of the Washington scene, teaching at Georgetown, consulting for New York financial firms and delivering high-priced corporate lectures.

In 1982, he founded Kissinger Associates, a secretive New York consulting firm that has advised major multinational corporations. Kissinger backed out of his appointment by President George W. Bush as chairman of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks after Congress requested that he disclose his client list.

Kissinger was a recipient of the 1977 Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1980, he won a National Book Award for the first volume of his memoirs, “The White House Years.” In 1995, he received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth. He was also the first person to be named an honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

Kissinger is survived by his wife, Nancy Maginnes; two children from his first marriage to Ann Fleischer, whom he divorced in 1964; and five grandchildren.

The post Henry Kissinger, influential first Jewish secretary of state, dies at 100 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Treasure Trove: How loans and taxes helped Israel build in the lean financial years after 1948  

In the first few years after Israel’s independence, it incurred significant expenses to defend itself in the 1948 war, absorb 800,000 immigrants and build the state. Although significant financial support came from outside of Israel (including through the sale of Israel Bonds starting in 1951), a large portion of the costs were borne directly by […]

The post Treasure Trove: How loans and taxes helped Israel build in the lean financial years after 1948   appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Texas University Plans to Close Qatar Campus Amid Scrutiny of Hamas Ties

A Qatar 2022 logo is seen in front of the skyline of the West Bay in Doha. Photo: REUTERS/John Sibley/File Photo

On Thursday, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted 7-1 to end its contract with the Qatar Foundation, which will result in the college’s Qatar campus shutting down over the next four years.

Texas A&M said it decided to reassess its relationship with Qatar after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which the terrorist group murdered 1,200 Israelis and took more than 240 more hostage. It cites regional instability as one of the reasons for its decision. The Qatari government also has extensive ties with Hamas’ political and military leadership.

The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is funded by the Qatari government and is the institution that funds Texas A&M’s Qatar campus.

The Chair of the university’s Board of Regents said it “has decided that the core mission of Texas A&M should be advanced primarily within Texas and the United States.” He continued, explaining that “By the middle of the 21st century, the university will not necessarily need a campus infrastructure 8,000 miles away to support education and research collaborations.”

The decision also comes amid heightened scrutiny of Qatar’s role in American higher education — as it spent almost $5 billion on American universities between 2001 and 2021 — as well as its role in funding terrorist groups such as Hamas. 

In an article for The Free Press in October, Eli Lake outlined what he saw as the significant influence Qatar is having on American higher education. He lists the universities that have gotten significant donations from Qatar, such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern. He also notes that Qatar’s influence goes beyond money, affecting policies and programs within specific academic departments as well. For example, the Qatar campus of Northwestern, which is home to the U.S.’s best journalism program, had an agreement with the terrorist-sympathetic Al-Jazeera that it would help train its students.

The significant attention paid to these relationships is likely driven by the steep increase in anti-Israel and pro-terrorist sentiment in the U.S., particularly on college campuses. 

A 2023 report from the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy also concluded that concealed donations from foreign governments to U.S. educational institutions are associated with an increase in antisemitic incidents on campus and the erosion of liberal norms. 

However, the Qatar Foundation believes the decision was made for political reasons. In a statement, it wrote: “It is deeply disappointing that a globally respected academic institution like Texas A&M University has fallen victim to such a campaign and allowed politics to infiltrate its decision-making processes. At no point did the Board attempt to seek out the truth from Qatar Foundation before making this misguided decision.”

There have been no indications thus far that other universities that receive a significant amount of Qatari funding, or operate campuses in Qatar, are reconsidering their relationship.

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Antisemitic Vandals Strike Hillel Building at University of Leeds in UK

Antisemitic message graffitied on Hillel House of University of Leeds. Photo: Union of Jewish Students/X

The Hillel House of University of Leeds was vandalized on Thursday night, raising further concerns about a hateful campus climate and rising antisemitism across the United Kingdom, particularly since Hamas’ October 7 attacks.

The vandals, according to pictures shared online, graffitied “FREE PALESTINE” on the building and additional scribble on two window panes.

“We are heartbroken and angry that after an uplifting and inspiring Challah Bake, our JSoc Hillel House was defaced with antisemitic graffiti,” Leeds JSoc, which uses the building for club meetings, said in a statement also signed by the Union of Jewish Students, an advocacy group. “It is shocking and outrageous that those who hate us would stoop to this level.”

The groups noted that a University of Leeds professor may be responsible for leading anti-Zionist to the building, alleging that he shared its address “for the sole purpose of intimidating Jewish students on campus.”

“We are working with CST and the police to ensure that those who committed this crime get the consequences they deserve,” the group added.

Anti-Zionists extremists struck elsewhere on Thursday, storming University of Birmingham with socialists and other far-left groups while holding signs that said, “Zionists off our campus” and “75 years of illegal occupation!” Many concealed their faces, covering them with keffiyeh.

“Jewish students are feeling less and less safe at university because of these vile antisemitic acts,” National Jewish Assembly (NJA), a Jewish civil rights nonprofit, said in a statement about the incidents. “It’s time we say enough. Jewish students deserve and must feel safe on campus.”

Thursday’s incidents followed a set-back for the academic Jewish community. Earlier this week, it was announced that a UK government agency which arbitrates disputes over employment law ruled that University of Bristol lacked standing to fire sociologist David Miller, an extreme anti-Zionist who was accused of harassing Jewish students and promoting antisemitic tropes, and said his “anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic.”

Pervasive antisemitism and anti-Zionism at UK universities is forcing members of the Jewish academic community to conceal their identities on campus, according to a June 2023 report issued by the Parliamentary Task Force on Antisemitism in Higher Education, a committee of lawmakers and established by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022 in response to complaints of anti-Jewish racism and discrimination.

“We were told it was commonplace for Jewish students to choose not to wear certain clothing or jewelry around campus because it would make them visibly identifiable as Jewish,” the Task Force wrote in the report, titled Understanding Jewish Experience in Higher Education, noting that academic staff “also raised important comparable concerns about negativity surrounding their Jewish identity.”

The Task Force recommended that all universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which, it said, has not, contrary to the claims of its many opponents, diminished free speech and academic freedom.

Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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