June 17, 2024
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Overcoming HW’s ‘Lonely Little Guy’ Description

President George H.W. Bush knew he had made a huge mistake.

The year was 1991 and the President had voiced opposition to $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel.

He had opposed the loans as a sort of punishment for Israel’s continued West Bank and Gaza settlements.

It was in September of that year that about 1,500 pro-Israel volunteers lobbied Congress on behalf of Israel and the loan guarantees.

President Bush’s faux pas would be to tell reporters that “I’m one lonely little guy” facing “some political forces” made up of “a thousand lobbyists on the Hill.”

What followed the verbal earthquake was a tsunami of anti-Semitism that Bush would regret for the remainder of his presidency. In the mailrooms of the White House and Capitol Hill, tons—not figurative, but literal tons—of U.S. Postal Service bags arrived bursting with letters and cards supporting the President for “standing up to the Jews.”

One piece of mail was more ugly and disappointing than the next.

During this time, if I was closest to any leader in the Jewish world, it would have been the now late Shoshana Cardin. I was fortunate to have spent many an hour sitting in her elegant living room, listening to her express her vision for klal Yisroel.

The day following President Bush’s unfortunate “lonely little guy” remarks, Cardin, then president of the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, was leading a delegation to the Oval Office to meet with Bush.

In a telephone interview that same day, Cardin would tell me that the president was “overwhelmed” by the hateful missives filling the bags of that day’s mail. She said that he had tears in his eyes and he asked Cardin to communicate his contrition to the American Jewish community.

Cardin told me that she refused. She said that she pointed her finger at the president and told him that he was the only person who should apologize for the results of his careless words. The president, responding to Cardin’s direct request, would soon apologize publicly for his comments.

The president, who received only 12 percent of the Jewish vote, had a strong record when it came to Israel. No, American Jews were not pleased with James Baker, his secretary of state, who seemed to have an aversion to Israel and for that matter the American Jewish community.

Still, Bush, while vice president under Ronald Reagan, worked diplomatically to help with the rescue of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. As president, Bush significantly helped in the reversal of the horrific UN resolution 3379 calling Zionism “racism.”

It was also President Bush who sent Patriot missile batteries to Israel during the first Gulf War to help protect the Jewish state, which had been asked to stay out of the hostilities by the U.S.

As U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Nixon Administration, Bush was a champion for the freedom of Soviet Jewry.

Shoshana Cardin said back in 1991 that she believed in the president’s contrition for his remarks.

She noted the tears in his eyes and the sad tone of his voice.

But she also noted the work he had done on behalf of Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry. That is what Cardin wanted Bush to be known for among American Jews.

The “lonely guy” remark, however, still seems to be the knee-jerk reaction by Jews who remember the 1990s.

President Bush’s son George W. Bush was an outspoken supporter of Israel who kept PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at arm’s length. The younger Bush, an evangelical Christian, looked at Israel’s security as a matter of faith and politics.

But his father did a great deal of good for Israel and the Jewish people as well.

We just have to forgive perhaps once and for all the “lonely guy” remark. It shouldn’t define President George H. W. Bush’s contribution to American Jewry and the security of Israel.

By Phil Jacobs

 

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