NEW YORK (Mar. 5)
Call it Jewish paranoia — about Jews, not by Jews.
That’s the mentality revealed by the Rev. Billy Graham in tapes recorded in 1972 and recently released by the National Archives, in which the evangelist urged President Nixon to fight the Jews’ alleged domination of America’s media.
“This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country’s going down the drain,” Graham says on the tapes.
Graham, now 83, apologized for the remarks last Friday — though he qualified it by saying he didn’t recall saying such things.
Not all American Jewish leaders were satisfied with the mea culpa.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, described it as “mealy-mouthed.”
“The Graham name is the most respected clergy name in America, and has been for decades,” Foxman said. “What this requires is for him to own up to what he said, to own up to the ugliness of the bigotry and issue not only a clear, stated apology,” but also to express ” how terrible these thoughts are” and that “he has learned better.”
In his apology, Graham said, “Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon.”
He added: “They do not reflect my views and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks.”
That’s enough for Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
“I don’t think we should judge people based on comments made 30 years ago,” Resnicoff said. “I think his words and his actions since have shown him to be a friend and someone who is working for good across religious lines.”
Even so, “it’s pretty devastating, and it’s pretty depressing,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an institution dedicated to the study of the Holocaust.
“Billy Graham has been the symbol of morality in America, and among not only millions of everyday Americans, but among America’s elite,” Cooper said. It’s “very sobering indeed that a spiritual leader of his stature should have harbored those views. This is, if you will, a slap across every Jew’s face.”
However, Cooper said, in the Jewish tradition,”if someone apologizes, you have a responsibility to forgive them.”
Another troublesome element on the tapes is when Nixon apparently coaxes Graham to say things the president can’t.
“You believe that?” Nixon asks Graham of his allegations of Jewish media domination.
“Yes, sir,” Graham says.
“Oh boy, so do I,” Nixon says. “I can’t ever say that, but I believe it.”
“No,” Graham replies, “but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something.”
Later in the conversation, Nixon brings up the subject of Jewish influence in Hollywood.
“A lot of Jews are great friends of mine,” Graham says. “They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them.”
Nixon responds, “You must not let them know.”
The way Nixon eggs Graham on is shocking, Foxman said.
Still, “we knew that Nixon was an anti-Semite,” Foxman said, whereas Graham is “a guy we all felt comfortable with” as a spiritual guide to many presidents. “And he was so infected with this virulent anti-Semitism.”
The idea of Jewish control of the media is what a “classic, anti-Semitic canard,” Foxman said, the same one that led to the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
The murdered reporter’s last words — a forced admission of his Jewishness — were intertwined with this notion, Foxman said.
It’s a belief espoused frequently by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, who believe their poor image in America is due to manipulation and distortions by Jewish journalists, Foxman said.
Graham’s remarks are especially chilling because of the current climate of growing anti-Semitism in the world, according to Martin Raffel, associate director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
It’s “bad enough that it was said and who said it, but it has hit even harder because of the growing concern we have in the community about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism today,” Raffel said.