Monday, February 11, 2008

Human Rights Loses a Defender

The respected congressman Tom Lantos has died. Dana Goldstein at the American Prospect blog has a retrospective.

Tom Lantos, the 14-term U.S. congressman from the Bay Area, died of esophageal cancer today at the age of 80. Lantos, who was born in Hungary, was the only Holocaust survivor serving in Congress, and was chairman of both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. His life story epitomizes some of the greatest struggles and triumphs of the last century: Lantos was a Nazi resistor in Budapest during World War II, where he hid in an apartment rented by righteous gentile Raoul Wallenberg and delivered food and supplies to other Jews in the ghetto. Lantos first came to the U.S. in 1947 on a scholarship to study economics, and was a professor and Democratic activist before being elected to Congress.

In the House, Lantos was hawkish on national security, though he believed strongly in diplomacy. He supported the Iraq war, but later came to believe the effort was severely mismanaged and off-track, and held many hearings on the matter. Lantos was a strong progressive when it came to defending human rights abroad. In 2006, he was arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy protesting the genocide in Darfur. Just last week, despite his illness, Lantos was in the news again, spearheading the Democratic effort to remove provisions from PEPFAR, President Bush's African HIV/AIDS bill, that require one-third of all funding to be funneled to abstinence-only programs. Lantos was also a leader on attempts to roll back the Global Gag Rule, which prevents U.S. foreign aid from funding contraception and abortion.

Last year he was a leading supporter of a House resolution asking the Japanese government to apologize for its sexual slavery of Chinese, Korean, and other women during World War II. That resolution passed. And Lantos once excoriated Yahoo! for its complicity in Chinese censorship.

It was a lot to fit into a lifetime.

Good article, though the construction "righteous gentile" seems a little weird to me. The New Republic blog also has a good retrospective. Especially worth noting is the recording of him castigating Yahoo! executives.

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