What a difference 50 years makes. Fifty years ago — only 50 years ago — our people were herded into the gas chambers and their ashes smoked through chimneys to the skies.
In 1977, as United Jewish Appeal campaign chairman for Minneapolis, I led our Prime Minister’s Mission group to Israel. “Nobody helped our people,” Menachem Begin thundered again and again throughout his oration.
It was a theme about which my father also often spoke with anger. We, ourselves, escaped Hitler in the 1930s; and Begin helped hundreds of others get here and mourned the millions who had no place to go.
So when I judge a president, as a Jew, it is on how he has nurtured American- Israeli relations. That is the common bond of the Jewish community.
I don’t mean to denigrate domestic issues, but these hardly unify the Jewish community. About these there is much diversity. Get two Jews together and you’ll get 30 opinions (and they’ll form four organizations).
Israel is the unifying issue of the Jewish community — worldwide — and it is on this that I believe George Bush must be judged.
When I introduced George Bush at B’nai B’rith’s recent national meeting, I said that Bush administration “has done more to strengthen the position of the State of Israel than any other administration — Republican or Democrat, one term or two — in the 44-year history of the State of Israel.”
I don’t mean to deny the achievements of others, particularly at Camp David. But President Jimmy Carter was aided by two remarkable statesmen: Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Bush had no such help. Indeed, Secretary of State James Baker’s every trip to Israel was greeted with a disruptive new settlement by Housing Minister Ariel Sharon.
But consider the achievements of the last four years:
1. Four years ago, no one would have believed that Israel would now be sitting across the table from all — all — of its neighbors. Brought there, one by one, by the Bush administration — on the terms sought by Israel.
2. No one would have believed, four years ago, that 500,000 Jews (several times the number of all previous years combined) would come out of the former Soviet Union. Ongoing pressure by you, by me, by an organized Jewish community helped. But the pressure and toughness of this administration was essential, and I can tell you that George Bush was very much involved — personally, frequently and forcefully.
3. As countries lined up to be part of the multilateral negotiations on Middle East regional issues, George Bush told them — often by phone — that participation required that they first had to recognize Israel diplomatically. China, India, Turkey and others have done so, and today the diplomatic isolation of Israel has ended.
4. The reversal of that insidious, that poisonous U.N. resolution declaring that Zionism is racism. You know the U.N. You watch the U.N. I was on the delegation. Reversing that resolution was not easy. It took a tough secretary of state, and George Bush back on the phone.
5. Throughout all four years, large-scale military and economic assistance was continued or increased. Israel’s qualitative military edge has been maintained. Interestingly, George Bush is the first president since John F. Kennedy not to hold up weapons delivery because of yet another Middle East outbreak that strained U.S.-Israeli relations.
6. George Bush marshaled together the world’s nations, gathered together an Arab coalition to fight other Arabs, thereby puncturing the solidity of Arab nationalism so dangerous to Israel, and then destroyed the potential of Israel’s most potent foe, all the time protecting Israel’s cities from attack.
7. Delicate negotiations that have been conducted are allowing the small Jewish community of Syria to emigrate and rejoin their brethren in the United States and Israel.
8. I called the president in early April 1991 to alert him of the dangers facing the black Jews of Ethiopia. An hour after we spoke, he called again to send me to Ethiopia as his emissary. Two weeks later, I was in Addis Ababa. Six weeks after that, the Jews were in Eretz Israel.
There was direct presidential involvement many times during those eight weeks. That’s what made it happen. George Bush knew. George Bush understood. As vice president, he had himself been on a precisely similar mission to the Horn of Africa in 1985 that was part of Operation Moses and the saving of 7,000 Falashas.
Is the record perfect? No, but there never has been a presidency with which the Jewish community has not been at odds — never. Would many of us have preferred a different tone at the Republican convention? Sure. Would we have preferred a different handling of the loan guarantee issue? Of course. Could we have done without the September news conference? You bet.
Would there be a peace conference under way if the president had acceded to every demand of Israel or the Jewish community? I wouldn’t bet on it.
One other side note — and that is about Bush and Baker’s Middle East advisers Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller, Dan Kurtzer, William Burns and Richard Haass. All but Burns are Jews. Would you have guessed that it was the Bush-Baker team that broke the unwritten and unspoken policy at the State Department that Jews would not rise to the heights of policy and planning in Mideast affairs? Can anyone seriously maintain that Jewish concerns are not considered and heard as was the case 50 years ago?
The Bush administration has been good for the most basic cause of our people. Everything has to have a bottom line. The pluses and minuses must be weighed, and I believe there can be little question about the outcome of such appraisal fairly made.
Fifty years really has made a difference, and the progress George Bush has made in the Middle East (indeed in all the world) in the last four years makes him fully deserving of our support.
Rudy Boschwitz is a former Republican senator from Minnesota and national co- chairman of the Bush-Quayle campaign committee.