Charles Gati: Friedman’s “kapo” comment should disqualify him as ambassador to Israel

Charles Gati is a senior research professor of European and Eurasian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. He is also a regular reader of and commentator on Hungarian Spectrum. This opinion piece originally appeared in The Hill on February 28, 2017.

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I am a Holocaust survivor. I was not yet 10 years old in 1944 when my parents and I were locked up in the Budapest ghetto, where some 15 of us lived in one small room. We were cold, hungry and lived in constant fear of being taken away and killed.

My parents and I were initially saved by Carl Lutz, the courageous Swiss diplomat who rescued some 62,000 Hungarian Jews by providing them with letters of protection. In helping the Jews of Hungary, he defied his government’s orders.

As a mark of respect for Lutz’s memory, and also in honor of those members of my family who did not survive, I object to President Trump’s choice of David Friedman as the next ambassador to Israel.

Friedman does not merely hold radical views outside the American mainstream and lack foreign policy credentials; he also negatively compared American Jews who don’t share his positions to “kapos.”

I doubt that Friedman understands who the kapos really were. They were Jews enlisted by the Nazi SS during the Holocaust to serve the SS in the concentration and extermination camps as well as in the ghettos.

They were given a choice between collaboration and death. Some behaved with great brutality in order to survive. Others did the best they could to help themselves and to help us, too. While I do not excuse their actions, no one who was not there in those unimaginable conditions has the right to pass judgment.

Is Friedman sure he knows what he would have done?

To be fair, I don’t know what I would have done. I did not personally experience the camps. With my parents, I evaded deportation thanks largely to the papers provided by Lutz, the Swiss consul-general to Budapest at the time and truly a Righteous Among the Nations.

But my father’s older brother Lajos Gottlieb and his wife disappeared during those dark days and we never heard from them again. My father’s other brother Zsigmond Gellért and his teenage son Gábor were taken to Auschwitz and died there. Zsigmond’s wife — my Aunt Ferike — and her daughter Vera — my first cousin — were also deported to Auschwitz, but survived.

I give their names to make an important point: the Holocaust, the kapos and their many victims are not metaphors or abstractions.

For Friedman to brand other Jews engaged in legitimate debate in our democracy as kapos is not only offensive; it shows a disturbing lack of knowledge.

It borders on incredulous to believe Friedman’s sudden reversal during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony of what he had previously professed.

Despite his last-minute about-face during his hearing, I continue to doubt that Friedman understands who the kapos were. If he did, he would recognize that the damage caused by his hurtful and mean-spirited comments could not be walked back over during a few hours of public testimony.

Watching his testimony for several hours, I had the impression that under his calculating, lawyerly demeanor was an agitator eager to be confirmed as an ambassador.

Worst of all, by freely throwing around words that have a specific meaning in the context of a specific historical event, Friedman dilutes the meaning of the Holocaust and dishonors the memory of those who perished.

Using this term to describe one’s political opponents actually aids the work of Holocaust deniers because it suggests that kapos are an everyday phenomenon that arise in every generation — and not a tragic group of people caught in a uniquely agonizing dilemma during the Holocaust.

To serve in Israel, in particular, we need diplomats in the cast of Carl Lutz who use their office to do good. That is why — for the sake of American interests and values and also for the sake of history and memory — I hope the Senate does not vote to confirm David Friedman’s appointment.

March 2, 2017
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e-1956
Guest

I understand the personal pain of Gati.
His opinion is very personal.
I hope he will correct it soon.

The disinformation agitprops can use it against the West and Israel.

Shapiro accepted the post, and should act properly in the mutual interest of the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians.

Istvan
Guest

The essay Eva posted from professor Gati was also presented in a slightly different less Hungarian form and can be read here http://jstreet.org/holocaust-survivors-raise-concerns-trumps-choice-us-ambassador-israel-david-friedman/#.WLiG8vkrLct

Member

“Kapo” can be defined today as “a Jewish person who facilitates the smooth extermination of masses of Jews”.

Doesn’t the Iranian deal help Iran develop long-range missiles and nuclear technology without fear of American retaliation for ten years?

Isn’t the central political and religious tenet of Iran’s current leaders to wipe Israel off the map?

Is Israel defensible if missiles are positioned in a third Palestinian Arab state [Jordan & Gaza being the first two] 10 miles from its population center where 2/3 of its people live ?

J Street supports the Iranian deal and the creation of another Arab state in the West Bank.

Why doesn’t J Street advocate for four Kurdish states in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria ? Tens of millions of Kurds have zero states, while the Arab league has already 22 members ?

What about Berber states in the Rif or in Kabylia ? Independence for the dar of Furs ?

Member

J Street : “Since 1967, the Israeli government has politically and economically encouraged Jewish settlement over the Green Line, an act that is considered illegal, according to Article 49 of the Geneva Convention”
http://jstreet.org/the-green-line/#.WLiuGvJY0_g

Article 49: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Did Israel “deport” Jews to the West Bank? I do not think so. The Jewish inhabitants of the West Bank moved there on their own free will.

Istvan
Guest

Tappanch I take it that you don’t like the peace now J street crowd. Don’t worry President Trump would be happy to launch on Iran if they launch on Israel. Never mind the fact that most of the population of of Iran and Israel would be incinerated.

From some of Steve Bannon’s Brietbart followers perspective a nuclear exchange in that situation would eliminate two enemies of white nationalists, Jews and Islamic terrorists. For them a win-win. But apparently that does not give pause to those supporting expanded settlements they have a death wish deeply appreciated the by some Christian fundamentalists who look forward to the end days.

Member

“Tappanch I take it that you don’t like the peace now J street crowd. ”

Istvan, I simply do not like lies, should they come from the Orban government, from J Street or from the Trump administration.

Member

“expanded settlements”

West Bank:
Israeli governments did not authorize, let alone build a single new Jewish “settlement” in the West Bank since 1999. On the contrary, Sharon demolished four of them in 2005. Jewish population growth occurs inside the long established boundaries of the villages.

Jerusalem (former Jordanian + Israeli parts combined):
1967: Muslims 20.9%
2015: Muslims 35.8%

e-1956
Guest

I agree with Tappanch.
Lies are fatal.
I see the J-Street as a major disinformation plot.
I hope that Istvan, the US Army Officer will see it, too.
Further, I think that most people misunderstand Breitbart.
It is the source of truth. Not like most of the other blogs and newspaper manipulated by SputnikNews.

Ferenc
Guest

Yeah sure, Breitbart is …….. Breitbart’s truth………. not THE truth………

Istvan
Guest
I am sure a good number of us on this blog have been to Israel, considering the IDF is largely a conscript military it is a very impressive force. I am also sure some have seen the fear and danger the settlers live in and the armaments they openly carry. To say there situation is normal, would be to say our situation here in Chicago with our murder rate is normal. I would not be carrying a concealed handgun if it were normal. J Street believes without question that expansion of settlements is a destabilizing force in Israeli society, does that make them kapos? The expansionists believe exactly the opposite, that expanding settlements make Israel safer. Since the USA provides significant military aid to Israel we have historically used that aid as leverage in all the failed Palestinian peace deals. Now the Trump administration has sent vastly confused messages on settlement expansion particularly with making Friedman Ambassdor and having our UN ambassador maintain our position on settlement expansion simultaneously. Clearly this is a profound problem. The US military’s biggest gripe about all of this is that the military aid to Israel has had no material impact on the war on… Read more »
Member

What is the definition of “settlement expansion” ?

The area of authorized Jewish settlements was basically frozen in 1991 – their population growth comes mostly from the high birthrate.

http://www.columbia.edu/~yc2444/pages/Demographic%20Success%20of%20the%20West%20Bank%20Settlers.html

The European Union on the other hand finances the geographical expansion of Arab “settlements” in area C of the West Bank to create a fait accompli.

The Arab “settlements” are also growing. Inside pre-1967 Israel & Jerusalem, they grow faster than the Jewish population.

Member
Istvan
Guest

There are numerous reports put out by the UN on the expansion of settlements like it or not. Friedman contributed indirectly to settlement expansion, see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/15/world/middleeast/david-friedman-beit-el-west-bank.html?_r=0

Friedman is not neutral on this issue. Its not a game of semantics, its not a competition between Arab settlements and Jewish settlements. Friedman is dangerous for US foreign policy as is of course Trump. Professor Gati has taken the correct stance on the appointment of Friedman. But the reality of the situation is there will be no peace deal, Trump will light up the middle east with his war of extermination against IS and for generations to come there will death and grieving among Israelis and Palestinians. I pray for my daughter in the US military, as I do for the IDF soldiers, enraged Arabs, and many others who may be catapulted into this growing inferno fed by Trump’s opportunism.

Member

Istvan, at this moment, the Muslim minority is growing in pre-1967 Israel, in Jerusalem, while the Jewish minority is growing in the West Bank.

Everybody would abhor an “ethnically homogeneous” Israel. The same way, we should revolt against the notion of an “ethnically homogeneous” West Bank as well, although this is what the UN & EU actually demand.

Member

“Since the USA provides significant military aid to Israel”.

True. $3.1 billion in 2016. Hungary gets more than twice as much in economic aid from the European Union.

Guest

Now you’ve lost it totally!
breitfart tells stories where they know that it’s a complete fabrication – and when they’re shown their errors they continue lying.
Several stories about things that they claimed happened in Germany – where they told the same lies as Russia Today btw:
The story of the 15 year old Russian/German girl Lisa in Berlin that claimed to have been gang raped by refugees – it was found out that she stayed with two German friends and had sex with them – they even made pictures/videos on their phones …

The story of the church that was set on fire by a mob of a thousnad refugees (they of cours ecall them illegal immigrants)
What really happened was that a thousand people had a party – some shot fireworks which got into the textiles protecting the scaffold of the church (which is being repaired).
Btw in Tübingen fireworks in the old city center are forbidden because of this risk …
I could go on – there is no news on breitfart – only propaganda, in layman’s terms: lies, stupid lies, idiotic lies …
And Bannon was director of this lie production facility for a long time …

e-1956
Guest

re: Wolfi – First, let us state that we agree on the fascist nature of the Hungarian regime.
The roots of that gulash fascism point to Russia very clearly without any doubt.

Further, the American Breitbart is an obvious target of multiple Russian disinformation campaigns. One possible scenario, soemtime, Russian activists feed their opposition with disinformation.

Try to elimininate the fake actors on all sides.

I find many acceptable opinions on Breitbart at the same time.

Be also careful to recognize the disinformation flood regarding Israel.
Human rights activists are mostly decent people, accept for the not so few articulated transparently mischievous talking heads.

I will not be surprised if some of these remarks will not reach the target. I will be patient.

e-1956
Guest

Tappanch is my hero.

Education – most people needle thorough new true info courses.

Disinformation Syndrome is my diagnosis.

It has washed away the borders between truth and lies.

BDS, Black Life Matters, Resist, ISIS face no wide opposition.

Where can we find enlightened honest minds?

wpDiscuz