Nixon, Graham warn of “total domination of media” by “Satanic Jews” in 1972
The New York Times
March 17, 2002
It seemed impossible, when H. R. Haldeman’s White House diaries came out in 1994, that the Rev. Billy Graham could once have joined with President Richard M. Nixon in discussing the “total Jewish domination of the media.” Could Mr. Graham, the great American evangelist, really have said the nation’s problem lies with “Satanic Jews,” as Mr. Nixon’s aide recorded?
Mr. Graham’s sterling reputation as a healer and bridge-builder was so at odds with Mr. Haldeman’s account that Jewish groups paid little attention, especially because he denied the remarks so strongly.
”Those are not my words,” Mr. Graham said in a public statement in May 1994. ”I have never talked publicly or privately about the Jewish people, including conversations with President Nixon, except in the most positive terms.”
That was the end of the story, it seemed, until two weeks ago, when the tape of that 1972 conversation in the Oval Office was made public by the National Archives. Three decades after it was recorded, the North Carolina preacher’s famous drawl is tinny but unmistakable on the tape, denigrating Jews in terms far stronger than the diary accounts.
”They’re the ones putting out the pornographic stuff,” Mr. Graham said on the tape, after agreeing with Mr. Nixon that left-wing Jews dominate the news media. The Jewish ”stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain,” he continued, suggesting that if Mr. Nixon were re-elected, ”then we might be able to do something.”
Finally, Mr. Graham said that Jews did not know his true feelings about them.
”I go and I keep friends with Mr. Rosenthal at The New York Times and people of that sort, you know,” he told Mr. Nixon, referring to A. M. Rosenthal, then the newspaper’s executive editor. ”And all — I mean, not all the Jews, but a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I’m friendly with Israel. But they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country. And I have no power, no way to handle them, but I would stand up if under proper circumstances.”
Mr. Graham, who is now 83 and in poor health, quickly issued a four-sentence apology, but he did not acknowledge making the statements and said he had no memory of the conversation, which took place after a prayer breakfast on Feb. 1, 1972.
The brevity of the apology and Mr. Graham’s refusal to discuss the matter further have angered many of the same Jewish organizations that for so long counted Mr. Graham as their best friend among evangelical Christians. The taped remarks have become the subject of synagogue sermons and columns in Jewish newspapers, with some Jewish leaders suggesting that Mr. Graham had hidden anti-Semitic views for decades.
”Here we have an American icon, the closest we have to a spiritual leader of America, who has been playing a charade for all these years,” Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in an interview last week. ”What’s frightening is that he has been so close to so many presidents, and who knows what else he has been saying privately.”
Mr. Foxman urged Mr. Graham to return the award he won in 1971 from the National Conference of Christians and Jews — one of many such awards presented to him.
Yesterday, Mr. Graham’s organization issued a longer apology, in which Mr. Graham acknowledged making the statements, but repudiated them.
”I don’t ever recall having those feelings about any group, especially the Jews, and I certainly do not have them now,” he said. ”My remarks did not reflect my love for the Jewish people. I humbly ask the Jewish community to reflect on my actions on behalf of Jews over the years that contradict my words in the Oval Office that day.”
Mr. Foxman subsequently issued a statement accepting the new apology, but for many Jews the damage had already been done. In a recent column in several Jewish newspapers, the Washington journalist James D. Besser said the remarks should awaken Jews to the intense dislike for them among many evangelical Christians, except insofar as Jews are useful to the fulfillment of Christian apocalyptic prophecies.
The tapes have been particularly disturbing to people and groups who have worked to find common ground between Jews and evangelical Christians, many of whom say that their progress has now been significantly set back. For years, Mr. Graham stood apart from other evangelicals in his refusal to proselytize Jews directly, sharply disagreeing on the issue with his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Because of that stance, the American Jewish Committee presented Mr. Graham with its National Interreligious Award in 1977, calling him one of the century’s greatest Christian friends of Jews.
The taped remarks, however, will only help perpetuate the stereotypes that Jews and evangelicals hold about each other, said Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, based in Chicago.
”Jewish friends are coming up to me now and saying, ‘See, we told you so — they’re all frauds,’ ” said Rabbi Eckstein, an Orthodox Jew who has become a liaison between Israel and evangelical Christians.
Mr. Graham’s friends and biographers have tried to come up with some explanation for an act that so sharply diverges from five decades of almost universally admired public behavior. Lewis Drummond, the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Samford University, a Southern Baptist institution in Birmingham, Ala., said he believed that Mr. Graham was referring throughout his conversation only to those few Jews he considered unethical for distributing pornography.
”There’s not an anti-Semitic bone in his body,” said Dr. Drummond, a longtime friend of Mr. Graham’s who has written a book about him. Dr. Drummond recalled that Mr. Graham had always preached against intolerance, refusing — in the South of the 1950’s and 60’s — to hold his crusades in segregated auditoriums and inviting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to join him in the pulpit.
Another biographer, William Martin of Rice University, suggested that Mr. Graham was thinking only of liberal Jews with whom he disagreed politically. Mr. Martin said that just as Mr. Graham grew up in a culture of segregation and moved beyond it, he had also evolved beyond what his thoughts were in 1972.
Mr. Graham’s statement yesterday expressed hope that he had grown past his words that day in the Oval Office. Describing himself as ”an old man of 83 suffering from several ailments,” he said his life had been a pilgrimage of growth and change.
”Every year during their High Holy Days, the Jewish community reminds us all of our need for repentance and forgiveness,” he wrote. ”God’s mercy and grace give me hope — for myself, and for our world.”
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