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Nixon: I Am Not an Anti-Semite



The National Archives’ latest release of Nixon White House tapes is, as usual, a bracing antidote to historical revisionism. Whenever the academic world is tempted to adopt a more favorable view of Nixon’s character, new Nixon tapes always seem to appear that squelch the impulse.

We already knew, of course, that Nixon had a pathological hatred of Jews. But we were taken aback at the virulence of some of Nixon’s comments on the new tapes–which, sadly, are not available either in audio or in transcript form on the Web.

Here’s a fairly stunning snippet:

Most Jews are disloyal.

Washington “is full of Jews,” the president has asserted. He made exceptions for some of his top aides, such as national security adviser Henry Kissinger, his White House counsel, Leonard Garment, and one of his speechwriters, William Safire, and then added: “But, Bob, generally speaking, you can’t trust the bastards. They turn on you. Am I wrong or right?”

Haldeman agreed wholeheartedly. “Their whole orientation is against you. In this administration, anyway. And they are smart. They have the ability to do what they want to do–which is to hurt us.”

And here’s a similarly outrageous example from Irvin Molotsky’s story in the Times:

“The only two non-Jews in the communist conspiracy,” [Nixon] said, “were [Whittaker] Chambers and [Alger] Hiss. Many felt that Hiss was. He could have been a half, but he was not by religion. The only two non-Jews. Every other one was a Jew. And it raised hell with us.”

Most stunning of all, however, was the Times’ assertion that the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, which purports to be a serious research institution, “issued a statement saying the President was not anti-Semitic.”

Always wary of paraphrase, we decided to take a closer look at the Nixon Library’s statement, which you can read by going to the Library Web site and clicking on “The White House Tape Recordings, February to July 1971: A Guide to the Major Themes and Personalities.”

Actually, the Nixon Library document nowhere says that Nixon was not anti-Semitic. The phrases “anti-Semite” and “anti-Semitic” don’t appear in the Nixon Library document at all, aside from this passage:

President Nixon, after expressing the view that most Jewish Americans are insisting that the Administration go along with what he regards as Israeli intransigence on the Suez Canal and other Mideast peace issues while refusing to give him support on his Vietnam policy, remarks: “If anybody who’s been in this chair ever had reason to be anti-Semitic, I did.”

H.R. Haldeman replies: “That’s for damn sure.”

The President continues: “And I’m not, you know what I mean? Accepted, I’m not pro-Israel; I’m not going to let Israel’s tail wag the dog.”

However, the overall thrust of the portion of the Nixon Library document that interprets Nixon’s remarks on “Jewish Americans” is indeed to downplay Nixon’s comic-book anti-Semitism:

As with his attitudes toward African Americans, the President’s words about the Jewish community on these tapes show that his basic sense of compassion and support for these communities is through terminology from an earlier time.

An earlier time? This was 1971, not 1917! Attitudes toward African Americans were appalling, but attitudes toward Jews–particularly in Washington–were fairly benign. The Nixon Library seems eager to blame Haldeman for egging Nixon on:

It should be noted that the President’s comments regarding lack of political support for the Administration among many Jewish Americans frequently occur when Haldeman is present, and that Haldeman is generally quick to note when some person who is the subject of adverse comment happens to be Jewish …

It should further be noted that Haldeman’s eagerness to enable Nixon’s Jew-hating, which may have stemmed from his tendency to pander to all of Nixon’s worst instincts, or may have reflected sincere anti-Semitism of his own does nothing to mitigate the appalling bigotry of Nixon’s comments. The Nixon Library’s gloss on Nixon’s remarks about Jews ends by pointing out that despite Nixon’s initial misgivings about appointing Herbert Stein to chair the Council on Economic Advisors (Stein, who prior to his recent death was a Slate contributor, was also Jewish),

The President, within months, would make Stein his Chairman of the CEA–just as he would give the Jewish state unequivocal, life-saving support in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The actions of the President, as well as the substantial documentary record of the Nixon Administration, should always be kept in mind when evaluating his words on the White House tapes.

We won’t dispute that this century has seen bigger anti-Semites than Richard Nixon. On the other hand, Nixon’s comments about Jews make, say, Pat Buchanan’s seem comparatively benign. We would think that part of the burden of working at the Nixon Library is conceding that Richard Nixon, while no doubt misunderstood in many ways, was one wicked anti-Semite. But a glance back at the Nixon Library’s Web site reminds us that for the Nixon Library, the fundraising (hence the need to downplay controversy) never stops. “FOR YOUR NEXT SPECIAL EVENT, CHOOSE THE NIXON LIBRARY!” reads the lettering on a faux campaign button. Click it and you receive an energetic pitch to hold your next corporate dinner, or even your next wedding, on these hallowed grounds:

BEFORE YOU SIT DOWN TO DINNER in our terrazo tiled, birdseye maple lined foyer, join your guests for a sunset reception in our spectacular gardens. Promenade down the colonnade walkways, tour the original birthplace home of the President, and muse on the tranquility or our handsome reflecting pool.

This article first appeared on Slate.

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