George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, died late Friday night at his home in Houston, Texas, at age 94. His son, former President George W. Bush, praised his father, saying, “George H. W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for.”
His father, banker and later Senator Prescott Bush (R-CT), was one of the founders of the Union Banking Corporation, which in July 1942 was suspected of holding gold for Nazi leaders. In October 1942, the US government seized the bank under the Trading with the Enemy Act and held its assets until the end of World War II.
George H.W. Bush enlisted in the Navy in 1942, 6 months after the Pearl Harbor attack, and become the youngest naval aviator at the time. A fighter pilot, Bush fought in the June 19–20, 1944 Battle of the Philippine Sea, one of the largest air battles of World War II and a great American victory. Later, on September 2, 1944, Bush piloted one of four VT-51 Avengers that attacked the Japanese on Chichijima. During their attack, Bush’s aircraft was hit by flak and his engine caught fire. Despite the fire, Bush completed his mission and released bombs over his target, scoring several damaging hits. With his engine burning, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member bailed out. The other man’s parachute did not open. Bush waited for four hours in an inflated raft, while several fighters circled protectively overhead, until he was rescued by an American submarine. Bush flew 58 combat missions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation. Bush was honorably discharged from the US Navy in September 1945, one month after the surrender of Japan.
In 1966, Bush was elected to the House of Representatives from the 7th District of Texas, the first Republican to represent Houston in the House. He voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968, although it was generally unpopular in his district. He supported the Nixon administration’s Vietnam policies, but broke with Republicans on the issue of birth control, which he supported. In 1970, Bush lost a Senate bid to Lloyd Bentsen, who in 1988 ran for vice president on the Michael Dukakis ticket and lost to Bush.
As vice president, Bush personally supervised the US military’s part of Operation Joshua, the 1985 rescue of Ethiopian Jewry, and in 1991, as president, supported Operation Solomon, which brought 14,000 more Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
In 1991, the Bush administration orchestrated the reversal of the 1975 UN resolution 3379 that equated Zionism with racism.
Bush had serious confrontations with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (Likud), over the settlements in the liberated territories and negotiations for a future Palestinian state. Their biggest clash was over Bush’s planned Madrid Peace Conference of 1991, which reopened the door to the failed Middle East peace process and the catastrophic Oslo accords.
Bush opposed giving loan guarantees to the tune of $10 billion, which Israel desperately needed in order to deal with its mass immigration from the former Soviet Union. Bush refused to give the guarantees as long as Israel continued its settlements policy in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
In September 1991, in response to an AIPAC campaign on Capitol Hill in support of the loan guarantees, bush complained to reporters: “I’m one lonely little guy” up against “some powerful political forces” made up of “a thousand lobbyists on the Hill.” He was accused of anti-Semitism and later apologized. It didn’t help when his Secretary of State, James Baker, was quoted as saying, “[Expletive] the Jews; they didn’t vote for us anyway,” did little to help.
Bush finally acquiesced in August 1992, but demanded a set-off of any funds Israel spent to build housing or infrastructure in the territories. The Jews did not like him in the least. In 1992 he received less than 12% of the Jewish vote, down from 35% in 1988.
In the 1991 Gulf War, Bush’s strategy was to keep Israel from entering the war, forcing the Jewish State to become a protectorate of the US. He sent Patriot anti-missile batteries to Israel, but refused to permit Israeli warplanes to retaliate for the 41 ballistic missiles Iraq shot at its civilians.
President Reuven Rivlin on Saturday night issued a statement saying: “We have lost an American hero, George H.W. Bush, who fought in the killing fields of the Second World War, who knew to distinguish between good and evil and how to build strong regional coalitions against cruel tyrants. He led his country with skill and wisdom at the end of the Cold War and under his leadership our strategic relationship evolved into the strongest of alliances. The Jewish people will always remember his help in bringing the Jews of Ethiopia to Israel and his determination to ensure the Arab world recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released the following statement: “On behalf of the people of Israel I send heartfelt condolences to the Bush family and the American people on the passing of a great American patriot, President George H.W. Bush. His wise leadership at the end of the Cold War helped steer the world to a peaceful transition and the spread of democracy The people of Israel will always remember his commitment to Israel’s security, his important contribution to the liberation of Soviet Jewry, and his efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East at the Madrid Conference.”