It’s not news anymore that Richard Nixon disliked Jews. But the twist revealed in tapes and documents released by the Nixon Presidential Library yesterday was that the 37th president was not just a practicing anti-Semite but a theorist of anti-Semitism. His basic gist: They ask for it. Take, for example, Nixon’s philosophizing in a 1973 conversation with Billy Graham:
Anti-Semitism is stronger than we think. You know, it’s unfortunate. But this has happened to the Jews. It happened in Spain, it happened in Germany, it’s happening—and now it’s going to happen in America if these people don’t start behaving…. It may be they have a death wish. You know that’s been the problem with our Jewish friends for centuries.
The notion that Jews are somehow bent on their own destruction—and the subset of it concerning Jewish “self-hatred”—has had a long and ignoble history. It’s a theory that’s still very much in use—by all sides—in today’s debates over Israel. But that it was a theory held by a figure as paranoid—and as self-destructive—as Nixon makes a certain kind of sense.
Gabriel Sanders is Tablet’s director of business development.