Billy Graham, anti-semitic?

Posted: Mar 20, 2002 12:00 AM
The one thing critics of Billy Graham have failed to come up with is a single act, a single syllable in the public career of Mr. Graham that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic. There can't be another living American whose day-by-day life has been more minutely examined. When did he say anything anti-Semitic? When did he egg on critics of the Jews? When did he by inflection, let alone declaration, seek to undermine the Jewish state?

When the words quoted in the H.R. Haldeman diaries were released in 1994, nobody paid any attention to them, and Graham said about them only that they could not have been his own words. Well, they were his own words, because the tape recording released a fortnight ago established this, so Graham was reduced simply to apologizing for having said them, and reiterating that manifestly they did not reveal sentiments he ever acted upon.

A few coordinates are worth looking at:

(1) The words were spoken in the private company of the president of the United States. It is a human tendency to humor chiefs of state, and one way of doing this is to sort of go along with their moods and line of thought. Students laugh at headmasters' jokes. If President Nixon was going on about the Jews (as we know he sometimes did), you would expect the courtier impulses of his intimates to piggyback along. Leonard Garment and Henry Kissinger, if ever they are detected as having laughed at an anti-Semitic presidential joke, should be thought of as socially self-abnegating, rather than as anti-Semitic, always leaving room for the possibility that it was a good joke.

(2) Mr. Graham's repudiation of what he said was terribly overdone. "I have never talked publicly or privately about the Jewish people, including in conversations with President Nixon, except in the most positive terms." The trouble with saying something like that is that it is simply unbelievable. It sounds like Clarence Thomas saying he had never discussed Roe v. Wade or had any thoughts about it. You'd have to be a castrate never to have talked "publicly or privately" about the Jewish people. How can you, without talking about them, intone some such sentiment as, "Those ... lovely Jews voted 85 percent Democrat again!" Or, for that matter, "Those stupid Jews won all the Nobel Prizes again, as usual!"

(3) Several people who know Graham intimately enough to have written his biography (William Martin of Rice University), or occupied a chair named after him (Lewis Drummond of Samford University), have given their opinion that the Nixon remarks to Graham were certainly centered about the subject of pornography. "'They're the ones putting out the pornographic stuff,'" Mr. Graham said, "after agreeing with Mr. Nixon" -- in the account of David Firestone of The New York Times -- "that left-wing Jews dominate the news media."

Now on this matter, a bit of research might be worth the trouble, research designed to explore whether stereotypes here were invidious. The conversation took place on Feb. 1, 1972. Why did Nixon say that pornography was substantially a Jewish enterprise? What data, if any, was he relying on? Why did Graham agree with him? Was there in fact a top-heavy investment in pornography by Jewish entrepreneurs?

Since the Supreme Court, with the acquiescence of the majority of the American people, apparently deems pornography nothing more than an expression of free speech, what else can be said of those who engage in it than that they are swinging with the market? To have said in 1972 that pornographic entrepreneurs were heavily Jewish is different from saying such a thing as " Only Jews would engage in pornography," which would be on the order of saying, "Only priests engage in pederasty." That would indeed would be anti-Semitic, but that sentiment was not recorded.

(4) The reaction of Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, was reliably melodramatic and self-serving. "What's frightening is that he (Graham) has been so close to so many presidents, and who knows what else (he) has been saying privately." Like what? That the Protocols of Zion should be adopted in the curriculum of public schools? That Israel should be cut up and given to Syria?

Mr. Foxman urged Billy Graham to return the award he won in 1971 from the National Conference of Christians and Jews. If they did that to Billy Graham, after his lifetime of service to tolerance and charity and love, then you'd get something the impact of which would be anti-Semitic. I am proud to have an award from the Anti-Defamation League. If Graham returns his, I'll volunteer the return of mine.