Meta on Congressman Tom Lantos, (D, CA-12), RIP
All the announcements and tributes mention Congressman Tom Lantos’ distinction as being the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress. I don’t know how many Holocaust survivors have ever run for congress, but regardless, the fact that he will no longer bring the ideas and experience of that distinction to the legislative branch of our American government is unfortunate.
As the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress, Tom Lantos devoted his life to shining a bright light on dark corners of oppression. He used his chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee to empower the powerless and give voice to the voiceless throughout the world.
Though a party-line Democrat on most issues, Lantos was known for teaming up with conservatives on the panel like Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) to bring scrutiny to the suppression of free speech in China and other issues. He also teamed up with many Republicans to back the Iraq war and advocate staunch support for Israel.
“Chairman Lantos will be remembered as a man of uncommon integrity and sincere moral conviction — and a public servant who never wavered in his pursuit of a better, freer and more religiously tolerant world,” House Republican Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri said in a statement.
Lantos was not afraid to take on his allies. On the foreign affairs committee, he blasted Silicon Valley giants like Google and Yahho for colluding with China’s government in censorship. He authored tough Iran sanctions legislation but broke with pro-Israel orthodoxy by offering to meet with the Islamic Republic’s leaders. Pro-Israel groups also opposed a non-binding resolution that recognized the Ottoman era massacres of Armenians as a genocide, worried that it would cause a rift between Israel and Turkey — Lantos pushed it through the committee, unwilling to countenance what he saw as genocide revisionism.
His appeal crossed political aisles: Both the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Republican Jewish Coalition issued statements mourning his passing. Top Republicans on his committee also chimed in: “An unfailingly gracious and courageous man, Tom was recognized by friends and colleagues alike as a leader who left an enviable legacy of service to his country,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the committee’s ranking member.
Our nation has lost a great public servant with the passing of Representative Tom Lantos. In serving his constituents and his country, Tom never forgot the Democratic Party’s ideals of freedom, fairness, and opportunity for all. As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he was an authority on foreign policy issues and a voice for the oppressed. The only Holocaust survivor in Congress, he was a forceful and passionate advocate for civil liberties and human rights. Today, I join with countless others across the country in offering my thoughts and prayers to Rep. Lantos’ family and friends as we honor his life and legacy.
Among his first major legislative accomplishments was legislation to give honorary citizenship to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, a hero, who protected Lantos and many others from the Nazis. He went on to sponsor U.S. aid for Eastern European countries that had broken the shackles of communism, and became a strong voice of conscience against human rights abuses in China He was one of the leading voices in the House for sanctioning Myanmar’s regime due to human rights abuses. Among his other accomplishments, Rep. Lantos teamed with the late GOP Rep. Henry Hyde to secure $1.3 billion to fight AIDS around the world and to incentivize India to cooperate with international weapons inspectors.
In October, when Dutch parliament members came to Washington to complain to congress about Guantanamo Bay, Lantos reminded them that if not for the United States, they would be a province of Nazi Germany. He also added that “Europe was not as outraged by Auschwitz as by Guantanamo Bay.”
Lantos himself was an opponent of the Bush administration on the prosecution of the war, on Guantanamo, and on most other issues. But he never balked at an opportunity to defend the United States against those that would denigrate it. He recognized that politics stops at the waters edge. He was a great man, and he will be missed in Washington.