WASHINGTON (JTA) — Richard Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham believed Jewish opposition to Christian evangelism efforts would foster anti-Semitism.
"Deep down in this country there is a lot of anti-Semitism. All this is going to do is stir it up," said the former president in a Feb. 21, 1973 phone conversation with Graham, a leading evangelist.
The exchange was part of 150 hours of audio recordings released Tuesday by the Nixon Presidential Library.
Graham responds that anti-Semitism in America is "right under the surface" and that Jewish criticism of a major evangelism effort would bring it "right to the top."
Nixon responds, "Anti-Semitism is stronger than we think. You know, it’s unfortunate. But this has happened to the Jews. It happened in Spain, it happened in Germany, it’s happening — and now it’s going to happen in America if these people don’t start behaving."
A little later in the 20-minute conversation, Nixon says that he wants to be "not only a friend of Israel and a friend of Jews in this country, but I have to turn back a terrible tide here if they don’t get a hold of it themselves."
"They better understand it quick because there are elements in this country, not just the Birchers, but a lot of reasonable people that are getting awfully sick of it." The term Birchers is a reference to members of the extreme right-wing John Birch Society.
Nixon later states about Jews that "it may be they have a death wish. You know that’s been the problem with our Jewish friends for centuries."
Among the 30,000 pages of documents also released yesterday was a National Security Council memo discussing the arguments for and against pressuring Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.