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In Nixon tapes, Billy Graham refers to 'synagogue of Satan'

A 1973 conversation between President Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham about Jews, laden with critical references including a Biblical verse on the "synagogue of Satan," has put the aging, frail Graham back in unwelcome headlines.

The conversation is part of newly-released secretly recorded tapes from the Nixon presidency, from the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Md., and the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif. A sampling of more than 150 hours of tape recordings and 30,000 pages of documents from two months in 1973 were made public Tuesday (download at Archives), culled from 4,000 hours of taped meetings and phone calls in a two-year period.

An earlier release of tapes in 2002 shocked fans of Graham, who is heard agreeing with Nixon as the president rails against liberal Jews' political activism and media clout. Graham tells Nixon how Jews befriend him but adds, "They don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country."

On Wednesday, as he did in 2002, Graham's longtime spokesman A. Larry Ross said Graham has never been an anti-Semite and that the remarks should be understood in context, as part of a conversation with the president.

In 2002, Graham said he had no recollection of such remarks but apologized deeply for any offense they may have caused. Now, Graham, 90, and still mobile with a walker, is no longer doing media interviews, although he sent a message of greeting to a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, underway in Louisville.

The 1973 transcript is a wide-ranging conversation between Graham and Nixon in which Graham heaps praise on the president, telling him "Congratulations on everything," and "I believe the Lord is with you."

Nixon raises the news that Israel had mistakenly shot down a Libyan civilian airliner, killing all on board. Nixon says, "What I really think is, deep down in this country, there is a lot of anti-Semitism, and all this is going to do is stir it up."

Graham agrees that it will push anti-Semitism "right to the top." Then he turns the conversation to a report he read somewhere that Israel supposedly wants to "expel all the Christians." Graham mentions Jewish opposition to a Christian evangelical unified campaign, saying Jews are "going right after the church."

He also mentions an upcoming meeting with the interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, the late Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum. In 1977, the organization honored Graham, saying, according to Graham biographer William Martin, that "most of the progress of Protestant-Jewish relations over the past quarter century was due to Billy Graham."

In 1973, Graham calls Tanenbaum the "cleverest and most brilliant" of the rabbis.

Nixon mentions an upcoming dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, and Graham, who said in earlier taped conversations that Israelis were the best kind of Jews, now brings up a biblical reference to the dense and difficult final book of the Bible, Revelation, which says in verse 3:9 that there are those who claim to be Jews who are liars, and that they belong to a "synagogue of Satan."

This is a prophetic book by John the apostle who, like Christ, was Jewish.

Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman on Wednesday blasted both Nixon and Graham, saying that, "while never expressing these views in public, Rev. Graham unabashedly held forth with the president with age-old classical anti-Semitic canards."

But Ross says the "synagogue of Satan" phrase in the Book of Revelation actually refers to anyone whose "lives and work are not in keeping with traditional Jewish values."

From USA Today
Tags: former presidents
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