Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday hailed George H.W. Bush for his efforts to boost Israeli security and for helping Jews immigrate from the Soviet Union, following the death of the 41st president of the United States.
“The people of Israel will always remember his commitment to Israel’s security, his important contribution to the liberation of Soviet Jewry and his efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East at the Madrid Conference,” Netanyahu said in a statement after the end of the Jewish sabbath.
Netanyahu also remembered Bush as a “great American patriot” and praised his “wise leadership” at the end of the Cold War, which “helped steer the world to a peaceful transition and the spread of democracy.”
President Reuven Rivlin also issued a statement on Saturday evening, praising Bush for his help in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel and for his “determination to ensure the Arab world recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.”
“We have lost an American hero, George HW Bush, who fought in the killing fields of the Second World War, who knew to distinguish between good and evil and how to build strong regional coalitions against cruel tyrants,” the president said.
“The Jewish people will always remember his help in bringing the Jews of Ethiopia to Israel and his determination to ensure the Arab world recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.
“Personally and on behalf of the people of Israel, my deepest condolences to President George W Bush, a true friend of Israel, to Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Doro and their families. May his memory be for a blessing,” read Rivlin’s statement.
Netanyahu was deputy foreign minister at the time of the 1991 Madrid peace conference and served as Israel’s main spokesperson there.
The talks, which were meant to jumpstart an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, were initially resisted by then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, a hawkish supporter of West Bank settlements.
Shamir eventually consented to the talks due to the Bush administration holding up billions of dollars in US loan guarantees Israel was seeking to help absorb the large wave of Jewish immigrants arriving from the former Soviet Union.
The Madrid Conference was seen as a key event leading to the signing of the Oslo Accords nearly two years later, which formally established the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and created the self-governing Palestinian Authority.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "On behalf of of the people of Israel I send heartfelt condolences to the Bush family and the American People on the passing of a great American patriot, President George H.W. Bush." pic.twitter.com/VWdnHaoXL8
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) December 1, 2018
Bush’s concern for Israel and its relationship with the United States was already evident in 1976, when he was director of the CIA. Bush was furious that CIA officials had estimated in a semi-public forum that Israel had 10-20 nuclear weapons ready for use. Since the 1960s, the joint US-Israel protocol has been neither to confirm nor deny Israel’s alleged possession of nuclear weapons.
In a statement that year to JTA, Bush would not address the apparent revelation, but added: “To the degree that any classified information might have been mentioned, I accept full responsibility. I am determined it will not happen again.”
Bush, who held a score of some of the most senior positions in government during his long political career, made Soviet Jewry one of his signature issues while serving as US ambassador to the United Nations, and the Jewish community organized a tribute dinner for him in 1973 after he left his post.
As Ronald Reagan’s vice president, Bush quietly helped engineer some of the pivotal moments in the effort to bring Jews out of the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and Syria.
He was deeply involved in foreign policy as vice president, and Jewish leaders said he helped orchestrate the dramatic seder hosted by Secretary of State George Schultz at the American embassy in Moscow in 1987.
Bush, 94, died at his home in Houston Friday, six months after the death of his wife of over 70 years Barbara.