Malek apology questioned

By Debra Rubin

WASHINGTON (Washington Jewish Week) — Fred Malek again has apologized for counting Jews in the Nixon White House, but at least one Jewish group says the apology rings hollow.

Another group, however, is standing firmly behind Malek, a controversial appointee as the chair of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Commission on Government.

Malek was the White House personnel chief in the early 1970s when he counted the number of Jews working at the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the request of President Nixon, who was concerned about a “Jewish cabal” at the department making him “look bad.”

“Over my five decades of career, I’ve made mistakes. That was the biggest one I have ever made in life,” Malek said while speaking to reporters last week in Richmond, Va. “I think I’ve apologized and atoned for it. I’ve learned from it and it’s time to move


Some of the employees were reassigned, although Malek has said he never knew any personnel changes were made based on his figures and would have refused to move employees if he had been asked.

Recently released documents and transcripts, however, seem to tell a different story.

For example, in one July 1971 memo, first reported by Timothy Noah of Slate, Malek recommends the transfer of five of the 13 Jews he has identified.

That September, Malek followed up with a memo to White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman saying that Harold Goldstein would be reassigned, and that Peter Henle and Leon Greenberg would be transferred. All three men were Jewish.

Malek in 1988 had told The Washington Post that he did not take part in moving anyone out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, saying that “If I had even been peripherally involved or asked to alter someone’s employment status, I would have found it

offensive and morally unacceptable, and I would have refused.”

Until the recent reports Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, had accepted that apology. Now, however, he says it’s not enough.

On June 4, prior to Malek’s apology that afternoon, the NJDC called on Malek “to truthfully apologize for his role” in providing Nixon with information on Jewish employees in the Labor bureau “because of suspected ‘disloyalty.’ “

The NJDC also urged candidates for public office to return or refuse money from Malek.

Asked Monday about Malek’s latest apology, Forman remained firm.

“As far as I can see, Fred Malek has never walked back from his earlier assertion that

he role was limited,” Forman said. “He should apologize for that larger role.”

Forman went on to say that Malek “should come clean on the total extent of his record, and then let’s move on.”

Other Jewish organizational leaders took a softer stand.

“There is the concept in Judaism of repentance,” said Ron Halber, the Jewish Community

Relations Committee’s executive director. “He has apologized repeatedly, and actually has been involved in the Jewish community. At a certain time, enough is enough.”

Halber also said that “If it’s true that he played a larger role than he indicated he has, he has to come clean.”

Melanie Maron Pell, who directs the American Jewish Committee’s Washington-area office, said that defenses of Malek should not be minimized, yet “if there’s other information that’s been withheld, it needs to be acknowledged and discussed.”

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, may be Malek’s strongest defender in the Jewish organizational world.

In a statement released by the ADL, Foxman said that “Fred Malek has been deeply

supportive of the Jewish community, and there is nothing in his record of the last 39 years to suggest that we would have any reason not to accept his apology.”

Neither the ADL nor a spokesperson for Malek would say if Malek contributes to the organization. Malek sits on the American Israel Friendship League board.

A Virginia lawmaker who is Jewish and has vocally opposed Malek’s appointment since McDonnell announced it more than a month ago takes a stand similar to Forman’s.

“His apology is meaningless,” Del. David Englin, a Democrat, said in an interview. “If he would come forward and openly admit the full scope of his activities in government, then we could move forward.”

Malek spokesman Mark Corallo dismissed the criticism as “the politics of personal destruction.”

Malek, he said, “has apologized for his mistake. He has taken responsibility for his mistake. He has atoned for his mistake.”

Asked to detail the mistake, Corallo said, “the mistake of acquiescing to

his boss’ orders.”

(This article first appeared in The Washington Jewish Week.)