George Herbert Walker Bush (1924-2018) – or “Bush 41” – had a long and storied career in public service. After serving two terms in the House of Representatives (1966-70), he served as Nixon’s UN Ambassador (1971) and later as Nixon’s Republican National Committee Chairman (1973); as Ambassador to China (1974-5) and CIA Director (1975-6) under Ford; and as Reagan’s vice president (1980-1988), before being elected president (1988).
As UN Ambassador, Bush made freeing Soviet Jewry a fundamental objective and, as Reagan’s vice president, he personally directed Operation Joshua, the 1985 rescue of Ethiopian Jewry. His presidency marked the triumph of Operation Solomon (1991), which brought an additional 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Eretz Yisrael; his administration succeeded in reversing the shameful “Zionism equals racism” UN resolution; he provided Patriot anti-missile batteries to Israel for defense and protection during the Gulf War; and he later facilitated American financing of Israel’s Arrow anti-missile program.
Although some argue Bush’s foreign policy was a complex mix of support and opposition to Israel’s foreign policy, a strong case can be made that the Bush administration was the most hostile to Israel in American history – until Barack Obama indisputably seized the presidential anti-Israel crown. Perhaps most tellingly, upon his death last month as the oldest ex-president in American history, Bush was hailed by the Palestinian leadership as “the only U.S. president to have the guts to stand up to Israel.”
Bush’s term in office was marked by four years of relentlessly intense pressure on the Jewish state. He complained about “the power of the Jewish lobby,” infamously characterizing himself as “one lonely guy standing up to something like 1,000 [Jewish] lobbyists on the Hill,” and condemned AIPAC (the America-Israel Political Action Committee) and he invoked charges of “dual loyalty” against American Jews.
He also harshly criticized Israel’s defensive efforts to quell the “First Intifada;” failed to veto nine anti-Israel UN resolutions in the Security Council; vociferously opposed Israeli “settlements,” which he called “an obstacle to peace;” essentially forced Israel to refrain from defending itself by retaliating against Saddam Hussein’s SCUD missile attacks; and later stated that “East Jerusalem” was not a sovereign part of Israel.
When Prime Minister Shamir requested a $10 billion loan guarantee to help resettle tens of thousands of Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union, Bush threatened to veto American loan guarantees unless Israel promised not to use the money for settlements. Bush – whose father, Prescott Bush, was reputed to be a Nazi collaborator prior to Pearl Harbor – did not extend the loan guarantees until the Rabin government, deemed by the Bush administration to be “moderate,” succeeded Shamir (1992) and the new government suspended construction and financing in the settlements.
Shown here is a photo of President Bush and Prime Minister Rabin chatting at the beach in Kennebunkport at Bush’s summer home in Maine, signed by both leaders. Bush was fond of Rabin – probably because the prime minister bowed to his demands – and he made a point of attending his funeral.
Shown below is also a November 15, 1995 poignant handwritten correspondence to Douglas Kleiner, executive vice-president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, in which Bush writes, “I was so glad that I went to P.M. Rabin’s funeral. Sad, so very sad it all is. Thanks for your thoughtful note. Sincerely George Bush.”
Bush ultimately paid the price for his anti-Israel policies when he was defeated by Bill Clinton in his bid for reelection, in no small part due to Jewish anger; he went from 35 percent of the Jewish vote in 1988 to 11 percent in 1992, and Jewish financial support for his campaign all but evaporated. (Bush himself later attributed his defeat to “the Jewish Lobby.”)
* * * * *
Shown here is a March 2, 1985 correspondence on Bush’s vice-presidential letterhead written to Kenton Kilmer, son of the famous poet Joyce Kilmer and the translator of Andre Chouraqui’s A Man in Three Worlds (1979):
Thank you for that thoughtful letter of February 22. I am writing this as I rush off to Africa.
I would love to have someone in my National Security Office which is headed by Don Gregg, summarize for me the “proposal for the reconciliation of Israel and the Arab states” that is outlined in A Man in Three Worlds.
If this is agreeable, please send the book to Don Gregg, and we will return it when finished.
Chouraqui (1917-2007) was one of the most accomplished and remarkable Jews you probably never heard of. Renaissance man, Biblical scholar, and politician, he was a lawyer (a graduate of the Sorbonne) and Judge of the Court of Appeals in Algeria; an unofficial ambassador for Europe’s post-WWII Jewish leadership; and playwright, author, and gifted literary translator. (Among other things, he translated into French the Tanach, Christian Bible [emphasizing its Jewish basis], and the Koran.
One of the few North African Jewish intellectuals to immigrate to Israel, he was a personal advisor to Ben-Gurion on integrating various Israeli ethnic communities and served as Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem (1965-69) under Teddy Kollek. He worked throughout his life to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians and was instrumental behind the scenes in laying the foundation for the Camp David peace accords.
His many published works include The Creation of the State of Israel (1948); Between East and West: A History of the Jews of North Africa (1968); A Man Alone (1960), a biography of Herzl; and various essays on biblical studies and medieval philosophy.
Chouraqui’s peace proposal involved “giving up their outworn idea of static sovereignty” and creating a federation of the “reunited” lands of Israel, Palestine and Jordan, wherein each ethnic entity would find its national rights guaranteed. The only solution to the Mideast problem, he writes, is “to unite the disputed territories but separate the races…and give the nationalities the opportunity to express themselves through autonomous political and cultural entities.”
He envisioned two freely elected parliaments, Israel and “Ishmael” (composed of two chambers, one Jordanian and the other Palestinian), to promulgate laws. All Arabs, including those in Israel, would be eligible to vote in the “Arab parliament” and all Jews, even those settled in the territories with an Arab majority, would belong to Israel; Jerusalem, reunited forever, “would be the spiritual center of the reconciled peoples.”
While we don’t know if anyone in the National Security Office ever summarized this proposal to the vice president, it is fascinating to note that American policy toward peace in the Mideast under Bush seems somewhat consistent with Chouraqui’s proposal, and it may well be that A Man in Three Worlds had a primary impact on American policy with respect to Israel.
* * * * *
Bush’s presidency was marked not only by anti-Israel policies but also by anti-Israel rhetoric never before heard, particularly from Secretary of State James A. Baker, surely one of the most reviled public figures in both Israel and among American Jews.
In 1991, he became the first American official to negotiate directly and officially with Palestinians; he and Bush essentially forced Israel to attend the Madrid Peace Conference (October 1991), which ultimately failed to yield results; and the two sought to launch a second Mideast peace initiative, the “Madrid 2 Conference” – while excluding Israel from participating. They demanded that Israel negotiate with a Palestinian delegation consisting of Palestinians deported from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Baker publicly supported the Palestinian “right of return,” which would effectively end the Jewish state.
In one of his more notorious statements about Jews, Baker stated “Don’t worry, Jews remember the Holocaust, but they forget insults as soon as they smell cash” (N.Y. Post, March 6, 1992). While testifying before the House in June 1990, a frustrated Baker, complaining about the “hawkishness” of Israel’s new government, sent an obnoxious message to Prime Minister Shamir: “Here’s the White House phone number; when you’re serious about peace, give us a call.”
He also referred to pro-Israel supporters in Congress as “the little Knesset.” But his greatest manifestation of anti-Jewish antipathy was undoubtedly his infamous declaration: “[Expletive deleted] the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.” In this historic March 6, 1992 correspondence on his White House letterhead to former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Bush writes:
Someone called my attention to that ugly story about Jim Baker in today’s New York Post by Broderick, Burke, and Goldstein. I don’t accept that Jim would say such a thing. He is working relentlessly to find a solution to a difficult problem – one that will benefit Israel and the cause of peace in the Middle East. He would not have had any White House meeting on the subject of loan guarantees except in my presence; and, Ed, I never ever heard such ugliness about Jim Baker…
In your column, you also suggest that I “intimidate many American Jewish leaders by implying that their opposition to my policy on Israel was a demonstration of dual loyalty.” There was a flap, and many Jewish leaders were upset with me, but it was not about dual loyalty. It was about the “lobbying” effort. Some were disturbed with my statement that led them to believe I thought lobbying was pejorative. I tried to make clear in the attached letter, for example, that I did not have that in mind….
Bush added the following handwritten entry: “P.S. In spite of this `flap’ your #1 fan remains BPB (i.e., Barbara Pierce Bush) – she sends her best.”
Koch discussed the allegations in his own New York Daily News column and, in a March 13, 1992 comeback to Bush’s letter, he wrote:
Regarding Secretary of State Jim Baker and his alleged remarks, which I reported in my column, you must know that if I did not have complete confidence in my source, who was present when the remarks were made, I would not have reported it as such. Believe me, the source is impeccable and is one that even you would find totally credible…
In a 2008 book, Koch finally revealed his source – and it was, indeed, unimpeachable: then Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp.