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Baker Denial About Remark on Jews Does Not Entirely Eliminate Doubts

March 9, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Secretary of State James Baker has strongly denied a report that he used an obscenity recently to describe American Jews.

But his denial, while accepted at face value by some Jewish leaders, appears to have done little to reassure American Jewry about the secretary’s motives with regard to Israel.

The charge against Baker was leveled Friday by former New York Mayor Edward Koch, in a column in the New York Post. Citing a well-placed and high-level source, Koch wrote that “when Baker was criticized recently at a meeting of high-level White House advisers for his belligerent attitude toward Israel, he responded, ‘F—’em. They (the Jews) didn’t vote for us.'”

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler issued a public denial Friday, calling the report “false,” “outrageous,” and “garbage.”

When asked if Baker used any profanity at the meeting, Tutwiler replied, “Of course not. The article is false.”

Tutwiler was quoted as telling a top Jewish organizational leader Friday that she had worked with Baker since 1975 and that he had “never ever said anything of this kind.”

The Anti-Defamation League welcomed Tutwiler’s denial but asked Baker to respond publicly to the charge himself. It got its wish over the weekend, when the secretary wrote a letter to Melvin Salberg, ADL’s national chairman, and Abraham Foxman, its national director.


In the letter, Baker said he was “deeply offended by the false and malicious press story” in the Post. “Nothing could be further from the truth than that story, and nothing could be further from my beliefs or values,” he wrote.

On Sunday, Foxman said he welcomed Baker’s denial and added, “I think we should put the matter behind us.”

Likewise, the denial was accepted in Israel by Health Minister Ehud Olmert. “If Baker says he did not say it, then he didn’t, at least in the context in which it was quoted,” said Olmert. “But anyway, his denial is a valuable statement.”

However, a fellow Likud Cabinet member was not so sure. Transport Minister Moshe Katsav said he tended to believe Koch’s accusation that Baker had made such a remark. He said it appeared the secretary had acted improperly and that Israel could not ignore such behavior.

And in the United States, not all Jewish groups appeared ready to accept the denial and forget about the report entirely.

Americans for a Safe Israel accepted the Post report as the truth and said Israel should respond to “Baker’s anti-Semitic remarks by immediately withdrawing from the U.S.-sponsored Arab-Israeli negotiations.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York wrote a letter to the secretary saying it accepted his denial. But it went on to say: “However, there is no denying tensions have developed between the administration and the American Jewish community over the past several months.

“It has been our view,” the group said, “that the administration has become unduly one-sided against our best friend in the area, Israel, by introducing the settlement issue into the picture, when none of the negotiating parties have done so.”


Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he could not pass judgment on whether Baker uttered the alleged remark, or something close to it.

Asked if he could take the State Department’s word that he did not, Hoenlein said his group would judge Baker “by his actions” on issues of concern to the Jewish community.

“Ed Koch is a thoughtful person and can’t be dismissed,” Hoenlein said.

The Conference of Presidents is smarting from the administration’s decision to condition the amount of loans it is willing to guarantee for Israel on the amount of money the Israeli government spends annually to build settlements in the West Bank.

President Bush and Baker had told the conference that there would not be such conditions, and the group has accused them of breaking their word.

Hoenlein and Shoshana Cardin, who chairs the Conference of Presidents, met with Baker on Friday to discuss, among other things, the “general tone and tenor” of U.S.-Israel relations.

It was a “very intense exchange,” said Hoenlein, who added that it was Baker who sought the meeting.

The Jewish leaders expressed concern about how Baker’s recent statements on loan guarantees are affecting the peace process. Hoenlein said Baker did not respond to that point.

Cardin and Hoenlein also objected to Baker’s many references, in recent congressional testimony, to the $10 billion sought by Israel as if it were direct U.S. aid, rather than merely U.S. guarantees for commercial bank loans that Israel would pay back.


Hoenlein said the two told Baker that even if he does not intend it, such statements give a perception that he is needling Israel, and that “perception is as important as reality.”

The Jewish leaders also urged the secretary to reach an agreement soon with Senate negotiators on legislation authorizing the guarantees.

But Hoenlein said Baker took a “very hard-line” stance that “they could not accept most of the proposals that had been made to date.”

Some of those proposals call for Israel to get either some or all of the guarantees for $10 billion without conditions relating to Israeli government spending on Jewish settlements.

Hoenlein said he expects the Bush administration to “try to meet” the Senate’s deadline this month for voting on the loan guarantees legislation.

(JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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