Jew-Hater Or Savior Of Israel?
It seemed like Richard M. Nixon had a magic touch because all of his foreign policy and domestic initiatives worked out. His policies restored calm to the country, ended the war in Vietnam, ended the draft, brought the POWs home, initiated diplomatic relations with China, lowered tensions with Russia, and made America a cleaner, more prosperous, and fairer country. But a very different story had started to unfold, one that would drastically change the impression that Nixon could do no wrong.
On June 17, 1972, five men were caught breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel in Washington DC.
The White House dismissed the incident as a “third-rate burglary” and Nixon denied having any knowledge of it. The story, however, did not go away; it topped the headline news every day, news reports began linking the break-in to the White House, and there were calls for Nixon’s resignation and even for his impeachment. Friends abandoned him, the public turned on him, and every day brought a new nightmare.
The Yom Kippur War
Just when it seemed that the pressure on Nixon could not get worse, it did. On Oct. 6, 1973, Yom Kippur, Arab forces from Syria, Egypt, and other countries launched coordinated attacks against Israeli positions. With many soldiers away from their posts, the attacking armies, heavily armed with the latest Soviet missiles and other weaponry, quickly seized control of large parts of the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. They also destroyed a great deal of Israel’s military hardware, including most of its air force.
Israel didn’t have enough equipment left to launch a counter-offensive. Even worse, it was by no means certain that the advancing Arab armies could be stopped before they reached Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Israel made emergency calls for help to its closest and most trusted friends in Washington, but the going was rough. Nixon’s closest advisor recommended “letting Israel bleed a little,” and wanted to delay any assistance. Another opposed it entirely.
At that point, Nixon had little to gain and much to lose from helping the Jewish state. Nevertheless, he overrode his advisors. “You get [military supplies] to Israel now!” he instructed then CIA director Vernon Walters. “Now!”
In the following days, 567 missions brought 22,000 tons of supplies to Israel by air. An additional 90,000 tons were delivered by sea, replacing much of the equipment that had been destroyed and enabling Israel to more freely use its remaining supplies.
According to historian Stephen Ambrose, had Nixon not acted so decisively, “the Arabs … might have destroyed Israel. There is no doubt that Nixon… made it possible for Israel to win, at some risk to his own reputation and at great risk to the American economy.”
A ceasefire was signed on October 24. While ceasefires usually indicate reduced tensions, this case was different. Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat asked both the U.S. and USSR to send ground troops to the region. The White House rejected this idea, but Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev threatened to enforce Sadat’s request unilaterally.
America acted immediately to prevent that. According to the Nixon Foundation, “The President summoned his top military and security advisors and ordered that the U.S. military be put on a higher level of alert. Air Force strike units were readied for attack and two aircraft carriers were redeployed to the Mediterranean, as war with the Soviet Union came to its closest point since the Cuban Missile Crisis eleven years earlier.” This forceful response got the message across and the Soviets backed off.
Nixon to the Rescue
It’s not certain why Nixon authorized sending so much help. One theory is that a victorious Israel would help keep the Soviets out of the Middle East, which was an important objective. Another is that Nixon didn’t want even the slightest appearance that Soviet military equipment (used by Arab armies) was superior to American military equipment (used by the Israelis).
Yet another theory is that Nixon saw in Israel what historians call “his resolute self.” The Israelis were fighting for the highest stakes possible – survival – and Nixon had come to understand that very well. In those desperate hours, he identified with Israel and decided to help.
In June 1974, while deeply mired in the Watergate scandal, Nixon became the first sitting President to visit Israel. Prime Minister Golda Meir greeted him at the airport. “All I can say, Mr. President, as friends and as an Israeli citizen to a great American president,” she said, “thank you.”
Speaking on the tarmac of the Ben Gurion Airport, Nixon was lavish with his praise. “During the period that I have served as President of the United States, we have been through some difficult times together, and I can only say that the friendship that we have for this nation, the respect and the admiration we have for the people of this nation, their courage, their tenacity, their firmness in the face of very great odds, is one that makes us proud to stand with Israel.”
….Or Should We Say Al Haig to the Rescue?
According to at least one source, the answer to this question is yes.
Here’s how The Jerusalem Connection Report explained the events of those very frightening hours.
American intelligence knew that a war was imminent but didn’t notify Israel until two hours before the attack began; Israel needed a minimum of 16 hours to prepare. Nixon and Kissinger threatened Meir not to preempt or mobilize, or else America would refuse to re-supply Israel in the event that the coming war lasted more than a few days.
After Arab armies overran Israeli positions, Israel’s leadership “pleaded with [Nixon] and [Kissinger] for urgent re-supply, but it was very slow in coming.”
General Alexander Haig, Nixon’s Chief of Staff, ordered an immediate resupply of Israel. Haig also ordered that 40 Israeli commanders be trained in the use of the TOW missile system, which had a kill rate of 97%.
“Al Haig stripped every TOW missile on the eastern seaboard of America and from Germany and shipped them to Israel. They loaded every TOW in stock onto planes. The Israeli commanders were back in Israel by October 14, just in time to repulse a massive Egyptian armored attack in the Sinai… It was the turning point of the war.”
The Jerusalem Connection Report adds that [the Sinai] was littered with burned-out tanks and army trucks and the bodies of many dead soldiers, rotting under the desert sun and producing an unforgettable odor. “If not for General Haig’s re-supply of weapons and Israel’s extraordinarily brave fighters, that scene could have been repeated all the way to Tel Aviv.”
It’s interesting to recall another incident involving Al Haig. In June 1981, Israel launched a top-secret attack to bomb a nuclear reactor Saddam Hussein was constructing in Iraq. That successful attack took the U.S. by surprise and offended then-President Ronald Reagan. Reagan asked his top advisors what the U.S. response should be. All but one recommended that Israel be punished; the lone dissenter, Al Haig, said that one day the U.S. would be very grateful for the Israeli attack.
The Tapes Talk
The public was shocked when it learned that Nixon had secretly recorded thousands of hours of conversations in the Oval Office. Congress ordered Nixon to release the tapes but Nixon objected vigorously. Nixon’s refusal to submit to a congressional subpoena officially “constituted an article of impeachment against Nixon, and led to his subsequent resignation,” according to Wikipedia.
There was a total of more than 3,500 hours of recorded conversation on those tapes, and as the public subsequently learned, most of those conversations concerned foreign policy: Nixon’s plans for a trip to China, a trip to the USSR, and related issues. However, a number of unrelated comments were unexpected and shocking.
In various conversations with close aides, Nixon said, “Most Jews are disloyal,” “You can’t trust the (expletive),” and called Jews “irreligious,” “immoral,” and “atheists,” among other offensive remarks. Nixon believed that “a Jewish cabal was out to get him,” and that Jews in the government “were skewing official statistics to make him look bad.”
Was there a scary side to Nixon? Was he a secret anti-Semite?
One rav we asked thought so. “Nixon, that anti-Semite, the only reason he helped Israel in the Yom Kippur War is because he thought it would help him politically.”
However, this opinion is far from unanimous. One of the prominent voices in the frum community, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, weighed in on Nixon and Watergate.
“Nixon is not a sonei Yisroel [anti-Semite],” he asserted. “You have to know that Nixon is being attacked for doing things for our benefit. Don’t think Nixon is being attacked for Watergate. That’s a very big mistake. People don’t realize they are victims of the media.”
Luke Nichter, a historian who has studied Nixon’s tapes, said the offensive remarks are among the best known and most salacious aspects of the tapes, but are far out of proportion to their actual significance in the conversations. “If you were to add up all the offensive material [about Jews] in the 3,700 hours of secret recordings, they would certainly all fit within 10 minutes and probably within 5 minutes,” he said. And it wasn’t just Jews that Nixon criticized. “He had something nasty to say about every group,” said Nichter.
In fact, Nixon appointed more Jews to important positions than any of his predecessors did. Some became confidantes – and a few, close advisors – on Watergate and other sensitive subjects. Had their religion been an issue to him, he could just as easily have found non-Jews to fill those roles.
“The tapes show Nixon criticizes people he loves, sometimes turns his back on allies but praises them the next minute,” Nichter explained. “Nixon is like a prism and if you turn it slightly you get a different person. It’s complicated, but that’s Nixon.”
In 2005, Ben Stein, one of Nixon’s Jewish speechwriters and an outspoken supporter of Nixon, said in the American Spectator:
“Can anyone even remember now what Nixon did that was so terrible? He ended the war in Vietnam, brought home the POWs, opened relations with China, started the first nuclear weapons reduction treaty, saved Israel, started the Environmental Protection Agency. Does anyone remember what he did that was so bad?
“Oh, now I remember. He lied. He was a politician who lied. How remarkable. He lied to protect his subordinates who were covering up a ridiculous burglary that no one to this date has any clue about its purpose. He lied so he could stay in office and keep his agenda of peace going. That was his crime. He was a peacemaker and he wanted to make a world where there was a generation of peace. And he succeeded. That is his legacy.”
The Jury Is Still Out
Although Richard Nixon almost certainly made headline news more than any other President, he remains an enigma. Nixon-haters would have to acknowledge that his policies made America cleaner and fairer, ended the war in Vietnam and the draft, and made the world a safer place. Even Nixon-lovers would have to acknowledge that on occasions he was ruthless, harbored hurtful prejudices, and refused to let anything or anyone stand in his way.
Even today, the comments Nixon made about Jews – comments he thought no one would ever hear – are appalling and frightening. However, when the chips were down, even though he was in a very difficult situation, he rose to the occasion. A few hurtful comments mean little when viewed against the backdrop of his contribution in the Yom Kippur War, rushing emergency equipment to Israel in its darkest hour.
More than 45 years after Nixon was driven from the White House, it’s still too soon to make conclusive judgments about his policies or his personality. A great deal of information about Nixon and his policies still has not been released to the public. Moreover the pieces we do know need to be verified, contextualized, and interpreted by experts.
For example, in public, Nixon’s usually appeared as serious and somewhat dour. However, close friends and associates remember him differently, as a person who saw humor in life, in his problems, and in people. The public got a glimpse of that in 1978 when he was invited to address an audience at Oxford University in England.
Although everyone in the auditorium was polite and respectful, the screaming and chanting of the numerous protestors outside were clearly audible. After being introduced to the audience and asked to speak, Nixon approached the microphone, and thanked everyone inside for their warm welcome and the protestors outside for making him feel at home.
We are living in an era where Nixon-bashing is still fashionable and goes unchallenged; its rare to find any historical or journalistic accounts that present Nixon in a favorable light. History has judged him too harshly.
If Nixon is being held to this impossible standard of perfection, so should be his predecessors and his successors. Politics is a game of hardball; Nixon was neither the first nor the last to play rough.
It’s often said that certain politicians are friends of Israel. Truth be told, we can’t know for sure who are true friends are or what is really in anyone’s heart. All we can do is hope that the leaders we elect are as good as their word – and that’s a lot to hope for.
Sources: cardplayer.com; expressnews.com; history.com; houstonchronicle.com; jta.org; latimes.com; nixonfoundation.org; pokernews.com; spectator.org; telegraph.co.uk; theatlantic.com; thejerusalemconnection.us; torasavigdor.org; treasury.gov/press; wikimedia.org; wikipedia.com.
Richard Nixon: The Life by John Farrell, Knopf Doubleday Publishing;
Stephen Ambrose, Nixon Vol. 1, The Education of a Politician, Simon and Schuster; Phone Interview With Prof. Luke Nichter, Texas A&M.
By Gerald Harris