Israel media review

One little lonely guy, many legacies: 6 things to know for December 2

George H.W. Bush isn’t remembered as a big Israel-lover, but is still recalled for managing to kick off a peace process and helping rescue Jews around the world

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

From left front, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Spanish Premier Felipe Gonzales and US President George H.W. Bush pose in front of delegates at the end of the first session of the Middle East peace conference held in the Palacio Real in Madrid, Spain, on October 30, 1991. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
From left front, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Spanish Premier Felipe Gonzales and US President George H.W. Bush pose in front of delegates at the end of the first session of the Middle East peace conference held in the Palacio Real in Madrid, Spain, on October 30, 1991. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

1. Clashing with Israel: George H. W. Bush is being remembered by Israel and the Jewish community as someone who had a testy relationship with Jerusalem in pursuit of larger foreign policy objectives.

  • The most trenchant moment that exemplifies that relationship was Bush’s decision to condition $10 billion in loan guarantees on Israel freezing settlements and entering peace talks.
  • “[Yitzhak] Shamir’s battle with Bush over the $10 billion in loan guarantees that Israel needed in order to absorb the wave of new Russian immigrants, who had made aliyah in the wake of the collapse of communism, was incomprehensible to Bush,” Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev writes. “It frustrated the US President and made him lose his famous cool, leading to what is arguably the worst altercation in history between a US president, on the one hand, and Israel and the Jewish community on the other.”
  • ToI’s Eric Cortellessa notes that while AIPAC ended up backing down, his fight with Israel and his comment about being “one little lonely guy, going up against “thousands of lobbyists” decimated his support among US Jews and led other presidents to take a more careful approach to their relationship with Jerusalem, at least in their first term.
  • “The notion of the president — leader of the world’s only superpower — as ‘one lonely little guy; going up against the pro-Israel lobby has become a staple of the narrative that Israel backers wield excessive power in the country’s political system,” he writes.
  • Yet the end result of that fight was the Madrid Conference, which would pave the way for the Oslo Accords, only it was Bill Clinton who got the photo op in the Rose Garden with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. “Unique among modern presidents, George H.W. Bush did not make it easy for us to appreciate him fully. When he was in office, he disdained political theater, and when his advisers forced him to do it, he was bad at it; once he left office, though he was aware of his accomplishments, he decided not to write a memoir and would not even do an official oral history for his presidential library,” Tim Naftali writes in Slate.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nadav Eyal doesn’t even mention his run-in with Israel, instead writing in a appreciation that he “showed how a single superpower can get the whole world on its side, and with the backing of the UN and cooperation of Arab states, could take out Saddam Hussein-esque aggression.”

2. He was good for the Jews: Even though he lost the Jewish vote, his legacy among many Jews is of someone who helped rescue Jewish communities in the Soviet Union, Ethiopia and Syria as UN ambassador and vice president.

  • “I believe he will go down in Jewish history as the president who was engaged in more initiatives to save more Jews in countries where they were being persecuted,” Abe Foxman tells JTA’s Ron Kampeas in a definitive overview of Bush’s relationship with Israel and the Jews.
  • “In addition to helping oversee the airlifts of Ethiopian Jews, and assisting with the immigration of Soviet and Syrian Jews, the Bush administration also helped coax various countries – most notably the Soviet Union and China – toward opening diplomatic relations with Israel,” Haaretz’s Dina Kraft writes in another definitive Jew-centric obituary. “What Bush did not have was the emotional attachment to Israel and the Jewish community that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had before and after him.”

3. Sins of commission: Most Israeli news outlets don’t have much to say about Bush, though, with a looming fight over the next police chief dominating the news agenda.

  • After a state vetting panel refused to green-light Moshe Edri, and minister Gilad Erdan said he would push him through anyway, the question is now whether Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit will let the government disregard the commission’s recommendation (or lack thereof).
  • Yedioth reports, without citing a source, that Mandelblit is expected to give the go-ahead though doing so would mean spurning panel head Eliezer Goldberg, who is a well-respected retired judge.
  • Jacob Turkel, another well-respected former jurist who headed the panel in the past, writes in Yedioth that the panel is too important a check on the government to simply throw aside its recommendation.
  • But in Israel Hayom, columnist Amnon Lord writes they should just get rid of the whole panel altogether, writing that it is the second group of “enlightened elites out of touch and irresponsible,” which, along with the Supreme Court, ordered alleged BDS supporter Lara al-Qassem be allowed in the country.

4. Judging Edri: Beyond the process, there’s the question of whether Edri should be disqualified over the misconduct allegations, including meeting with lawyer Pini Fischler, who represented Rafi Rotem — who is scheduled to complain about Edri to the vetting panel.

  • “Someone who acts either directly or indirectly to influence someone complaining against him – who is about to appear before a committee tasked with deciding upon his suitability for a job – shows himself to be unfit for that senior position from the standpoints of honesty and discretion,” Haaretz’s lead editorial reads.
  • In Israel Hayom, Erdan portrays Fischler as overly litigious, and says the panel should have definitely given Edri the nod after the meeting.
  • “He’s one of the biggest critics of the police and has put together over 5,000 pages of documents bursting with complaints about law enforcement. His meeting with Edri, which took place in front of Edri’s whole bureau in the Public Security Ministry, should not only not disqualify him, it should count in his favor, since Edri is showing he listens to the harsh criticism Fischler has against him,” he writes.
  • In Yedioth, Yoaz Hendel writes that if Edri was good enough to be made police chief in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which did not require the vetting panel, he should be good enough to be national police commish: “And if his mistakes warrant him being taken out of the running … it should have happened a long time ago.”

5. Northern exposure: Days after an alleged Israeli airstrike near Damascus and a video by Hezbollah warning Israel against war, Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that tensions are indeed heating up in the north, with the focus shifting more and more to Lebanon.

  • Besides Israeli concerns over Iran arming Hezbollah with precision missiles and sending them weapons via flights from Tehran to Beirut, he writes that Israel’s northern fence project is approaching a disputed area near the Manara cliffs and Rosh Hanikra that can also exacerbate tensions.
  • “Hezbollah probably isn’t seeking war with Israel right now. But the improvement of its offensive capabilities during Syria’s civil war and the return of some of its units to Lebanon worry the Israel Defense Forces,” he writes.
  • The Associated Press’s Aron Heller notes that high stakes are at play with Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah fighters patrolling just meters from each other on other sides of the border.
  • “The rules of the game are very clear. They know I’m here and I know they’re there,” he quotes Lt. Col. Aviv, a regional battalion commander. “But if they break that equation, they are going to get hit.”

6. Just keep digging: National Geographic reports that archaeologists digging out a newly found cave near Qumran, thought to hold more Dead Sea Scrolls, have yet to find anything, but are full of hope as they keep digging.

  • “Fortunately for us, they didn’t dig very deep,” archaeologist Randall Price says about Bedouin cave robbers who were there 40 years ago. “Our hope is that if we keep digging, we hit the mother lode.”

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