Watergate’s Jewish ‘thing’ & Nixon’s thing for the Jews – The Times of Israel

Posted By on June 19, 2022

Fifty years ago, on June 17, 1972, the Watergate break-in changed the world. Little did we know it at the time, or for months after, that this seemingly innocuous, two-bit trespass would transform how Americans would view the venerated institutions of our civic life. Many were tainted by the stench of the scandal, from the FBI to the CIA to the presidency itself. Other institutions, most notably the press, acquitted themselves quite well.

But what about the Jews or as Nixon liked to call us, the Jewboys? Was Nixonthe most antisemitic president ever? An argument can be made for that, but having had so many private conversations recorded probably gives him an unfair advantage. Its hard to quantify such things, but its also hard to imagine American Jewry surviving someone who hated Jews more than Nixon did. Even before Watergate, there was NixonsJew Count.discussed by Woodward and Bernstein inThe Final Days. Nixon was convinced that Jews in the Labor Department were deliberately undermining his efforts by altering labor numbers, so he had some people with Jewish last names demoted. The planhas been calledthe last known act of official anti-Semitism conducted by the United States government. And wait, theres more.President Nixon alsopushed for tax audits of wealthy Jewish contributorsto his Democratic rivals.

During Watergate, perhaps Nixons most vociferous defender was not only Jewish but a rabbi,Baruch Korff, whom Nixon introduced as my rabbi. Nixons speechwriter, William Safire, was also Jewish (Safire generously compared Nixon to a layer cake). They were not Nixons sole Jewish defenders we cant forget that many Jews considered Nixon heroic for airlifting assistance to Israelduring those first precarious days of the Yom Kippur War. And there was Henry Kissinger, whose Jewish backgroundwas the source of some uneasein an Oval Office suspicious of Jews.In one tape,Nixon blurts out to H.R. Haldeman, The Jews are all over this government.Nixon said the Jews needed to be brought under control by putting someone in charge who is not Jewish in key agencies. Washington is full of Jews, the president stated. Most Jews are disloyal.But he made exceptions, and for the most part, Kissinger was one of them. He evenprayed with himas the walls closed in.

Its clear that Nixons antisemitic proclivities went way beyond Jewboy, tax audits and labor statistics.He considered Jews to be born spies. Nixon conjured up Jewish demons even where there were none; his paranoia extended to non-Jews whoseemedJewish to him. Hisoriginal enemies listand expandedmaster list of political opponentshad plenty of Jewish sounding names.In the tapes, his responseto the Pentagon Papers leak was to consider revivingtheHouse Committee on Un-American Activities to investigate government whistleblowers or in his words, going after all these Jews. Just find one that is a Jew, will you. ButDaniel Ellsberg was not Jewish he was raised as a Christian Scientist, though his parents were born Ashkenazi Jews.

Mark Felt,the great Watergate whistleblower of Deep Throat fame, was also not Jewish; nonetheless the Watergatetapes disclosedthat Nixon was suspicious of him as he asked H.R. Haldeman, Is he a Catholic? Haldeman replied that Felt, who was of Irish descent, was Jewish, and Nixon replied: It could bethe Jewish thing. I dont know. Its always a possibility.

What exactly is this Jewish thing? What is it that caused Nixon to assume that whistleblowers like Deep Throat and Ellsberg were Jewish?

Nixon would undoubtedly have invoked theProtocols of the Elders of Zionand spoken of dual loyalty, but Id define the Jewish Thing as the prophetic instinct to speak truth to power, to seek justice and pursue it, following the calls of elders who speak on the pages ofIsaiah 1:17,Deuteronomy 16:20,Micah 6:8andPsalms 34:15 and so many more ancient passages.We are obsessed with justice. The word for justice,tzedek,appears no fewer than118 times in the Hebrew Bible.Click hereto see over 4,000 usages of the term justice in the Sefaria database of traditional Jewish sources.

We wont accept a world where bad presidents happen to good people. We are obsessed with getting it right. We are maniacal for justice and were seeing it again this week with the January 6 investigation.

Thats the Jewish Thing.

Any nation can have kings and emperors. We have them too, but we also have prophets. Yes, we have our share of corrupt politicians, including two Israeli former prime ministers who are currently suing each otherfor slander in one of the most absurd trials of all time. Weve had Olmert, who went to jail, and Bibi, who might, and King Ahab, whorobbed a poor man of his livelihood and his life. We had a whole slew ofcorrupt Hasmonean rulers. But we also had Jeremiah. We had Nathan. We had Spinoza and Kafka and Reb Nachman. We are the people of Mike Wallace and Philip Roth and Arthur Miller and Boris Pasternak. We are the people of Carl Bernstein, along with a slew of great journalistsand othertruth tellers, and at least in H.R. Haldemans estimation, we are the people of Deep Throat too.

Yes, its nice to know that, to Richard Nixon, Jews were a thing. We are a thing that stands up to corruption. We are a thing that believes in an old fashioned concept called integrity and honesty. We have a sense of shame. We speak truth to power. Even when there are political differences, how could a Jew not admire someone who stands up to power even at the risk of their political future. That happened so often in Watergate it has rarely happened after January 6. Our thing is why he feared us and why extremists, liars and cheats continue to today.

Fifty years later, Nixon and Deep Throat and many of the other key players are gone. Nixon never went to jail, but neither did he get away with it. Meanwhile, the Jewish Thing lives on and on.

May it and we continue to spread the light of justice throughout the world.

Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi Wisdom for Untethered Times and "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously."Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as About.com's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website.Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Cobie, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles.Contact Rabbi Hammerman:rabbi@tbe.org(203) 322-6901 x 307

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Watergate's Jewish 'thing' & Nixon's thing for the Jews - The Times of Israel

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