Amer­ica’s pre­vi­ous dog­matic leader

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS -

UN­TIL DON­ALD Trump en­tered the White House last Jan­uary, Richard Nixon was the most con­tro­ver­sial — and di­vi­sive fig­ure — to sit in the Oval Of­fice.

The only pres­i­dent so far to re­sign from of­fice un­der threat of im­peach­ment and re­moval, Nixon was elected in a closely fought con­test 50 years ago this week. His great tal­ents and huge flaws were ev­i­dent long be­fore he left of­fice.

But un­like Mr Trump, whose tweets lift the lid daily on his prej­u­dices and ha­treds, the dark­est side of Nixon’s char­ac­ter only be­gin to trickle out with the record­ings of the Oval Of­fice out­bursts, rants and schem­ing that he se­cretly taped.

Nixon’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer had long been dogged by murky al­le­ga­tions of an­tisemitism; the tapes seem­ingly con­firmed that the pres­i­dent held a de­cidely dim view of Jews.

Those al­le­ga­tions stemmed back to his early con­gres­sional cam­paigns.

In 1950, for in­stance, he ran as a young con­gress­man against a lib­eral Demo­crat, He­len Ga­ga­han Dou­glas, to rep­re­sent Cal­i­for­nia in the Se­nate. While dis­avow­ing the sup­port of an­ti­semites who took against the fact that his op­po­nent was mar­ried to the Jewish ac­tor Melvyn Dou­glas, Mr Nixon oc­ca­sion­ally slyly re­ferred to her as “He­len Hes­sel­berg” — Dou­glas’ orig­i­nal sur­name — be­fore swiftly cor­rect­ing him­self as if it was an in­ad­ver­tent slip.

Such were the con­cerns about how Mr Nixon’s rep­u­ta­tion might play on the na­tional stage that when Dwight Eisen­hower picked him as his run­ning mate in 1952, Repub­li­cans scur­ried to clean up his image. The vic­to­ri­ous Eisen­hower-Nixon ticket made sub­stan­tial in-roads into the solidly Demo­crat Jewish vote, win­ning the high­est share in more than three decades. Nixon him­self man­aged to equal that strong per­for­mance 20 years later when he se­cured a land­slide re-elec­tion vic­tory, and won the sup­port of more than one in three Jewish vot­ers.

They may not have been so will­ing to give Nixon a sec­ond term had they been able to eaves­drop on some of the con­ver­sa­tions the pres­i­dent had with aides in the Oval Of­fice.

In 1971, the pres­i­dent read an of­fi­cial in the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics de­scribed a drop in un­em­ploy­ment as a sta­tis­ti­cal fluke. Dis­cov­er­ing the civil ser­vant was Jewish, Nixon or­dered a re­view of the “sen­si­tive ar­eas where Jews are in­volved”. He vented: “The govern­ment is full of Jews. Most Jews are dis­loyal”.

Such de­nun­ci­a­tions be­came a run­ning theme as, ac­cord­ing to notes taken by his chief of staff, Nixon iden­ti­fied his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­e­mies as “youth, black, Jew”.

The fed­eral bu­reau­cracy and courts, his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents’ donors, big busi­ness; Mr Nixon seemed to de­tect the ne­far­i­ous hand of the Jews wher­ever he looked. And then, of course, there was the pres­i­dent’s par­tic­u­lar bête noire: the lib­eral-lean­ing me­dia.

Nixon and his close friend the Revd. Billy Gra­ham whined to­gether about a Jewish “stran­gle­hold” of the me­dia and Hol­ly­wood. Even at mo­ments of great states­man­ship, he could not rise above his petty prej­u­dices. “Are there any non-Jews here?” he asked while look­ing at a list of re­porters due to ac­com­pany him on his his­toric trip to China.

His de­fend­ers ar­gue Nixon was a prod­uct of a time when such at­ti­tudes were com­mon: Harry Tru­man was not above ca­sual an­tisemitic ep­i­thets.

It is also true that Jews were hardly ex­cluded from Nixon’s ad­min­is­tra­tion: his chief eco­nomic ad­viser Herb Stein; speech­writer William Safire and Leonard Gar­ment, his chief coun­sel, were all Jewish. Nixon also ap­pointed Arthur Burns to head the Fed­eral Re­serve.

Most fa­mous, of course, was Amer­ica’s first Jewish Sec­re­tary of State, Henry Kissinger, who was re­spon­si­ble for some of the tri­umphs — and the ap­palling ex­cesses — of the pres­i­dent’s for­eign pol­icy. The two had a com­plex re­la­tion­ship and Nixon would oc­ca­sion­ally taunt his key for­eign pol­icy aide. Once, af­ter hear­ing Mr Kissinger’s anal­y­sis of the sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East, he asked: “Now can we get an Amer­i­can point of view?”

Gar­ment be­lieved that his boss’ at­ti­tude to­wards Jews was “bet­ter than most, worse than some, much like the rest of the world”, while Burns phleg­mat­i­cally sug­gested that the pres­i­dent “did not have much love for hu­man­ity. So why should he love Jews any more than Ja­panese or Ir­ish or Catholics?”

The pres­i­dent also be­lieved that Amer­i­can Jews were more loyal to Is­rael than their own coun­try — a cu­ri­ous view, given Nixon’s own strong affin­ity for Is­rael. The pres­i­dent, ac­cord­ing to Burns, had “great ad­mi­ra­tion” for Is­raelis’ “en­ergy, en­ter­prise and pa­tri­o­tism”.

That sup­port was crit­i­cal when, in Oc­to­ber 1973, Is­rael faced its great­est ex­is­ten­tial threat. De­spite be­ing con­sumed by Water­gate, and in the face of warn­ings that the Arab states would choke off the US’s oil sup­ply, the pres­i­dent knew Amer­ica must re­sup­ply Is­rael’s des­per­ately de­pleted ar­ma­ments. Told that the Pen­tagon had au­tho­rised only three trans­ports be­cause any more would “cause prob­lems” with the Arabs and So­vi­ets, Nixon told Mr Kissinger: “We’re go­ing to get blamed just as much for three planes as 300.” In two weeks, the US flew more tons of equip­ment and am­mu­ni­tion into Is­rael than dur­ing the Ber­lin air­lift of 1948-9.

This act sav­ing the Jewish state en­sured that, at the bit­ter end of his pres­i­dency, one of Nixon’s last and most ve­he­ment de­fend­ers was Rabbi Baruch Korff. Through his Na­tional Com­mit­tee for Fair­ness to the Pres­i­dency, Korff — “my rabbi,” as the pres­i­dent la­belled him — cam­paigned vig­or­ously against Nixon’s im­peach­ment.

There was, Rabbi Korff de­clared, “not an ounce of prej­u­dice” in the pres­i­dent. That was pal­pa­bly un­true, but his rea­sons for stand­ing by Nixon were not with­out merit.

Repub­li­cans scur­ried to clean up Nixon’s image As in­fla­tion rose, Nixon raged about Jewish in­ter­ests

PHO­TOS: GETTY IM­AGES

A meet­ing with Henry Kissinger in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Don­ald Trump

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