A prominent American rabbi insists the Anti-Defamation League has defamed Rev. Billy Graham in its criticism of remarks the Protestant evangelist made about Jews 30 years ago in the Oval Office.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of the activist group Toward Tradition, maintains ADL director Abraham H. Foxman’s characterization of Graham as a purveyor of “age-old classical anti-Semitic canards” is unfair.

The “canard” in question, notes Lapin, is that Jewish people are disproportionately represented among Hollywood and other media powerbrokers. In secretly recorded remarks to President Nixon that recently were released to the press, Graham spoke of a Jewish “stranglehold” on the media.

“The unfairness of this ADL attack was highlighted by the week’s news that the producers of ‘A Beautiful Mind’ deliberately left out any references to the genuinely anti-Semitic beliefs and comments of their protagonist, mathematician John Nash, amply documented in Sylvia Nasar’s biography on which the film is based,” said Lapin, author of “America’s Real War,” a book that encourages a return to Judeo-Christian principles.

Lapin pointed out that according to published reports, the film’s director, Ron Howard, did this at least partly because he hoped to garner Academy Award recognition.

“Given that the Hollywood establishment indeed includes a considerably greater proportion of people of Jewish ancestry than does the American populace as a whole, Mr. Howard was concerned that the Academy would justifiably spurn a film that lionized an anti-Semite,” Lapin explained. “To call that a ‘stranglehold’ may not be polite, but it is no lie, either.”

Lapin says he cannot understand why it is acceptable for Howard to “acknowledge this reality, however implicitly; but when Billy Graham did so, long ago and in private, it was somehow different – ‘chilling and frightening,’ in Mr. Foxman’s words.”

The ADL’s statement “forced a heartfelt apology from the frail and elderly Rev. Graham,” Lapin noted.

In a statement released by his public relations firm March 1, Graham said: “Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon … some 30 years ago. They do not reflect my views and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks.”

Foxman has refused to accept Graham’s apology, however, which he called “mealy-mouthed.”

“Such insults are truly inappropriate,” said Lapin. “Could it be that these attacks are directed at Billy Graham because he is a conservative evangelical Christian – whereas Ron Howard gets a pass because he is not a Christian in that mold?”

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