Few would be shocked with details of further anti-Semitic outbursts by former president Richard Nixon revealed in the latest transcripts of tapes released from the Nixon library. He was a vulgar man whose foul mouthing extended beyond Jews to Afro-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans and other ethnic groups.
It is nevertheless ironic that Nixon’s name tends to enrage most Jews who view him as an evil psychotic, whilst they continue to adore President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who during the Holocaust, denied entry to the US to Jews who could have been saved and was personally responsible for vetoing all efforts to intervene on behalf of European Jews being butchered by the Nazis. In fact, one could say that he acted in accordance with the Kissinger formula that “putting Jews into gas chambers was not an American concern.”
I believe that politicians must be judged by their deeds not by their words and their prejudices Nixon’s anti-Semitism primarily amounted to appalling negative stereotyping. But he did employ a Jewish Secretary of State and, according to his Jewish speechwriter William Safire, his heroes included Benjamin Disraeli, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter and Herman Wouk.
To me, Nixon was the president who, despite his unsavory character and negative traits, will be recorded in history as the leader who during the 1973 Yom Kippur War overruled his Jewish Secretary of State who sought to delay arms to Israel in order to boost Sadat and make Israel more pliable in negotiating with the Egyptians. Nixon’s massive weapons airlift provided Israel with desperately needed arms. That he harbored dark prejudices against American Jews [who voted overwhelmingly against him] but admired Israelis, is ultimately of minor consequence. We should remain eternally grateful to him for having avoided countless additional Israeli casualties and possibly even having averted a disaster for the Jewish State.
This brings us to Henry Kissinger, who people like Marty Perez of the New Republic, to this day still mistakenly credit with having influenced Nixon in 1973 to act on behalf of Israel.
One need only read Yehuda Avner’s recent book “The Prime Ministers” [pages 246-248], which provides transcripts of the Nixon tapes clearly demonstrating that it was the president who overruled his Jewish Secretary of State, ordering him to pull out all the stops to airfreight weapons to Israel at a critical turning point in the war.
We are now privy to Kissinger’s notorious outburst to Nixon following a meeting with Golda Meir during which she pleaded for the White House to support efforts to free Soviet Jews. What he subsequently said will undoubtedly haunt him for the rest of his life:
“The immigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern.” He ended this obscene remark by conceding that gassing Jews “may be a humanitarian concern.”
Even in his worst moments, Nixon never suggested that he would stand aside whilst a replay of the Holocaust took place. It was Kissinger, the Jewish Secretary of State and himself a refugee from Nazi persecution who had he remained in Germany would probably have been gassed, made this obscene remark. As it was, he lost 13 of his close relatives during the Shoa.
Had Louis Farrakhan or Mel Gibson said something remotely similar, there would rightly have been an impassioned outcry.
Some argue that, without disputing the obscene nature of such a remark, allowances should be made for Kissinger, the archetypal Court Jew, who was so desperate to compensate for his Jewishness that he may “unconsciously” have been seeking to reassure his anti-Semitic President that he was not under the influence of the “Elders of Zion.”
In his book, Yehuda Avner quotes Willie Fort, a psychiatrist and fellow refugee acquainted with the Kissinger family before they left Germany, observing that some people tend “to lean over backward in favor of the other side to prove being evenhanded and objective”. Fort believed that Kissinger was so consumed with his Jewish refugee complex and need to demonstrate his loyalty to Nixon that he simply could not cope with the situation. [See Avner p.269]
Nixon recognized this saying: “what it is, is the insecurity. It’s the latent insecurity. Most Jewish people are insecure and that’s why they have to prove things.”
Far from apologizing now for his outburst Kissinger justified it. In an email to the JTA, he insisted that the most callous statement about Jews ever recorded by a senior US official “had to be viewed in the context of what was happening”.
Kissinger at the time had just lost a tough battle with Senator Henry Jackson who had managed to persuade Congress to adopt the Jackson-Vanik amendment linking trade with the Soviet Union to the extension of human rights and freedom of emigration. Whilst this proved to be a turning point and a major victory for the campaign to free Soviet Jewry, it was enormously frustrating for Kissinger, whose principal objective was to bring about detente with the Soviet Union, even if that required ignoring human rights violations including the persecution of his own people. But even allowing for ruthless realpolitik could that conceivably have warranted such an unconscionable outburst?
There were other occasions when Kissinger adopted inexplicably negative attitudes relating to Jews. For example, he opposed the construction of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington claiming that it would provide too high a profile for the Jews and reignite anti-Semitism. Yet this did not prevent him in 2007 from being the keynote speaker at the New York Holocaust commemoration at the Museum of the Jewish Heritage.
In a column in the New York Jewish Week, Menachem Rosensaft of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors called on Jewish organizations which had previously honored Kissinger, to strip him of his honorary doctorates, medals and awards. He caustically suggested that Kissinger still felt closer to Germany than to his Jewishness, noting that in 2007 when receiving a medal from the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, Kissinger had referred vaguely to “the difficulties of my childhood” and then went on to lavishly praise Germany without making any reference to Nazism or the Holocaust.
One can only say God help us from dependency on Jews appointed or elected to public office who subsequently feel a need to grovel to their peers about their loyalty by demonstrating that their Jewishness is inconsequential.
On the other hand, there is a profound difference between “court Jews” like Kissinger and those Jews who worked under both Democratic and Republican Administrations and had no inhibitions or psychological constraints about their Jewish affiliation. They performed far better in their positions than those desperately seeking to display aloofness from their Jewish background.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post