I want to talk about Richard Nixon.
As President, Nixon had a number of Jewish advisers. His Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, was Jewish. Leonard Garment, his White House counsel, was Jewish. Nixon speech-writers William Safire and Ben Stein were both Jewish.
During the Yom Kippur war, when Israel’s future was at its bleakest, it was Nixon who went to Congress and asked them to sign off on emergency aid to the Jewish state. It was Nixon who organised an airlift to provide desperately needed supplies to Israel, a decision that reportedly moved a beleaguered Golda Meir to tears when she first heard it would happen.
The Gulf states pressured America to back down in its support of Israel; first by initiating steep oil-price rises, then by subsequently announcing a complete boycott on oil sales to the United States. Despite soaring fuel prices, Nixon didn’t cave in; the airlifts continued.
Israel’s continued existence is a result, in part, of the actions taken by Richard Milhous Nixon. The actions, that is, of an antisemite.
For make no mistake, Nixon was an antisemite, as the publication of his taped conversations has made clear.
“Most Jews are disloyal,” the President opined in one conversation, though he said his own aides were exceptions.
“Generally speaking,” he continued, “you can’t trust the bastards. They turn on you.”
Further comments from the President included the following gem during a discussion about potential judicial nominees. Nixon demanded: “No Jews. Is that clear? We’ve got enough Jews. Now if you find some Jew that I think is great, put him on there.”
This comment appears to contradict itself, until you realise that Nixon was demonstrating exactly the sort of thinking popular among elements of the far-right and far-left today. You know the type — “most Jews are despicable, but there are some good Jews, because they happen to hold positions I agree with. In fact, they are some of my best friends.”
Another recorded conversation took place between Nixon and the prominent evangelical pastor, Billy Graham. In his preaching days and well beyond, Graham has always professed a fierce love for Israel, so much so that, at one point, Nixon reportedly offered him the post of US ambassador in Tel Aviv. Yet, in one of the conversations Nixon had with Graham, the latter said the following:
“A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. 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.”
These people and these conversations are worth bringing up again at this juncture in history. From today, America has a president with a Jewish son-in-law. He has a daughter who has undergone an Orthodox conversion to Judaism, meaning that he has Jewish grandchildren. He is a man who has acted as parade marshal for New York’s annual “salute to Israel,” and has professed his great regard for the Jewish state on many occasions.
He has made noises about moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and appointed a Jewish US ambassador to Israel who is vehemently against a two-state solution and speaks stridently about Jerusalem as “Israel’s eternal capital”. For some reactionaries within the wider Jewish community, Donald Trump must seem like a dream come true.
Yet this same man is the one who told a group of Republican Jews, “you’re not gonna support me because I don’t want your money.” A man whose final presidential campaign ad talked about “those who control the levers of power in Washington and global special interests” while pictures of prominent Jews floated in the background.
However, for some in our community — indeed, it would seem, for many — it does not matter. Israel is everything. As long as Trump continues to profess support for Israel, he cannot be antisemitic. These are the same people who defend Steve Bannon, editor of the race-baiting Breitbart website, from the charges of antisemitism levelled against him, merely on the strength of his apparent Israel advocacy.
We live in a world where, increasingly, antisemites are using the label of “anti-Israel” as a shield to hide behind. We are aware of that, and many of us are not afraid to identify so-called “anti-Zionism” as what it really is — Jew hatred.
But in our efforts to fight against those who want to bring down the only Jewish state, we have made a grave error of judgment. We have grown too desperate for friends. We have embraced anyone who would wave a blue-and-white flag and sing Hava Nagilah. We have forgotten that at least a portion of those who profess a great love for Israel are not doing so out of friendship towards the Jewish people, but because they feel it is in their economic, military, social or religious interest for Israel to exist. Their actual feelings towards Jews may be, and often are, quite different.
Nixon did not defend Israel because he loved Jews. He defended it because he judged that, at that point in time and despite the Arab states’ pressure, it was better for America if Israel survived.
Evangelists like Billy Graham have little love for Jews. They defend Israel because they believe that a necessary prerequisite for the second coming of their messiah is that the Jews are present in the land of Israel.
Those elements of the far-right who support Israel don’t do so because they love Jews. Such people support Israel for their own reasons — often because they loathe the Muslim community just a little bit more than they loathe us.
In a previous job, part of my responsibility was to field phone calls from the general public about policy issues. I once found myself talking to a man who wanted “all foreigners” to leave the UK, despite insisting that he was “not a racist”.
Uncharacteristically, I decided to lay my cards on the table. “Listen”, I said to him,“members of my family first came to this country in the 1760s.
I had grandparents and great grandparents who fought for Britain in two world wars. But because I’m Jewish, you would kick me out of here tomorrow, wouldn’t you? How is that not antisemitic? How is that not racist?”
His reply was rather telling.
“I’m a strong supporter of Israel! I’m not an antisemite,” he said indignantly.
“I just want you to go back and live in your country, so that I can live properly in mine.”