A Speech That Made a Difference

At the 2015 Nemer Lecture at USC, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat spoke of a speech made nearly 40 years ago:

Ambassador-EizenstatAnd every president since [Carter], to one degree or another, at least has to pay lip service to human rights in foreign policy.

And here is where Marty Kaplan comes in.

In 1979 – and if this evokes the Syrian refugee crisis, then it should – Vice President Mondale, for whom Marty was working, spoke at a UN conference in Geneva on the Vietnamese Boat People, who are in exactly the same situation.

Vietnam-Boat-PeopleThe North Vietnamese had taken over; we had left.  Boat people were coming and drowning. Nobody wanted them in.

And Marty and Mondale in a brilliant speech totally turned around that conference, by evoking the Evian Conference in 1938 in Evian, France, where there was at that time a chance to save all the Jews of Europe. (The “final solution” didn’t come for several years thereafter.)

And the only country that was willing to increase their immigration quota was the Dominican Republic. Not the United States.

“If each nation at Evian had agreed on that day to take in 17,000 Jews at once, every Jew in the Reich could have been saved.”

And it sent a signal to Hitler that the Jews were dispensable.

And what Marty and Mondale did is turn that around, and so we ended up taking almost 500,000 Vietnamese Boat People in this country. It was one of our greatest days, I think, on human rights. Canada took another 100,000, and others would divide it around. We had special camps that processed people in Thailand. It is a great object lesson of what could be done for the Syrian refugees.

Mondale_Boat_People_Speech_Geneva— Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat,  Nemer Lecture: “How to Provide Imperfect Justice for Holocaust Victims in the 21st Century,” University of Southern California, November 15, 2015

Read Marty Kaplan’s own remembrance of this remarkable moment, “The Best Speech I Ever Wrote,” here.

Watch the full lecture.