Nixon, Kissinger, and the Times
A newspaper’s long struggle against its bête noire.


Conrad Black

It ill behooves the New York Times to become quite so sanctimonious about the latest Nixon tapes, which reveal some comments by the former president and Henry Kissinger about Israel, Russia, the Jews, and other groups. The Times comes to the subject of Nixon and Kissinger, and to the status of Israel and the Jews in the world, with hands that have rarely been clean for many decades. Kissinger stated, during the controversies in the early Seventies over encouragements to the Soviet Union to permit Jewish emigration (which in practice included a great many people whose rabbinical connections were tenuous), that “if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”


This was a regrettable comment by a man who was a Jewish fugitive from the Nazi atrocities, and an unbecoming sentiment for the president’s principal foreign-policy collaborator. But the conduct of those trying to tie Jewish emigration to every aspect of the Soviet-U.S. relationship was exceedingly irritating, and it was counterproductive, as the Nixon administration secured a vast increase in the numbers of such emigrants when it ceased to be a matter of direct disagreement between the two countries. Dr. Kissinger spoke with no knowledge of being recorded and was strictly correct that Jewish emigration from the USSR was not a primary U.S. foreign-policy objective.


Those who know Dr. Kissinger know his addiction to hyperbole — in professions of undying loyalty, in declarations of the unacceptability of courses he is recommending against, and in advocacy of his preferred methods of action. It is all part of his formidable personality, shaped by his talents as a survivor, not just of the persecutions of the Nazis, but of many public-policy controversies, and as a noted commentator on world affairs more than 35 years after he retired from high public office. These may not be attractive traits, and may sometimes justify acute personal disappointment, but they are well within the range of foibles permitted to talented men who have rendered important service. Dr. Kissinger has certainly earned that indulgence.


This brings us to the qualifications of the New York Times to be quite so unctuous. The Ochs and Sulzberger families that have controlled the newspaper for 114 years ceased many decades ago to construe their Jewishness as a distinction that separated them from American Christians any more than Presbyterians are separate from Episcopalians. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it does imply some surrender of the right to separate Jewish wheat from Jewish chaff. In the autumn of 1938, President Roosevelt famously declared, in reference to Nazi Germany, “There can be no peace if national policy adopts as a deliberate instrument the dispersion all over the world of millions of helpless and persecuted wanderers with no place to lay their heads.” A few weeks later, the infamous Kristallnacht pogroms against the Jews of Germany caused Roosevelt to withdraw the U.S. ambassador from Berlin, and Hitler withdrew his from Washington just before Roosevelt ordered his departure. The then publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, great-grandfather of the present Times publisher, called on Roosevelt a few weeks after that to ask that distinguished Harvard law professor Felix Frankfurter not be asked to replace the deceased Supreme Court justice Benjamin N. Cardozo, as it might be deemed to underrepresent the West and overrepresent the Jews on the high court. Roosevelt ignored this and Frankfurter joined Justice Brandeis as the second Jewish member of the Court without significant opposition.