The world's best-known evangelist, Billy Graham, has apologised for anti-Semitic comments he made 30 years ago in a conversation with the disgraced former president Richard Nixon in the Oval Office.
Mr Graham issued a statement at the weekend in which he "humbly" asked the Jewish community to weigh up his comments with his actions in support of Jewish people over the past 30 years.
"I cannot imagine what caused me to make those comments, which I totally repudiate. Whatever the reason, I was wrong for not disagreeing with the President, and I sincerely apologise to anyone I have offended," the preacher said on his website.
He said: "I don't ever recall having those feelings about any group, especially the Jews, and I certainly do not have them now. My remarks did not reflect my love for the Jewish people. I humbly ask the Jewish community to reflect on my actions on behalf of Jews over the years that contradict my words in the Oval Office that day."
Mr Graham was forced to issue the apology after the National Archives released more than 500 hours of tape recordings that Nixon made of conversations in the White House.
In one conversation in 1972 with Nixon, an old friend, the Southern Baptist evangelist complained about what he saw as Jewish domination of the news media. "You believe that?" Nixon asked. "Yes, sir," Mr Graham said. "Oh, boy. So do I," Nixon continued. "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," Mr Graham said. "This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country's going down the drain."
Mr Graham, now aged 83, had previously denied making the comments but with the release of the tapes two weeks ago the preacher could no longer deny that it was his voice – heavy with a North Carolina accent – that could be heard making the comments.
His statement said: "I am now an old man of 83 suffering from several ailments. As I reflect back, I realise that much of my life has been a pilgrimage – constantly learning, changing, growing and maturing. I have come to see in deeper ways some of the implications of my faith and message, not the least of which is in the area of human rights, and racial and ethnic understanding.
"Racial prejudice, anti-Semitism, or hatred of anyone with different beliefs has no place in the human mind or heart. I urge everyone to examine themselves and renew their own hearts before God."
The revelation of the comments, along with Mr Graham's initial refusal to offer more than a perfunctory apology, has angered many Jewish and civil rights organisations.
Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, told The New York Times: "Here we have an American icon, the closest we have to a spiritual leader of America, who has been playing a charade for all these years.
"What's so frightening is that he has been so close to so many presidents, and who knows what else he has been saying privately."
* The daughters of Richard Nixon have gone to court in a difference of opinion over the fate of a $12m (£8.4m) bequest to their father's library.
Julie Nixon Eisenhower wants the Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California, and its assets overseen by a 24-member board. Her older sister, Tricia Nixon Cox, believes that the family should oversee the library.
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