California Rep. Tom Lantos (left) with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Photo courtesy of Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.
California Rep. Tom Lantos (left) with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Photo courtesy of Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.


Tom Lantos (1928–2008)

(37 of 70) JNS is proud to partner with the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., to celebrate 70 of the greatest American contributors to the U.S.-Israel relationship in the 70 days leading up to the State of Israel’s 70th anniversary.

Tom Lantos’s mother was one of 440,000 Hungarian Jews killed by the Nazis. Lantos joined the anti-Nazi underground and survived. But when he learned of her death, he said he was not embittered. He remained positive with an engaging personality, enabling him to befriend people of all backgrounds and views. “[Lantos],” remarked his friend Elie Wiesel, “saw his survival from the camps in Europe as a reason to devote his life to help victims of discrimination, oppression and persecution everywhere.”

Born and raised in Budapest, Lantos came to the United States following the war. Quickly becoming fluent in English, he excelled academically, ultimately earning a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He kept his Old World courtliness and never had a desk in his office, not wishing anything to come between him and his visitors.

Lantos led a distinguished career as a Democratic Congressman from California, eventually becoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. His 27-year career of service was characterized by a commitment to safeguarding human rights, and to defending the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

As the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress, his first act was to introduce legislation to honor Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II. Lantos then became actively engaged in the cause of Soviet Jewry and organized the Congressional Human Rights Commission, a group since renamed in his honor, to help those fighting for freedom and expose the atrocities of their foes. The 2004 law named after him, the Lantos Amendment, is the one which requires the U.S. State Department to regularly report on anti-Semitism as a worldwide phenomenon and threat.

When it came to Israel, the view of Tom Lantos carried great weight in Congress. When countries in the Middle East threatened Israel, Lantos always spoke out. When he felt that Egypt’s government was not doing enough to stop the smuggling of weapons to Hamas, he suggested ending aid to Egypt and questioned funding to Lebanon, noting that its unwillingness to defend its borders allows Syria and Iran to finance, arm and train Hezbollah.

One of his colleagues, Democratic Sen. and vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, said: “[Tom Lantos] embodied the bipartisan support that Israel so rightly enjoys in America. In the history of the Jewish state, Israel had no better friend in Congress.”

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