Throughout his presidency, George W. Bush was a stalwart friend of the Jewish people. His support for Israel was as rock solid as his opposition to anti-Semitism, levels of which have been rising alarmingly around the world in recent years.
As an opponent of anti-Semitism, Bush was vocal and vociferous. On May 31, 2003, the president visited Auschwitz and made a statement that was also his policy: “This site is a sobering reminder that when we find anti-Semitism, whether it be in Europe, or anywhere else, mankind must come together to fight such dark impulses.”
The president’s condemnation of anti-Semitism was consistent, reflecting a leader who possessed a clear moral compass.
On September 3, 2001, the Bush administration instructed U.S. diplomats to walk out of the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which had devolved into a hate-fest hijacked by Israel’s enemies. While other world leaders balked, Bush acted and set an example – in the face of harsh criticism from many liberals and self-styled progressives.
The president also took the initiative. In June 2003, with Bush’s encouragement, the first Organization for Security and Cooperation Conference on Anti-Semitism convened in Vienna, a cradle of Nazism. The U.S. delegation was led by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.
In October 2003, Bush excoriated Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad when the latter made anti-Semitic remarks during an address to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Bush termed Mohamed’s statements “reprehensible” and “hateful” and later that month personally reprimand Mohamed at a summit in Bangkok.
This past Chanukah, at a menorah-lighting ceremony in the White House, the president declared, “The forces of intolerance may seek to suppress the menorah, but they can never extinguish its light.”
Not only was President Bush a steadfast opponent of anti-Semitism, he also exhibited strong affection for and solidarity with the Jewish community. He frequently hosted Jewish leaders and organizations at the White House. On several occasions he met with Holocaust survivors and former Soviet refuseniks. While in St. Petersburg, Russia, in May 2002, he visited the famous Grand Choral Synagogue.
Bush was also an unwavering friend of the State of Israel. On May 15, 2008, he delivered an impassioned address to the Knesset marking Israel’s sixtieth anniversary. “America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world,” he emphatically told Israelis and the world.
Following 9/11, Bush voiced his support for the concept of a “two state solution,” but he also held the Palestinians accountable. He would not support a terror entity on Israel’s borders that would imperil the Jewish state. He demanded real change from the PA and he stated so repeatedly.
The fact that he viewed PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a man capable of bringing about that change is a point of difference the president had with many in the pro-Israel community. That should not, however, detract from Bush’s remarkably deep and consistent support of the Jewish state.
Throughout his presidency, Bush understood that Israel acted out of necessity. He refused to meet with Yasir Arafat, who had been President Clinton’s most frequent foreign visitor. On March 14, 2002, Bush issued an executive order adding the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade of Fatah to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
In June 2002, as the second intifada raged, he blamed the Palestinians for the violence, rejecting the mainstream media’s characterization of Israel as a bully lashing out as its defenseless neighbors. In May 2004, he imposed sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorist organizations.
In the summer of 2006, when Israeli forces waged war against Hizbullah after the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and the firing of missiles on northern Israel, the president again extended his support despite a barrage of criticism leveled at Israel by the media and many other world leaders.
In the most recent war fought by Israel against the forces of radical Islam, the president was unambiguous and true to form. “I understand Israel’s desire to protect itself,” he said, placing the blame where it belonged: “The situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas.”
The president stayed the course with his doctrine on terrorism and applied it to those who harbored terrorists and threatened Israel.