WASHINGTON (Nov. 8)
President Bush sought to reassure a delegation of American Jewish leaders Thursday that the United States has not moved away from Israel in its effort to keep Arab countries in the international alliance against Iraq’s takeover of Kuwait.
“We expressed the concern of the Jewish community that the United States attitude toward Israel might have undergone a change,” Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told reporters after the White House meeting.
“He responded very forcefully that there has been no change in the relationship” or in the U.S. security alliance with Israel, despite some differences with the Jewish state.
“We felt comfortable with that response,” Reich said.
During the hour-long meeting in the Oval Office, Reich and four other Jewish leaders present urged Bush “to find an opportunity to make that statement public” to alleviate concern in Israel and the United States that the administration has been tilting away from Israel.
Minutes after the meeting, Bush appeared to take this opportunity at a news conference.
“I think the whole world knows that the U.S. has a very special relationship with Israel, a strong relationship,” the president said.
Bush played down complaints from some Israeli officials that the United States is not coordinating its strategy in the Persian Gulf with Israeli leaders.
The United States is “in close touch with Israel — with the key players there — in terms of our objective,” the president said. “We’re on a good wavelength there.”
He also said the Israelis have “conducted themselves, regarding all of this, very well indeed.”
NO PUSH FOR SHAMIR MEETING
Bush told the Jewish leaders that the and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir are in complete agreement on the Gulf crisis, Reich said.
Although Shamir is one of the only leaders in the region Bush has not telephoned since the crisis began, the president told the delegation the United States and Israel are in constant communication on all levels, reported Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
Reich said the Jewish leaders did not feel it would be appropriate for them to ask Bush to meet with Shamir when the Israeli leader comes to the United States next month to accept the Jabotinsky Foundation’s Defender of Jerusalem Award.
The Jewish leaders also expressed the support of the organized Jewish community for the U.S. efforts in the Persian Gulf, Reich said.
Bush told the delegation that “the lesson of the Gulf is that aggression will not be tolerated, and would be aggressors should understand that the United States will respond to aggression,” Reich reported.
Reich said he believed this was a hint that the United States would respond to any Iraqi attack on Israel, though the president did not say so explicitly.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents, said that while the Jewish leaders were reassured by Bush’s words, they must be followed by deeds.
He said the administration must act to assure that Israel’s qualitative military edge be maintained and that Israel be assisted in recouping the extra costs it has incurred because of the Gulf crisis, as other countries have been.
“We also expressed our concern that increased armed sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries threaten to undermine Israel’s security and lead to further instability in the region,” Reich said.
With regard to developments at the United Nations, Reich urged the president “to veto one-sided anti-Israel resolutions” aimed at undermining “Israel’s standing and security.”
On a more positive note, the Jewish leaders expressed their appreciation for Bush’s efforts in seeking freedom for Jews in the Soviet Union and in Ethiopia. The president was asked to find a way to help Israel meet the economic burden of absorbing these Jews.
The meeting, which ran a half-hour longer than scheduled, was requested by Bush, who specifically selected the five leaders attending. Reich said Bush wanted people he knew and with whom he felt comfortable.
In addition to Reich, Hoenlein and Foxman, participants at the meeting were Mayer Mitchell, president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Thomas Dine, AIPAC’s executive director.