By Neuhaus, Richard
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life
The term hypocrisy is much over-used and much misused. It comes from the Greek, of course, and means to act on the stage, to pretend to be what one is not or to believe what one does not believe. For all of us, and in various aspects of our lives, there is a gap between who we represent ourselves to be and who we really are; between what we say we believe and what we, at least at times, really think. That is not hypocrisy. That is the consequence of human frailty, confusion, cowardice, or, sometimes, a simple desire not to hurt the feelings of others.
Hypocrisy is something much more deliberate and calculated. Hypocrisy aptly describes much discussion, or non-discussion, about the role of Jews in American life. It is commonly practiced among Christians, and my Jewish associates assure me it is as common among Jews. A significant difference is that there is a large literature produced by Jews on Jews in American life, whereas non-Jewish discussions of the subject tend to be confined to the shadowed world of bigotry and conspiracy-mongering. For non-Jews who understand how things are done, Jews in American life is a forbidden subject, at least in public.
Consider the recently released tapes from President Richard M. Nixon's Oval Office when, in 1972, he and Billy Graham discussed what they obviously viewed as the Jewish problem. Referring to Jewish domination of the media, Graham says, "This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country's going down the drain." "You believe that?" responded Nixon. "Yes, sir," said Graham. "Oh, boy. So do I," said Nixon. "I can't ever say that, but I believe it." "No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something," Graham said. Mr. Nixon turned the conversation to Jewish influence in Hollywood, and Mr. Graham said, "A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them." Nixon replied, "You must not let them know."
Graham's office promptly issued a statement on behalf of the evangelist, now eighty-three and ailing, saying that he did not remember the conversation with Nixon and the reported remarks certainly do not reflect his thinking about Jews and Judaism. A source familiar with the Nixon White House and with Mr. Graham says he is sure that the conversation was very specifically about leftist Jews, which, as we shall see, does not quite fit the definition of anti-Semitism. But the press played it as an instance of anti-Semitism, and that does provide an occasion for trying to understand a phenomenon usually obscured by dissembling, evasion, fear, and, yes, hypocrisy.
No Dirty Little Secret
Anti-Semites--and there really are anti-Semites--think they have a corner on a dirty little secret. Their supposed secret is that Jews have a disproportionate influence in American society. But of course that is no secret at all; it is the obvious fact. About 2 percent of the population, a little over five million people, exercise an influence far out of proportion to their numbers. In certain sectors of American life--notably in media, entertainment, prestige research universities, and to a lesser extent in finance--people in that 2 percent hold 20, 40, or even more than 50 percent of the positions of greatest influence. It is quite astonishing. It is clearly disproportionate. Some say that it is not only disproportionate, which is obvious, but that it is inordinate, meaning that it is excessive and contrary to the right order of things. People who say that are also given to suggesting that the disproportionate influence of Jews is baneful. Certified anti-semites say out loud, and many others say sotto voce, that America has a Jewish problem.
A recent survey, confirming many earlier surveys, indicates that Jews and Judaism have a very high approval rating. …