Jews React Cautiously to Choice of Baker As Secretary of State
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Jews React Cautiously to Choice of Baker As Secretary of State

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Presidentelect George Bush’s announcement Wednesday that he will name his campaign manager, James Baker, as secretary of state has stimulated the Jewish community to learn more about Baker’s attitude toward Israel.

Although Baker was President Reagan’s chief of staff in the first four years of his administration and then secretary of the treasury until he resigned last August to manage the Bush campaign, he has not spoken publicly about Israel.

Bush’s announcement at a Houston news conference was not unexpected, but the timing was a surprise, coming the morning after the vice president was elected to the presidency. Baker has been a friend and close associate of Bush and has made no secret that heading the State Department was the one job he wanted in government.

Secretary of State George Shultz praised the choice of his successor. He said Baker is “intimately familiar with the foreign policy issues. He has the confidence of leaders all around the world.”

Although Baker’s attitude toward Israel is largely unknown, one Jewish source said he had a “gut feeling” that he would not be friendly toward the Jewish state.

The source, who insisted on anonymity, said Baker said “all the wrong things” during private discussions on the Reagan administration’s sale of AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia.

However, David Brody, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said Baker is “a good choice.”


Brody said he has known Baker since he was undersecretary of commerce in the Ford administration. “He always has been friendly toward Israel,” the ADL official said.

Other Jewish sources said that Baker considers himself a friend of Israel. He has told them that he wants to continue the strategic cooperation with Israel and that he supports the principles enunciated by Bush in the Middle East position paper he released during the campaign.

This couples a close alliance with Israel and support for its security along with the maintenance of close relations with so-called moderate Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia.

Baker has also told people he plans to go to Israel as soon as possible, the sources said.

Baker was born April 30, 1930, into a family of prominent Houston lawyers. He graduated from Princeton University and served two years in the Marine Corps before earning a law degree at the University of Texas.

He first entered politics in 1970 when he became a county campaign chairman for Bush’s unsuccessful try for the Senate.

At his news conference, Bush said he would like to have a summit conference with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev early next year, after his inauguration.

But he said that he announced Baker’s appointment Wednesday so that he could start getting in touch with the NATO allies and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

Bush stressed that he wanted to discuss arms control, regional issues and human rights with Gorbachev.

This brought an immediate reaction from Shoshana Cardin, the new chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. “We are encouraged by President-elect Bush’s statement according high priority as a major summit agenda item to the issue of human rights,” she said.

Cardin noted Bush’s “strong advocacy on behalf of Soviet Jewry, including his strong address on Freedom Sunday last Dec. 6.”

She said the NCSJ looks “forward to an early meeting” with Bush. “We know that the Soviet Jewry movement in the United States will have dedicated sincere allies in the presidentelect and Secretary of State-designate James Baker.”

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