Rabbi Yoffe’s remarks were largely a meditation on our current crisis, and the hopes that American Jews shared for the success of the coming Obama Presidency, and their desire for the new President’s success in his endeavors to serve our country. He was particularly concerned for the creation of universal health care, and he urged President-elect Obama not to put its attainment off because of the serious economic issues confronting us.
It was a surprise, therefore, to read these words of Rabbi Yoffe:
“And what of the State of Israel? When we look at Israel today, we see a strong state with a reasonably healthy economy. Much of the credit should go to President George W. Bush. He supported Israel’s security needs, provided much-needed military aid, and accepted no excuses for Palestinian terror. The President is under siege right now, but we in the Jewish community must not forget that he has been a good friend to the Jewish State and the Jewish people.”(my emphasis.)
Reform Jews who often participated in the veritable orgy of Bush hatred must have blanched as they heard these words, but it would not have come as a surprise to those Jews who knew the President.
An op-ed by Noam Neusner, a Jewish liaison for President Bush from 2002 to 2005, explained to his readers how seriously George W. Bush was in his commitment. The Jews, Neusner writes, “really do matter to him.” It is not simply a case of pandering to a constituency, one he well knows does not support him politically. ”I saw his eyes well up,” Neusner writes, “while watching the Holocaust-themed movie “Paper Clips”…I know how moved he was by meeting with Soviet Jewish refuseniks, Holocaust survivors and the parents of slain journalist Daniel Pearl.” Neusner attended one meeting the President had with Jews from around the world, who now lived in America after years of torment in countries like Cuba, Uganda, Zimbabwe and other bastions of anti-Semitism. As they told him how only in this nation did they find the right to live as Jews, Bush “walked out of the meeting shaking his head, appalled by the special hatred tyrants have reserved for the Jews.”
Neusner understands well that since Bush is a Southern evangelical Republican, it is virtually impossible for him to win over the Jews, and that criticism of him for favoring policies most Jews disagree with is “fair enough.” On foreign policy, some conservative Jews feel he did not do enough to confront Iran- he should have taken military action to stop them move to obtaining nuclear weapons- while others feel he was too bellicose.
But on Israel, Neusner cannot countenance that they see “his leadership on Israel and anti-Semitism” as both “quaint and one-dimensional.” Some take it for granted. “But they should not,” he warns, “be so casual with a friend.” In fact, Neusner argues that Bush was “more Zionist than many Israelis, more mindful of Jewish history than many Jews…and we American Jews can be thankful at least for that.”
A few years ago, I heard former Mayor Ed Koch of New York accept an award at a dinner honoring Jewish leaders in Washington, DC. President Bush was present, and Koch saluted him, telling his largely liberal audience that in his eyes- and Ed Koch is anything but a conservative- that George W. Bush was as a President the best friend that Israel ever had and the President most sympathetic to Jewish concerns.
Perhaps, like Rabbi Yoffe, more Jews in America will come to understand that.