On Monday night, my wife and I attended President George W. Bush’s annual Chanukah party at the White House. Although other Presidents have held menorah lighting ceremonies, President Bush and his wife were the first to hold a party to celebrate the occasion. And it was quite a party-600 people replete with traditional Chanukah fare including potato latkes and jelly donuts and music to fit the occasion. The President said in the statement he released, “This year, as Jewish families light the menorah, the flame reminds us that light triumphs over darkness, faith conquers despair, and the desire for freedom burns inside every man, woman and child.” The President ended his statement by saying that “the forces of intolerance may seek to suppress the menorah, but they can never extinguish its light.”
When President Bush spoke before Israel’s Knesset on May 15, 2008- the day of the 60th Anniversary of Israel’s creation as a Jewish State-he gave an inspirational speech reflecting on what Israel meant to him, and what its existence means to the United States as a nation. One can say that it was certainly the most pro-Israel speech ever given by an American President.
Bush noted that the fight against terror and extremism was not just a clash of arms, but “a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle.” And he explained how Israel was a necessary ally in that fight, and why the United States could not capitulate to the demands of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. And, perhaps most important of all, he told the Israelis: “America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.” Israel, he assured them, “can always count on the United States of America to be at your side.”
George W. Bush’s commitment to Israel and his solidarity with the world’s Jews led me to reflect on a great irony. Within the United States, a high percentage of Jews, who are overwhelmingly Democrats, have been opposed to the policies of the Bush administration and bear an animus to Bush personally.
When I returned home from the party, a friend had e-mailed me two statements that address this issue. The first came from the head of America’s Reform Jewish congregations, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffe, who delivered his remarks as a sermon at the Union Board Services in Tampa, Florida on December 12th. Reform Jews are as a whole the most liberal politically of all Jewish religious bodies in our country. On various issues, especially social ones, they stand firmly opposed to the Republican Party political agenda. Whether it is gay rights, stem cell research, the fight of a woman to have an abortion if they choose, and questions pertaining to civil liberties in the fight against terrorism, they stand on the liberal side.