Five years ago this week, the Monitor learned firsthand just how the mere mention of Richard Nixon is enough to turn even the most mild-mannered of liberals into screaming viragos. In that particular case, the words about Nixon that so provoked them – their tortured heads no doubt filled with the sounds of werewolves howling and fingernails scratching blackboards – appeared not in this column but in a front-page essay for this paper penned by your humble scribbler.
The piece, titled “The ‘Anti-Semite’ Who Saved Israel,” was based solely on the accounts of eyewitnesses and the work of reputable scholars, but that didn’t stop a distressingly large number of readers (several websites and blogs had mentioned or linked to the article) from accusing this mild-mannered reporter of everything from sugar-coating Nixon’s anti-Semitism to exaggerating his role in the monumental arms airlift at the heart of the story.
Of all the negative responses – many of them larded with CAPS and exclamation points, usually telltale signs of an ignoramus at work – not one dealt in substance. Conspiracy theories abounded – they always do with those who accept as fact every crackpot message they receive via e-mail or by telepathy or from signals emitted by UFOs.
When yours truly used some of the material from that front-page essay in an online article for Commentary magazine last October commemorating Nixon’s role in rescuing Israel during the Yom Kippur War, the outpouring of hatred from unhinged liberals was no less daunting.
One of the more popular notes sounded by respondents to the 2005 front-page essay was that Nixon’s actions on behalf of Israel were prompted by Golda Meir’s supposedly having had in her possession all sorts of juicy political and personal dirt on Tricky Dick that she threatened to make public. Another commonly cited blackmail scenario had Golda putting the squeeze on Nixon by threatening the use of nuclear weapons – a fanciful bit of fiction inspired by the play “Golda’s Balcony,” in which a very old, very tired and, it has to be said, very mediocre prime minister is depicted as Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle all wrapped up in one.
Well, someone who was in a position to know about these things is certainly a more reliable source than some playwright with a political axe to grind, so when your dogged correspondent penned the Commentary piece last fall, he turned to the eyewitness testimony of Mordechai Gazit, who at the time of the Yom Kippur War was director general of both the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.
Here’s what Gazit had to say to Gerald Strober and Deborah Hart Strober in their oral historyNixon: An Oral History of His Presidency: “The airlift was decided not because we asked for it. Our relations with the United States were not at a point where we could have asked for an airlift; this was beyond our imagination.”
Hard as it may be to believe, this was still not good enough for some of the more deranged Nixon-haters, who accused this unassuming scribe of taking things out of context or the Strobers of getting the story all wrong. In fact, the Strobers had a lot more in their book. For example, Gazit recounted to the Strobers Golda Meir’s visit to the White House in early November, shortly after the end of the war. No hint here of Nixon feeling as if he’d been coerced by Meir: “The meeting lasted between a half hour and forty minutes…. [Nixon] told Golda, ‘I took three critical decisions on your behalf: the airlift, the $2.2 billion to finance the arms, and the confrontation with the Soviets in’ – as he put it – ‘the precautionary alert.’ And then he whispered to her, ‘I can’t do it again.’ By this we understood him to mean that he had his own problem – Watergate; that he was not very strong, and that he was saying the time had come for us to move along in the peace process.”
And Aharon Yariv, who in a long career served in a variety of Israeli governmental positions, including chief of military intelligence, added this perspective in his interview with the Strobers: “The relationship between Nixon and Golda was one of personal friendship. When we came to the White House they were sitting next to each other in armchairs, and he put his hand on hers and said, ‘You and Brezhnev would get along well together.’ Golda would refer to Nixon as ‘my president.’ ”
But what did Gazit, Yariv and Meir know? Surely not as much as the Nixonphobes whose latest missives the Monitor eagerly awaits.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org