Transcript: Billy Graham and Richard Nixon, February 21, 1973
Graham: “And the people that have been the most pro-Israel are the ones that are being attacked now by the Jews.“
The Rev. Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon held a phone conversation on February 21, 1973, right after a horrific terrorist attack committed by Israel. The Israelis had just shot down a civilian airplane, killing 108. After an exchange of niceties, the transcription starts at 2:10:
Graham: I believe, I believe the Lord is with you. I really do.
Nixon: You know, we’ve got, we’ve still got the problems. Wasn’t that a horrible thing, those Israelis shooting down that plane?
Graham: Terrible. [unintelligible]
Nixon: I’ve just been raising the devil about that because, uh, I mean it was so stupid, it was so stupid. I mean, to shoot down an unarmed 707? Good heavens. I mean, that’s worse than what they did at the Olympics, the other side.
Graham: Well, this will be an embarrassment for her [Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir], coming here next week, won’t it?
Nixon: Well, I think it is, yes. But, on the other hand, that’s going to be her embarrassment—not ours. We didn’t do it. But we have to have her, of course. And, uh, she’s, uh—I’ve urged the Israelis, of course privately, that they ought not only to express condolences but to, uh, but to indicate that they’re gonna pay reparations for this. They’ve just got to do it.
Nixon: They just did a terrible thing to have happen, because…
Graham: Things seemed to be moving a little bit better. At least that from what all I read…
Nixon: Yes, and then bing—they do this.
Graham: …and here Sadat was moving a little bit to the right, it seemed to me.
Nixon: Yes. Now this’ll force him over again.
Graham: That’s right. It sure will.
Graham: He’ll have to listen to these extremists on the left.
Nixon: Yeah. We—. It’ll probably stir up for a few days. I don’t know. But we’ll—. Any rate, we’re not going to be, we can’t be blamed for what everybody does. But, I must… with… Mrs. Meir, we’re gonna have to talk pretty straight to her about this sort of thing. When she’s here.
Nixon: Now, the Israelis, you see, what they do with a thing like this is they lose all of the support that they have in the world, you know…
Graham: That’s right.
Nixon: We’re their only friends anyway: no other country’s their friend anymore. And now this just raises, uh—Oh! It’s just terrible.
Graham: There’s two other points. One is, the front page of papers over the weekend carried the story that they’re talking about expelling all Christians from Israel.
Nixon: Oh, isn’t that nice.
Graham: And, uh, then the second point is that the Jews in this country are just raising a big… uh, uh… in speech after speech. Now, for example, this morning on the front page of the Atlanta Constitution, its third major story on the front page was a rabbi denouncing what is called “Key ’73.” Key ’73 is a combination of all the major denominations in the United States including most Roman Catholics, for the first time, joining together in an evangelistic effort. [Nixon chuckles] And they are damning Campus Crusade and damning, so forth, and Rabbi Tannenbaum is coming down here to see me this week about it. And, of course, they are never calling my name. Because they know of uh…
Nixon: You’re their friend.
Graham: I’ve been their friend, and they know that, but, at the same time, they are going right after the Church. And, and, and there’s a great deal of feeling beginning to rise in areas where they’ve had great friendship.
Nixon: What’ll happen out of this, if they don’t, you know? What I really think is that deep down in this country there is a lot of anti-Semitism, and all this is going to do is stir it up.
Graham: It’s right under the surface…
Nixon: Oh boy.
Graham: …and right to the top.
Nixon: That’s right. Well, anyway. But, uh, I must say that in terms of the other things that, uh, nobody could have ever anticipated that those great tunnels, and the POW, how they would handle themselves. You know, we—they, they did it all on there own. Nobody planned it, they just came off there with their heads high. And if we hadn’t ended the war in the right way, you know, with, uh, they wouldn’t have come out that way. If, for example, we had done what so many were urging—just get out of the war; in other words, we withdraw, if they give us our prisoners—they’d come down with their heads down.
Graham: Well, I—. They surely would. And, uh, they came off those planes saluting and saying “God bless America” and “God bless Nixon.” It was tremendous. I told, uh, my son tonight—I hadn’t seen him in quite a while—and I told him—he’s 21—that, uh, I’m not very emotional but I really cried when I saw those people. I just thought…
Nixon: Yeah, well I think the whole nation did, actually. Yeah.
Graham: …it was just a tremendous experience for this country. You know, the country, Mr. President, needed some heroes.
Graham: And we got ’em. And if they don’t get exploited now and, uh, the high pressure promoters use them…
Nixon: Yeah, that’s right.
Graham: …and the bad stories start coming out when they have to face problems at home. But, uh…
Nixon: Well, there will be some of that but we won’t exploit them, of course. We’re gonna wait until they all get back before we even have them here at the White House. But then, then we will.
Graham: Well, they deserve it. And, uh, they’re a marvelous group of people and it has brought a whole new wave of support, in a very unique way, to you, because people say, “Well, he was right.” In a very dark moment in December, you were right. And they’re gonna trust you the next time, in a way that they didn’t in the past. And I think that you’ve, you’ve got a tremendous groundswell of support for you. Did you get a copy of the letter that I wrote to Mark Hatfield?
Nixon: Yes, I did [chuckles]. I was, uh, I, uh. [Of] course, I didn’t get particularly stirred up about his comments; I just thought it was rather bad taste. But uh…
Graham: Yeah, but for him.
Nixon: Uh… I think… I thought a lot of people thought he was quite a bit out of line on that—no grace, no, uh, no, you know.
Graham. Oh, it was terrible. I sat there so embarrassed I didn’t know what to do. And when he sat back down, I turned to him, I said, I said “Mark,” I said, “I want to talk to you about that talk.”
Nixon: Did you? [chuckles]
Graham: And, uh, he didn’t say anything and I hadn’t heard from him so I wrote him a letter and told him that I, I just felt that it would have been a wonderful thing if he had turned to you and said “Mr. President, thank you for getting us this cease fire”…
Nixon: Yeah, and he didn’t do it.
Graham: …instead of getting up, talking about the sins, and so forth—really, it was terrible.
Nixon: Well, he’s a strange fellow sometimes, isn’t he?
Graham: I don’t understand him. He is the big disappointment in political life…
Nixon: He’s playing…
Graham: …at least in the politics that I have known…
Nixon: He’s playing… What he’s doing is… I think, unfortunately, he’s playing to the radical groups on the campus and the rest. He doesn’t realize that they’ve passed him by now.
Graham: Well, they’re in the past. That was proven in McGovern.
Nixon: That’s right. And here he is still, you know, pandering to that group, which is very unfortunate.
Graham: Yes, but to use a platform like that in your presence, at a presidential prayer breakfast—which we’ve leaned over backwards all these years to keep nonpolitical—and to get up and do a thing like that was just inexcusable and if he has any part in it next year I don’t intend to go.
Nixon: Well, I won’t either.
Graham: I told Doug Coe already about it and Doug, of course, is very clo—. And, you know, the interesting thing about it is that Harold Hughes is getting deep into this prayer breakfast thing, and he goes to every single meeting, he’s on every committee, and pretending to be, you know, a great Christian. And, uh, and in my judgment, there’s something wrong because the night that [Senator John C.] Stennis was shot…
Graham: …they asked me to come to a prayer meeting in the prayer chapel in the Senate, in the Capitol. And Harold Hughes was there. And, uh, Mark Hatfield was there. And when Harold Hughes started to pray—he was going to pray out loud—he said that he could not pray because he had such hatred in his heart for you. [Nixon chuckles] And so, uh, he really did, to his credit, he said “Oh, God, forgive me.” He said, “I want this out of my heart.” Because, he said, “He’s my president.” And he went through this tremendous, uh, strange experience. For me it was strange. And, um, I uh, I just—.
Nixon: One of their problems is, uh, Billy, with these people like Hughes and Hatfield too is, it’s, uh, it’s a very personal thing with them. That they proved to be wrong on the war and now they just hate to give up. That’s really what’s part of it, don’t you think?
Graham: And a lot of them, they hate to give up. But, they also, some of them, hated that you’re the one got the, got the thing over with.
Nixon: Yeah, because they had been condemning it so much, and said everything we were doing was wrong and then when it proved to be right…
Graham: Well, I…
Nixon: …then it proved they were wrong, you see?
Graham: Well, we’re—. All of your friends like me were just so proud and thrilled, and just think, you just think back four years ago where this country was and how far you’ve taken us, it’s tremendous.
Nixon: Well, you’re feeling pretty good, are you?
Graham: I’m feeling great.
Graham: Now, Rosy, uh, talked to me about the possibility of coming to the dinner for Mrs. [Golda] Meir. I don’t know whether you know that they were inviting us, but I don’t know whether we should, whether you want us or not…
Nixon: Oh, sure, sure, you should come.
Graham: …[at] the, uh, dinner, but of course if we’re invited, we’ll be…
Graham: …able to come.
Nixon: Sure. I uh. This incident, I don’t think is going to change that. I think we just have to go forward, we’re gonna have the dinner—we have to. I think your coming would be the right thing to do, right?
Graham: It might be, because of this religious situation that’s coming up in the country.
Nixon: Right. But I would be very, very tough with, uh, all of our Jewish friends in here, and Mark Tannenbaum—you tell him he’s making a terrible mistake and that they’re gonna get the darndest wave of anti-Semitism here if they don’t behave.
Graham: Well, that’s exactly right. And Mark Tannenbaum is probably the most outspoken and the most listened-to rabbi in America…
Graham: …and he’s going to come down here this week. And, uh, he wrote a, um, letter to the New York Times defending me a few days ago. And, uh, he, uh—I think if we can swing him over to make some strong statements, it’ll have a great effect.
Graham: He certainly is one of the cleverest and most brilliant of the rabbis…
Nixon: Right, right.
Graham: …and, uh, it was very much for you this past time. You know, we tried to get him to lead the prayer group at the convention and he felt he couldn’t go quite that far.
Nixon: No. Well, the thing that you’ve really got to emphasize to him though, Billy, is that this anti-Semitism is stronger than we think, you know. They just—. It’s unfortunate, but this has happened to the Jews: it happened in Spain, it’s happened in Germany, it’s happening. And now it’s gonna happen in America, if these people don’t start behaving.
Graham: Well, you know, I told you one time that the Bible talks about two kinds of Jews. One is called “the synagogue of Satan.” They’re the ones putting out the pornographic literature; they’re the ones putting out these obscene films.
Nixon: Like the thing in Time Magazine. And…
Graham: It’s terrible…
Nixon: …and then Newsweek…
Graham: Ruth canceled both of them.
Nixon: Good for her.
Graham: We won’t take Time or Newsweek.
Nixon: I’ll tell you, it’s a disgraceful thing, and I think, I think, really, they don’t deserve to live.
Graham: And for Time to come out, the week of your inauguration, with that thing, was so…
Nixon: That’s right.
Nixon: Yeah, they—. That’s the first time they ever covered an inauguration without having it on the cover.
Graham: And Henry Luce would turn over in his grave.
Nixon: I’ll say he would. I’ll say. Well.
Graham: And they’re gonna go the same way that Life went.
Nixon: They will unless they start to shaping up.
Graham: I was talking to [Barney? Laska?]. He was down there taking a vacation while we were, and he was telling me about the great amount of advertising that Time has lost over the thing.
Nixon: They really have.
Graham: That’s what he said.
Nixon: Well, they deserve it, they deserve it. The advertisers ought to be sick about this sort of thing.
Graham: Well, I saw you walked over to Trader Vic’s. That’s where I eat in Washington, had a nice time.
Nixon: Wonderful place, yeah, they’re so nice, all those people and uh… the uh…
Graham: And I saw you riding around with Jackie Gleason. [NIxon chuckles] That was great.
Nixon: Yeah, we had a great reception in South Carolina too. That was…
Graham: Oh yes, it’s on the front pages of every paper here.
Nixon: Those people are—they were great down there. Of course, that’s good country. Good country.
Graham: This has become Nixon country down through here. [both chuckle]
Nixon: Well, we’ll see you then next, uh—is it Wednesday or Thursday or, I guess, Thursday.
Graham: Thursday, I believe she told me.
Nixon: Uh huh. Thursday. I guess. Right. Thursday. Well, we’ll try to make her [Golda Meir]… Uh… We’ll, we’ll let her feel all right. But, boy I’ll tell you, privately, you’ve got to be very strong with these people.
Graham: We’re going to have a real hair-letting with Rabbi Tannenbaum and find out exactly. And he, he, I think basically, is our friend. And I want to—.
Nixon: You could point out this: that there’s nothing that I want to do more than to be, I mean, not only a friend of Israel but the friend of the Jews in this country but that, that I have to turn back a terrible tide here if they don’t get a hold of it themselves. And, uh, and it’s up to them.
Graham: And they better understand it and understand it quick.
Nixon: Because there are, there are elements in this country—no, not just the Birchers but a lot of reasonable people are now getting awful sick of it.
Graham: They really are.
Nixon: Don’t you think so?
Graham: And the Church too. I think what has happened in the church in the last two months, is almost… uh… They have almost… uh… These denominational leaders, I’m amazed. They are shaken by all this because they’ve been so pro-Jewish.
Graham: And the people that have been the most pro-Israel are the ones that are being attacked now by the Jews. And then they’re coming…
Nixon: Can’t figure it out.
Graham: …they’re going to kick all Christians out of Israel is, is unbelievable.
Nixon: Can’t figure it out. Can’t figure it out. Well, it may be they have a death wish. You know, that’s been the problems with our Jewish friends for centuries.
Graham: Well, they’ve always been, through the Bible at least, God’s timepiece and he has judged them from generation to generation…
Graham: …and uh… and yet used them and they’ve kept their identity…
Graham: …and one of the things they’re terribly afraid of is so many of these Jewish young people are turning away from Judaism…
Graham: …and turning away from Jewishness. They say they’re Jews but they’re becoming followers of Jesus. Well, that’s just scaring them to death.
Nixon: [chuckles] I see.
Graham: You see they’ve set up, they’ve set up all over the country these Jews for Jesus at the various universities.
Graham: They said they’re remaining Jews but they believe that Jesus was treated wrongly. And uh, they’re—and this is frightening Jewish leaders and they’re overreacting in this country. [Nixon sighs deeply] I’m talking about the rabbis.
Nixon: Oh, I know. Sure. Sure. The professional Jews. But they’re—they’re like the Episcopalians. They’re, they’re losing any appeal to their own people.
Graham: Sometime when, uh, I have, when you have a few minutes, I want to tell you a plan for organizing, on a world scale, a counterpart to the World Council of Churches.
Nixon: Boy, GOOD!
Graham: Just for your knowledge, we’re having a conference next summer in Lausanne, with four thousand world leaders…
Graham: …church leaders, bishops and so forth that are sick and tired of the World Council.
Nixon: Well, you know, [Eugene] Carson Blake and these people have been—well, they’re so, uh, totally overboard, you know, the, on everything that is decent. I mean, they’re, uh. they do it in the name of passivism and the rest, but they’re really, uh, uh, they’re really so close to the communists, it’s unbelievable.
Graham: Well, they are, and, uh, and they say NOTHING against the communists. Ever.
Nixon: NEVER, never. I know.
Graham: Always against us, it’s against South Africa, it’s against Greece and so forth.
Nixon: That’s right. They say—.
Graham: And, uh, you can just—their stuff seems to be written, uh…
Nixon: — right out of …
Graham: …on that side of the country, uh, world.
Nixon: …written right out of Moscow.
Graham: It sure does.
Graham: And just as you have changed the, uh, political picture, we hope to change the religious picture…
Nixon: Well, listen, I’m all for it and uh—.
Graham: … and it’s going to be a bombshell when it comes.
Nixon: When do you—that’s going to be in the summer?
Graham: Uh, next summer, summer after, in ’74. We’re going to have, uh, at least half of the Anglican Church, the Anglican World…
Nixon: Mm hm.
Graham: …with us from Britain.
Graham: We will have a third of the German Lutheran. We will have the great majority of the American Church.
Nixon: Will you?
Graham: We’ll have 90% of the Latin Church, we’ll have 75% of the Far Eastern Church, and we’re going to have, uh— and we’ll be better financed.
Nixon: Hmm. Now what about the Catholics?
Graham: We don’t know. They’re going to come in great numbers as observers.
Graham: So far, they would not be able to participate and, uh…
Graham: …you know, the Southern Baptists and groups like that wouldn’t…
Nixon: Yuh. The trouble is that, uh…
Graham: …they couldn’t anyway.
Nixon: The difficulty too is—the Catholics had better shape up a bit too [or] they’re gonna be losing their stroke because…
Graham: Well, they’re, they’re as divided as the Protestants.
Nixon: …they’re split right down the middle, they sure are. You’ve got the good guys like, you know, Crowe[?] [Krol?] in Philadelphia and, uh, Cook in New York, and then there’s this, this bad wing, that is the Jesuits, who used to be the conservatives, have become the all-out, uh, barn-burning radicals.
Graham: I, I think quite a bit, by the way, of that fellow you’ve got working for you, [John J.] McLaughlin.
Nixon: Oh yes, yeah, the priest! Yeah.
Nixon: He’s good. You know, he’s sort of a convert, uh, to our side. He came in a total, all-out peacenik and then he went to…
Graham: You told me about it.
Nixon: …went to Vietnam and changed his mind.
Graham: I’d never met him until I was over at, uh, our Prayer Breakfast over at the White House about a month ago.
Nixon: Yup, yup.
Graham: Uh, he invited me up to his office and I went over and spent about an hour with him.
Nixon: He’s a very capable fellow, bright as a tack. Well, anyway, we’ll see you then on the first.
Graham: Well, thank you sir.
Graham: I appreciate your calling.
Nixon: Tell Ruth, we’ll look forward to seeing her?
Nixon: All right.
Graham: God bless ya.
 G. Bradford Cook?