More than a few obituaries of the evangelical preacher Billy Graham, who died last week at the age of ninety-nine, mentioned the bluntly anti-Semitic statements he made while in conversation with Richard Nixon, preserved on the president’s infamous tapes. To Jonathan Tobin, these comments should not overshadow Graham’s positive attitude toward the Jewish people and the Jewish state:
Graham publicly apologized [for his remarks after the tapes became publicized] and asked the Jewish community for forgiveness. The real damage here was not so much the hurt feelings that the comments caused as much as the way they confirmed the negative opinions that so many in the community already held about evangelical Christians.
The profound distrust among liberal American Jews bordering on contempt for evangelicals in general and Christian conservatives in particular is so pervasive as to be unremarkable. That it often crosses over into religious prejudice is something few in the American Jewish community—which tends to think of religious bias as something only done to them, rather than what they can possibly do to others—think actually occurs. Most Jews also rarely consider the vital role these same Christians play in maintaining support for Israel and opposing anti-Semitism. . . .
The salient point about Graham is [that he] was an early and impassioned supporter of Israel. A much-publicized tour of the country in 1960 helped galvanize support for the Jewish state among evangelicals at a time when sympathy for Zionism in the U.S. was far greater among liberals than among conservatives, who were Graham’s base of supporters. He was willing to stand with Israel when it was both popular and unpopular, publicly urging it not to endanger its security and even producing a film about it that’s still popular among Christian audiences. He was also an early and influential supporter of the cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry.
There will be those who will look back on his anti-Semitic remarks as “proof” that evangelicals are not sincere about their love for Israel and their friendship for the Jews. But such reasoning ought to be rejected by thinking people. . . . [A] Jewish rejection of Graham and the tens of millions of other evangelicals not only makes no sense, but also is deeply self-destructive. . . . At a time when Israel remains beset by hatred and many are urging boycotts rooted in anti-Semitic animosity, friends like Billy Graham—and all the many other evangelicals who followed in his footsteps in support of Israel—should be embraced, rather than disdained. To do otherwise says more about our own prejudices against Christians than it does about the shortcomings of evangelicals.