- (Photo: AP Images / Lou Krasky, File)
A 1973 conversation between President Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham about Israel was among the secretly recorded tapes from the Nixon presidency that were made public this week.
Though significantly milder than the 1972 Oval Office conversation that was made public in 2002, the latest recording has added fuel to those unable or unwilling to forgive the now-aged evangelist for past anti-Semitic remarks that had even shocked his admirers.
“The newly released Nixon tapes only reinforce what we now know about a formidable, but flawed man who was so deeply infected with anti-Semitism that he was unable to see it, even in himself,” Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said regarding the nation’s 37th president.
“Startling, too, is the information that continues to come out about the Rev. Billy Graham's anti-Semitism, showing how he raised the subject of Jews with Nixon and commiserated with him about the 'synagogue of Satan' and Jews who promote pornography and obscenity,” he added in a statement. “While never expressing these views in public, Rev. Graham unabashedly held forth with the president with age-old classical anti-Semitic canards.”
On Wednesday, however, Graham's longtime spokesman, A. Larry Ross, told USA Today that the world renowned evangelist has never been an anti-Semite and that the remarks should be understood in context, as part of a conversation with the president.
In the 20-minute conversation, dated Feb. 21, 1973, Nixon was expressing grave disappointment in Israel for its “stupid” decision to shoot down an unarmed civilian aircraft that accidentally flew into then-Israeli-controlled airspace. The shooting of Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 that day resulted in the deaths of 113.
“With a thing like this, they lose all of the support that they have and the world. We’re they’re only friends anyways. No other country is their friend anymore,” Nixon told Graham around 8:14 that evening. “Oh, it’s just terrible.”
In response, Graham brought up how Jewish leaders were also alienating Christians in the United States and overseas.
The then-54-year-old evangelist referred to reports in newspapers detailing how Israeli leaders were “talking about expelling all Christians from Israel” and how Jewish leaders in America were “damning” Campus Crusade for Christ and other religious groups who were taking part in “KEY ’73,” a landmark, nationwide evangelistic effort that brought together 130 denominations, church bodies, and para-ecclesiastical groups.
“They are going right after the Church. And there’s a great deal of feelings beginning to rise in areas where they’ve had great friendship,” Graham said.
"What I really think is, deep down in this country, there is a lot of anti-Semitism, and all this is going to do is stir it up," added Nixon.
Later in the conversation, Graham talks about the “synagogue of Satan,” one of two types of Jews that he said are mentioned in the Bible.
“They’re the ones putting out the pornographic literature. They’re the ones putting out these obscene films,” Graham said.
In clarifying the remark, Ross told USA Today that the "synagogue of Satan," which appears in the Book of Revelation, actually refers to anyone whose "lives and work are not in keeping with traditional Jewish values."
In most translations of the Bible, the “synagogue of Satan” is twice literally described as those “who say that they are Jews and are not.”
Graham, who is now 90, has yet to comment himself on the latest recorded remarks and many expect for him not to as they only mildly criticize some Jewish leaders and also include praise for another – the late Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, who Graham called the "cleverest and most brilliant" of the rabbis.
Graham’s 1972 remarks, revealed in 2002, however, led to a public apology from the retired evangelist, who said he had no recollection of the remarks.
"Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon ... some 30 years ago," he stated.
Shortly after, ADL said it had accepted the apology, particularly noting Graham’s statement that "racial prejudice, anti-Semitism or hatred of anyone with different beliefs has no place in the human mind or heart."
"These words, unlike his previous words uttered 30 years ago, are full of sadness and repentance. This is the Billy Graham we thought we knew,” Foxman had noted.
In the 1972 recording, Graham complained about Jewish domination of the media and also said that he had many Jewish friends.
“But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country..." Graham added.
On the Web:
Tape 43, Conversation 161 at nixon.archives.gov