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Nixon and the Jews

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In public the 37th President of the United States did not express hostility or disparagement, or show any signs of religious prejudice towards Jews. But inside the White House, Richard M. Nixon's remarks were often scurrilous. His antisemitism was not casual; it was close to compulsive. And it could be coupled with other seething grievances, for example, towards liberals, radicals, the media, Blacks and Italian-Americans. Yet Nixon controlled his antisemitism. It had no adverse effect on Jewish life, either at home or abroad. The malice that he nurtured remained unmobilized. Apart from a few limited personnel instances (mostly but not completely ignored by Nixon's underlings), it is impossible to connect private resentment to public policy, probably because the barriers to the expression of antisemitism in the United States have been so high. The ugliness of his utterances in the Oval Office revealed his character, but did not extend outward to shape the processes of governance. A disconnect can therefore be discerned between what he felt and how he acted. Most American Jews voted for Nixon's Democratic opponents in 1968 and 1972. But even Jews who voted against him, even those who loathed him, have often acknowledged that Nixon's policies fortified the security of Israel; and he was proud of his support for the Jewish state during the Yom Kippur War. What betrayed Nixon, and what forced him to resign the presidency, was his decision to instal a secret taping system in the Oval Office. When the tapes were played in 1974, he showed himself to be conspiring to obstruct justice. In subsequent years, further exposure of the tapes revealed the extent and intensity of Nixon's antipathy to Jews. The expletives that had to be deleted did much to besmirch the dignity of the office. But such was the stigma the political culture attached to antisemitism that, had his bigotry become public before 1968, Nixon's career would have been over.
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Keywords: H. R. Haldeman; Henry A. Kissinger; Jews; John D. Ehrlichman; Leonard Garment; Richard M. Nixon; US presidents; antisemitism; prejudice; racism

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-12-01

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