Several years ago the Monitor ranked the U.S. presidents (from Truman through Clinton) in terms of their relationship with Israel. Since then, readers occasionally have asked whether time and added perspective have had any effect on the list and where Barack Obama would place on it.
The following is a somewhat updated ranking, subjective and open to argument as such things always are. It goes from worst (12) to best (1) and is based on an overall assessment of a president’s attitude, actions and consistency as well as whether his decisions and policies were a help or hindrance to Israel.
12. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981): He mediated between Egypt and Israel at Camp David, but Anwar Sadat’s initiative had caught him completely by surprise after he’d foolishly agreed to bring the Soviets into Mideast talks. He never hid his intense dislike for Menachem Begin and the Carter foreign policy team was unusually ill disposed toward Israel.
11. Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961): Though the atmosphere improved a bit during Ike’s final three years in office, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel ranged from chilly to lukewarm throughout his tenure.
10. Barack Obama (2009-): Appears to lack any instinctive warmth toward Israel and has had an adversarial relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but he’s maintained strong Israel-U.S. defense and intelligence ties and last year stood against the world at the UN to prevent the unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state.
9. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993): His administration successfully pushed the UN to rescind its 1975 “Zionism equals racism” resolution and rushed anti-missile batteries to Israel during the Gulf War, but his 1991 lectern-pounding attack on pro-Israel lobbyists and the hostility toward Israel exhibited by his secretary of state overshadow any positives.
8. Gerald Ford (1974-1977): The Kissinger-Ford “reassessment’’ of American policy caused a strain for several months, but U.S.-Israel relations remained strong for the duration of Ford’s brief term.
7. John Kennedy (1961-1963): Viewed in his day as friendly toward Israel, his Mideast policy was in fact nearly as “even-handed’’ as Eisenhower’s. Constantly hectored Israel concerning its nuclear program and in 1962 wrote a craven letter to Egypt’s Nasser pleading for friendship and implying that he – Kennedy – had supported Eisenhower’s tough line toward Israel during the 1956 Sinai war.
6. Bill Clinton (1993-2001): After enjoying an excellent relationship with the Rabin-Peres Labor government, he showed a much colder face to Likud prime minister Netanyahu. Showered terror chief Yasir Arafat with respect and affection, inviting him to the White House more often than any other foreign leader.
5. Harry Truman (1945-1953): Supported partition in 1947 and statehood in 1948 but refused to sell arms to Israel and whatever economic aid he extended was belated and miserly. His recognition of Israel would have been meaningless had the Arabs prevailed militarily.
4. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): Probably felt personally closer to Israel than any other president save George W. Bush, but his administration had a number of serious policy disagreements with various Israeli governments through the 1980s. Nevertheless, U.S.-Israel ties grew immeasurably stronger during his two terms in office.
3. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969): Dramatically increased economic aid and upgraded military sales to Israel. In contrast to Eisenhower in 1956, did not squeeze Israel to unilaterally retreat after the Six-Day War.
2. George W. Bush (2001-2009): Despite being the first U.S. president to call unambiguously for an independent Palestinian state, he had a visceral affection for Israel. Former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill disclosed that just ten days after his inauguration Bush met with his national security team and declared: “We’re going to correct the imbalances of the [Clinton] administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt back towards Israel.”
1. Richard Nixon (1969-1974): His support for Israel was not as sentimental as that of Lyndon Johnson or as heartfelt as that of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, but the bottom line is he saved the state from catastrophe in the 1973 Yom Kippur War with a massive month-long arms airlift in the face of European non-cooperation and a retaliatory oil embargo imposed on the U.S. by Arab states. That alone qualifies him for the number one spot on a list of this kind.