With his first brief apology falling short with the Jewish community, Rev. Billy Graham issued a longer one, this time acknowledging and repudiating the anti-Semitic comments he made during a taped conversation with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office in February 1972.
“My remarks did not reflect my love for the Jewish people,” the ailing 83-year-old preacher said in a statement about the conversation with Nixon that was secretly taped 30 years ago and made public two weeks ago by the National Archives.
“I humbly ask the Jewish community to reflect on my actions on behalf of Jews over the years that contradict my words in the Oval Office that day.”
But at the same time, Rev. Graham also continued to insist, as he did in his first apology, that he did not remember the conversation.
Speaking to Nixon in 1972, Rev. Graham said the Jewish “stranglehold [on America] has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.” He suggested that if Nixon were re-elected, “then we might be able to do something.”
“I don’t ever recall having those feelings about any group, especially the Jews, and I certainly do not have them now,” Rev. Graham said in the new apology released last Saturday.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who criticized Rev. Graham original apology as “mealy-mouthed,” said Monday he accepts the new one, but expressed reservations about Rev. Graham’s lack of memory.
“I don’t think it serves anybody to continue this debate,” Foxman said. “I accept the apology,” quickly adding, “forgiveness belongs to God.”
In Saturday’s apology, Rev. Graham explained that he had “scores of conversations with Mr. Nixon in which we discussed every conceivable subject.
“However, I cannot imagine what caused me to make those comments, which I totally repudiate. Whatever the reason, I was wrong for not disagreeing with the president, and I sincerely apologize to anyone I have offended.
“I am now an old man of 83 suffering from several ailments. As I reflect back, I realize that much of my life has been a pilgrimage — constantly learning, changing, growing and maturing. I have come to see in deeper ways some of the implications of my faith and message, not the least of which is in the area of human rights and racial and ethnic understanding,” Rev. Graham stated.
“Racial prejudice, anti-Semitism, or hatred of anyone with different beliefs has no place in the human mind or heart,” he continued in the apology. “I urge everyone to examine themselves and renew their own hearts before God. Only the supernatural love of God through changed lives can solve the problems that we face in our world.”
Quoting the Bible and Psalms, Rev. Graham said he takes daily comfort in Psalm 103:8: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.”
“Every year during their High Holy Days, the Jewish community reminds us all of our need for repentance and forgiveness. God’s mercy and grace give me hope — for myself, and for our world,” he said.
Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser for the American Jewish Committee, said Rev. Graham’s first apology was clearly insufficient, calling the second “stronger and clearer.” But Rabbi Rudin said the anti-Semitic comments, which went even further than Nixon’s anti-Jewish ranting, permanently tarnishes his reputation.
The episode also sheds light on the dangers of mixing religion and the White House, he said. “No religious leader should be in the position of being so part of an administration.” He noted that Rev. Graham is also President George W. Bush’s spiritual mentor.
Rabbi Rudin also said the incident raises serious questions about the Evangelical-Jewish relationship.
Foxman agreed that the Rev. Graham’s taped comments shine a new light on the perhaps true private negative feelings of Christians towards Jews, despite years of interfaith activities.
“We see it now in Europe surfacing, we see it in churches in France and Britain and here in their attitudes towards Israel and their one-sided, biased view couched in a Christian spirit, with little Christian spirit to Jewish victims of violence.” he said.
He said while there are many interfaith projects, Jewish organizations have not made “significant progress in the area of people of faith who believe they have the truth,” and categorize Jews as unsaved and subject to punishment.
“I think we have neglected that field, and I believe a lot of work needs to be done to educate that there are truths, rather than a truth, to God.