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Shultz Speaks from the Heart at CJF Session in San Francisco

November 19, 1990
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The United States should establish a closer bond of trust with the Israeli government, former Secretary of State George Shultz said in an address here Saturday night to North American Jewish leaders.

In a speech that appeared to contain many words of advice for the Bush administration, without directly criticizing it, the soft-spoken statesman argued that such trust would help advance the quest for peace in the Middle East and facilitate the handling of the crisis in the Persian Gulf.

“It seems to me we should be consulting with Israel about what is going on,” Shultz told some 3,000 people attending the 59th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations. While the United States might not agree with Israel at all times, “I always found that if you listen to them, you might learn something,” he said.

“Israel is right in the center of our concerns, and we have to display trust,” he said.

Shultz took note of the fact that the CJF assembly had adopted a resolution Friday endorsing the Bush administration’s handling of the Gulf crisis, and said he personally agreed with those sentiments.

But Shultz said the Bush administration should not merely insist on the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, the restoration of the Kuwaiti government and the freeing of all hostages.


“Those are not enough,” he said, arguing that higher goals should be set.

For one, the United States must ensure that “the perpetrators of war crimes are held accountable for them.”

He also said the United States must not leave the capacity for waging chemical warfare “in the hands of Saddam Hussein.”

And it ought to be “very slow about taking off the military embargo” against Iraq, he said.

Shultz emphatically stated that there should be “no connection, absolutely none at all” with what he called the “situation on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

“Any settlement that is reached should not connect them,” he said, to thunderous applause.

The former secretary, whose vigorous pursuit of human rights issues with the Kremlin is credited with paving the way for the massive Jewish emigration now in progress, also spoke of the urgency of getting Jews out of the Soviet Union.

“The faster you can get them out, the better off you’re going to be, because you do not know what’s going to happen next,” he said.

He said a recent encounter with a Jewish politician in Poland had reminded him that “with all the joy we feel” about what is going on in Eastern Europe, “anti-Semitism is rampant.

“So if there is a Jew in the Soviet Union who wants to get out, for God’s sake let’s get him out,” he said.

Shultz also said that while he is glad the Soviet Jews are going to Israel, “I believe we should be willing to take more in this country.”

The Reagan administration official, who is credited with helping Israel bring its inflation-ravaged economy under control in the mid-1980s, had some strong suggestions for the Israeli government, saying he felt by now that he was “entitled to give advice.”

He called for electoral reform, the privatization of the Israeli economy and a new concerted effort to reach a settlement with the Palestinians.

Arguing for electoral reform, Shultz said Israel must construct a political system that allows “more decisiveness.” He recommended merely raising the threshold percentage of votes Israeli political parties need to win to gain a seat in the Knesset.

Saying the Israeli economy is “tied up in knots,” Shultz called for more privatization and less bureaucratic red tape. “Let it loose, so that Israel can soar,” he said.

As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Shultz said it is a “problem that will not go away.”


Observing that there is “no military solution to this problem,” he said, “There has to be a peace process going on.”

But despite the failure of his own extensive efforts to bring about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Shultz seemed optimistic about the possibility of a settlement.

“There’s a solution out there waiting to be found,” he said, adding, “You can only find it by direct negotiations” with the Palestinians.

The former secretary praised Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s April 1989 peace initiative, which he called “a great step potentially.”

“I just wish I had the Shamir plan to work with, because it was very progressive,” he said, appearing to hint that he might have taken it further than his successor, James Baker.

While he also blamed Israel for “backpedalling” on the plan, Shultz seemed to be telling the Bush administration that it will get nowhere in the peace process by bullying Israel. Rather, it should concentrate its efforts on building Israel’s confidence.

Shultz did this by relating a story about how the Bush administration had tried to arrange a miniature peace conference at the time of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s first visit to Washington.

Shultz said he flew to Jerusalem to try to persuade Israeli leaders of the need for such an “international umbrella” as a prelude to direct negotiations with the Arabs.


After many questions were asked and answered, Shamir finally came forward and told an expectant Shultz: “Go ahead, we trust you.”

“That was it,” the former secretary recounted, repeating the words, “Go ahead, we trust you.”

The secretary said he felt he had had the same type of relationship with the American Jewish leadership.

“We made common cause,” he said wistfully. “There developed a trust and good friendship and confidence I appreciated tremendously.”

“I would like to take this occasion to express my respect and admiration for you,” he told his Jewish listeners, who had presented him with CJF’s new George Shultz Human Rights Award.

He concluded his emotional address by saying that while he had no desire to return to government, he had to admit, “I miss you guys.”

The audience responded with an ovation that lasted some five minutes.

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