To Julie and Tricia Nixon, Elmer H. Bobst was something of a surrogate grandfather -- an elderly family friend with whom they spent Christmas and other holidays, a self-made pharmaceutical tycoon who had championed their father in his darkest hour and set him back on the road to political achievement and respectability.

So it may have been natural for them to accept a donation last year from the Elmer and Mamdouha Bobst Foundation for a $6 million Bobst Institute on the grounds of the Nixon Library in California. The newly created center for international understanding would house the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom and other torch carriers for the late president's public and political legacy.

But letters surfacing among Nixon's White House papers in the National Archives show Bobst -- who died in 1978 at age 94 and whom Nixon called his "honorary father" -- expressing strong anti-Jewish sentiments.

"Not any of these people have a true love for our country, and unfortunately, most all of them are Jews," he wrote in a 1972 "Dear Dick" letter about the media and Vietnam, "and Jews have troubled the world from the very beginning. If this beloved country of ours ever falls apart, the blame rightly should be attributed to the malicious action of Jews in complete control of our communications."

Six months later, in a letter about the Arab oil embargo, he wrote: "Jews in our country are tolerated, but on the whole are not liked . . . Nearly two hundred million of our people will strongly resent the hardships which they now face, mainly because of the Jews."

Today the insistence of the Nixon daughters to weld the legacy of the man they called "Uncle Elmer" to that of the former president has caused deep and bitter divisions in the ranks of Nixon's most prominent supporters. The disputes amount to a tug of war between his family heirs and his political heirs, who include some of Washington's biggest political names, over who will control the money and the organizations that Richard Nixon left behind.

The tensions have been exacerbated by Nixon son-in-law Ed Cox, who has been aggressively pushing the Bobst project forward, according to sources close to it. Between 1992 and 1995 (the last year for which figures are available), the Elmer and Mamdouha Bobst Foundation paid more than $1.7 million in legal fees to the New York law firm of Donovan Leisure Newton & Irvine, in which Cox is a partner.

Cox declined to be interviewed for this article, as did his wife, Tricia, and her sister, Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

In addition to the Bobst matter, Nixon Foundation officials and board members are disturbed by what they say are increasing efforts by Cox and the Nixon daughters to micromanage the foundation and its subsidiaries -- efforts many say greatly threaten the integrity of the institutions set up in Nixon's name. Those concerns resulted in the resignation on March 14 of a key foundation member, Gavin S. Herbert, according to several foundation sources. Herbert is chairman of Allergan Inc. pharmaceuticals and a charter member of the Nixon Foundation. He did not return phone calls asking for more details on his resignation.

Four days after Herbert resigned, foundation secretary Donald Bendetti, an elderly San Clemente, Calif., businessman with long ties to Nixon, fired off a letter to Cox that, among other things, questioned what he called the "double dealing" involved in Cox simultaneously handling financial negotiations between the Bobst Foundation and the Nixon Foundation.

Peter Coll, managing partner of Donovan Leisure, said he had not seen the first Bendetti letter but was familiar with its substance. "I know of no conflict" involving Cox, he declared.

Meanwhile, at the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom, a foundation subsidiary and think tank here in Washington, concern over the proposed Bobst Institute from such prominent associates as former secretary of defense James R. Schlesinger and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger has triggered talk of severing all center ties with the Nixon Foundation and library in Yorba Linda.

Last Thursday the center's executive committee unanimously called for an emergency meeting of its board of directors this week "to discuss the continued substantive independence of the center," according to center executive secretary Dimitri Simes. Let Them Resign'

The battles within the Nixon camp have accelerated sharply in recent weeks, but in fact have been simmering at least since the former president's death three years ago. Shortly after the Nixon funeral, according to foundation sources, Ed Cox sought unsuccessfully to have the foundation's four governing stockholders -- who included Nixon's daughters -- expanded to include himself and Julie's husband, David. That would have given the Nixon family a 4-2 majority in directing all aspects of the foundation. When foundation Executive Director John Taylor countered that any expansion should include the foundation's prominent friends and donors, Cox subsequently sought to force Taylor's resignation, according to several foundation sources.

That action was judged so extreme, sources said, that David and Julie Eisenhower had to intervene to save Taylor's job. Taylor was the former president's personal assistant from 1979 until Nixon's death in 1994, and was appointed by Nixon to both run the Nixon Foundation and serve as a co-executor of his will.

Asked to confirm or comment on Cox's actions, Taylor replied: "What I can tell you about Mr. Cox is that he's married to my distinguished co-employer, Tricia Nixon Cox. And should you want to discuss anything about his affairs or the affairs of anyone in the Nixon family, none of which is any of my business, you will have to find someone above my pay grade."

For those who see Nixon only as the brooding, profane, paranoid figure of the Watergate tapes, the only president ever to resign in disgrace, the intramural skirmishes in Yorba Linda may appear just another titillating Nixonian curiosity.

But to the public policy champions of the Nixon legacy, they are serious stuff. If the Nixon Library sometimes appears to approach self-parody with its Nixon and Elvis T-shirts, its gift shop of kitsch and its exhibit of Tricia and Ed Cox wedding presents ("Gifts of a Rose Garden Wedding: They Didn't Get a Blender!"), most foundation efforts are devoted to the care and feeding of the historical Nixon.

Before his death, for example, the former president oversaw the creation here in Washington of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom, which he hoped would carry forward his approach to public affairs.

With board members like Kissinger, Schlesinger, former secretary of labor Ann McLaughlin and former ambassador to NATO Robert F. Ellsworth, the center functions as a nonpartisan think tank, addressing contemporary problems with what its literature describes as "enlightened self interest in foreign policy and pragmatic idealism at home."

Though it is technically a branch of the Nixon Foundation, the center was designed by Nixon to be programmatically independent, and is governed by its own board of directors.

"The Nixon Library quite properly concerns itself with the former president's personal and political history. The Nixon Center is very different," explained Simes, who was appointed the center's executive director by Nixon himself. "President Nixon understood that the center must remain aloof from any efforts by the library or the family to polish his image. Without that independence, we would have no credibility in Washington at all."

Thus officials of the center were appalled when the Nixon daughters signed a contract late last year, with no notice to the center's executive committee or board of directors, to build a $6 million building on the Nixon Library grounds in Yorba Linda. It was to be designated the Elmer and Mamdouha Bobst World Institute of the Richard Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom.

President Nixon had promised the center's prestigious trustees total independence if they linked their names with his. Now here they were being shoehorned into some other institution. And who was this Bobst anyway?

They soon discovered. Scholars vetting the Nixon papers and tapes in the National Archives for wholly private items turned up a file of potentially explosive Bobst correspondence that portrayed the former chairman of Warner-Lambert Co. in less than statesmanlike terms.

According to several board members of the Nixon Center, the "Jews have troubled the world" letter so agitated board member Lawrence H. Olmer that he confronted Ed Cox directly, protesting that any Bobst-Nixon Center nexus would prove intolerable to the very sort of Kissinger-McLaughlin types that the Nixon Center needed to survive.

According to one person familiar with the exchange, Cox replied, "Then let them resign."

Eventually that rift was papered over with an agreement to make the Bobst Institute a subsidiary of the Nixon Library rather than link it to the Nixon Center. But both centers remain under the umbrella of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation, of which Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Tricia Nixon Cox are chairs. Herbert and former treasury secretary William E. Simon were the other two voting stockholders in an organization whose 41-member "board of directors" has no power at all.

For more than a year foundation officials have reportedly chafed under that structure. Officials such as Bendetti and another charter member, George L. Argyros, sources say, have sought repeatedly to reorganize the Nixon Foundation along more corporate lines so that major donors and directors would at last have a meaningful role.

Ed Cox, however, has effectively vetoed all such proposals, according to documents generated by the controversy. Acting as Tricia Cox's representative, he has repeatedly canceled meetings and, according to foundation officials, has needlessly prolonged negotiations. The Bobst matter brought that dispute to a head. After failing in his efforts to mediate the larger issue of foundation control with Cox, Herbert resigned in frustration, according to foundation sources.

It was in that context that Bendetti, a semi-retired contractor attempting to oversee the Bobst building project for the Nixon Foundation, wrote an emotional letter to Cox last month. According to sources who have read the letter, it accused Cox of driving away the very sort of loyalists with expertise the foundation needs to survive. It also raised questions about Cox's juggling his fiduciary responsibility as a lawyer for the Bobst Foundation with his ongoing personal relationship with the Nixon Foundation.

Bendetti declined to furnish a copy of the letter to The Washington Post when asked to do so, but two days later faxed The Post a note stating, "I have not questioned the propriety of Ed Cox' actions . . . nor have I heard any associate or official of either the Foundation or the Center raise any such question." Six days after that, however, he declared in a related letter to someone else that the contents of the letter to The Post "are not really a true representation of how I feel on the issues."

According to sources, Cox has expressed his hope to be named to the potentially lucrative post of executor of the will of Bobst's widow, Mamdouha, a onetime member of the Lebanese delegation to the United Nations. She heads the $38 million Bobst Foundation, and has energetically championed the Bobst Institute at the Nixon Library as a vehicle to foster international understanding.

Income tax returns, which it makes public because it is a charitable institution, show the Bobst Foundation paid Cox's law firm, Donovan Leisure, $263,174 in legal fees in 1995, $165,282 in 1994, and more than $720,000 in both 1993 and 1992.

Groundbreaking for the Bobst Institute is expected on the grounds of the Nixon Library within the next month or so. Old Friends

Whatever advantages Cox may see in the Bobst Institute, others close to Nixon daughters say it is hard to overestimate their emotional ties to the memory of Bobst himself, whom one source described as "the only man they ever called Uncle.' "

In the darkest days of their father's political career, after his defeat for governor of California in 1962, it was Bobst who invited an exhausted and despondent Nixon aboard his 90-foot yacht in the Caribbean, counseled him to move to New York, and ultimately landed him a job with his multimillion-dollar drug company's own law firm.

The largely self-educated Clear Spring, Md., native, who built the Hoffman-LaRoche pharmaceutical company from 34 employees to more than 3,000 before becoming president of Warner-Lambert, met Nixon in 1952. Throughout the 1960s he and Mamdouha ("Dodo" to her friends) spent nearly every Christmas and birthday with the Nixons, either at the former president's home or at one of the Bobst residences on the Jersey shore, at Palm Beach, or at No. 1 Sutton Place in Manhattan.

Though Bobst has been dead for almost 20 years, Executive Director Taylor, speaking for the Nixon daughters, said they "still feel very close to him" and knew of his and Nixon's longtime hope to have their friendship memorialized on the grounds of the library where Bobst was a founding -- and generous -- contributor.

The wealthy drug tycoon, whose only child died in 1964, also set up trust funds for the Nixon daughters, according to documents released in 1969 by the Nixon White House.

Bobst maintained a spirited "Dear Dick" correspondence with Nixon in the Oval Office, advising him on everything from the cost of living to the Vietnam War. He also was in periodic and friendly communication with Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods.

At least a dozen Bobst letters or memos relayed to Nixon by Woods are accessible in the Nixon papers at the National Archives. The Nixon estate successfully challenged the release of five others to prevent "a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy or a libel of a living person."

Judging the full dimensions of Bobst's attitude toward Jews is impossible from the evidence in the Archives most readily at hand.

For example, in a Feb. 22, 1973, phone call relayed by Woods, Bobst describes the Israelis as "a nasty, lousy group . . . acting like uncivilized people," but an Oct. 13, 1971, letter to then-Attorney General John Mitchell mentioned New York Supreme Court Judge Irving Kaufman as a possible appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I can only state that if you and the Boss' should decide on appointing a Jew to fill one of the vacancies, Irving ought to receive some consideration," Bobst writes.

Taylor said the Nixon daughters are aware of the character of Bobst's correspondence with their father, but don't consider it reflective of Bobst's total character and don't consider him to have been an antisemite.

In accepting the proposed $6 million gift for the Bobst Institute from his widow, Taylor said, the daughters and the Nixon Foundation "were not prepared to say . . . that although it appreciated the {Bobst} Foundation's generosity . . . because of the controversy over the letters, that generosity is no longer good enough for us."

CAPTION: Elmer Bobst and Julie Nixon Eisenhower in 1971. A proposed institute named after Bobst on the grounds of the Nixon Library has divided the late president's supporters in part because of anti-Jewish sentiments in some of Bobst's letters to Nixon.

CAPTION: Tricia Nixon Cox and husband Ed Cox, center, with Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.) at a Nixon Center dinner last year.