Nixon's Jewish Problem
Speaking from the grave, Richard Nixon talks trash about members of the tribe once again.
"The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality," he told an aide.
"Most Jewish people are insecure. And that's why they have to prove things," he said.
"I didn't notice many Jewish names coming back from Vietnam on any of those lists; I don't know how the hell they avoid it," he remarked.
When then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, "If [the Soviets] put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern," Nixon concurred. "I know," he responded. "We can't blow up the world because of it." (See the Dec. 11New York Times story for more background.)
For reporters of a certain age, the recent release of 265 hours of Nixon tapes gives new life to dormant hatreds and lapsed interests. For them, it's a little like hearing "River Deep, Mountain High" on the radio for the first time in a decade. You haven't thought much about it since the last time you heard it, but the totality of the experience stuns you for a few moments. Then you return to whatever you were doing before and forget it until the next time.
Nixon's reflexive animus against Jews has been documented ever since (subscription required) the Watergate era. But I hesitate to call it anti-Semitism—not out of defense for Nixon but because I think it's something potentially worse.
Give a listen to the way Nixon talked about members of the tribe:
Going after all these Jews. Just find one that is a Jew, will you … —July 2, 1971
The Jews are born spies. You notice how many of them are? They're just in it up to their necks. … Also, an arrogance, an arrogance that says—that's what makes a spy. He puts himself above the law. —July, 5, 1971
Bob, please get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats. … All right. Could we please investigate some of the cocksuckers? —Sept. 13, 1971
Good. What about the rich Jews? … You see, IRS is full of Jews, Bob. … That's what I think. I think the reason they're after [the Rev. Billy] Graham is the rich Jews. —Sept. 14, 1971
This is national security, you bet we have. We've got all sorts of activities because we've been trying to run this town by avoiding the Jews in the government, because there were very serious questions. —March 29, 1973
There are some Jews, that you, that you might, as you might have guessed, doesn't mean that if there were some Gentiles it might not be this bad. There are some Jews in New York [who wanted an anti-trust suit] because [industrial and Nixon friend Robert] Abplanalp … makes the best valve at the cheapest price. —July 11, 1973
The first quotation, Stanley I. Kutler tells us in his book Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes, comes as Nixon muses about his plan to revive the House Committee on Un-American Activities to investigate the Pentagon Papers leak. Nixon not only wants to find the leakers; he wants to find Jewish leakers.
When Nixon finds out one of his daughters has been volunteering at a museum, he tells H.R. Haldeman, "The arts, you know—they're Jews, they're left wing—in other words, stay away" (July 23, 1972). When the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, White House tapes captured Nixon lashing out at Times Washington bureau chief Max Frankel and forbidding his staff from talking to the paper. ''Don't give them anything,'' Nixon said. ''And because of that damned Jew Frankel all the time—he's bad, you know. Don't give him anything.''
When Judge Murray I. Gurfein was assigned to the Pentagon Papers case, Nixon said, "I like Gurfein fine. … He's a Jew, a liberal. But I think tough. I think tough. But he may be sucking up to the liberal left. In New York, you just can't tell what happens to those guys." From the same batch of White House tapes, Nixon broadcast his notion that Jews are born traitors. "The Jews are all over the government," Nixon said. "Most Jews are disloyal." After explaining that his Jews—Kissinger, White House counsel Leonard Garment, and speechwriter William Safire—could be trusted, he said, "But, Bob, generally speaking, you can't trust the bastards. They turn on you. Am I wrong or right?"
And this from the tapes: "The only two non-Jews in the Communist conspiracy … 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." And this: "There's a Jewish cabal, you know, running through this, working with people like [Federal Reserve Board Chairman Arthur] Burns and the rest. And they all only talk to Jews."
Even when Nixon isn't hating on Jews, he's got his Jewdar turned up high to make sure he knows when they're in his proximity. In 1972, aide H.R. Haldeman thinks out loud about a New York Times reporter, commenting that the writer has a "Jewish name," Nixon cautioned him. "You can't tell that way." (Regular readers of Slate neednot be reminded of Nixon's adventures in Jew-counting, as documented since 2001 by our own Timothy Noah.)
Nixon has never lacked Jewish defenders. Just six months ago, writer Ben Stein, the son of Herbert Stein, the head of the Council of Economic Advisers under Nixon, pooh-poohed the Jew-counting story that Noah has so determinedly tracked. Wrote Stein:
Now, bear in mind, Nixon was by far the best friend the Jewish people have ever had since Abraham. He had the most Jewish appointees to high offices, the most pro-Israel foreign and defense policy in history, saved Israel in the Yom Kippur War, put Russia at bay about helping Egypt in that war—was just the best friend Jews have ever had, including Jews themselves.
Alas, being actively pro-Israel doesn't automatically exonerate Nixon from anti-Semitism. For one thing, he and Kissinger were playing a global board game with the Soviets in those years, and the Soviets were backing Egypt. An Israeli defeat would have been an American defeat, too. For another, Nixon didn't want to go down in history as the American president who "lost" Israel and put the Jewish people in peril.
To be open-minded about Nixon, let's go ahead and put his support of Israel in the asset side of his anti-Semitism account.