George H.W. (Herbert Walker) Bush, who served as 41st President of the United States, passed away late on Friday at the age of 94. Despite a rocky political relationship with Israel, Bush fought hard for the Jewish people.
His body will lie in state in the Capitol Building on Wednesday and President Trump has declared it a national day of mourning. Many world leaders, including President Trump, are expected to attend. Bush will be buried at the presidential library in Texas, alongside his wife, Barbara Bush, who died seven months ago.
Bush served in the U.S. Navy as an aviator during the Second World War and was shot down by the Japanese in September 1944 while on a bombing raid. He flew 58 combat missions and was highly decorated for bravery. After the war, he attended Yale. Upon graduating, he moved to Texas where he went into the oil/petroleum business, eventually becoming a millionaire.
In 1945, Bush married 18-year-old Barbara Pierce. The couple was blessed with six children.
He entered politics in 1963. In 1966, Bush was elected to a seat in the United States House of Representative. As a staunch Republican, Bush was a strong advocate for civil rights. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the UN, chairman of the Republican National Committee, envoy to China, Director of the CIA and as Vice President to Ronald Reagan for eight years.
Bush was elected to the White House in 1989 and became known for focusing on foreign policy. His friendship of Israel was brought into question soon after his election when he addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), criticizing Israel’s expansionist, pro-settlement policies.
As president, Bush cared deeply about Israel and wanted to bring peace to the Middle East. He believed that these Israeli policies promoting the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria were the main obstacle to a peaceful future for Israel. In 1991, Bush wanted Israel, under Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir, to attend the Madrid Peace Conference co-sponsored by the U.S. The conference established the policy of Israel relinquishing territory for Palestinian promises of peace. Bush threatened to withhold $11 billion in loan promises for 120 days. The money was intended to help Israel absorb immigrants from the Soviet Union. Shamir relented and attended the conference.
Bush’s political victory came at a heavy cost. In his successful campaign for the presidency, Bush had won 35 percent of the Jewish vote, In his bid for reelection four years later, he won just 11 percent and lost the election to Bill Clinton.
Despite his contentious relationship with Israel, Bush’s love for the Jews was undeniable. As UN Envoy and again as President Reagan’s second-in-command, Bush worked hard to open the gates for the Jews of the Soviet Union to make aliyah. He also made the controversial decision to approve American overtures to the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia that resulted in Operation Solomon, which brought 15,000 Jews to Israel. He also persuaded Hafez Assad, the Syrian president, to permit young Jewish women to leave Syria for New York so they could marry men in the Syrian Jewish community.
Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s former national director, praised Bush’s efforts for the Jews.
“When you add up the Jews he saved, he will be a great tzaddik (righteous man),” Foxman said in 2013. “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.”
Perhaps Bush’s character was best seen in a letter he left for his successor, Bill Clinton, after a difficult campaign.
“Dear Bill,” the letter began.
“When I walked into this office just now, I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here.
I never felt the loneliness some presidents have described. There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice, but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
After leaving office, Bush focused on charity work, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for organizations across the country. Bush’s trait of putting aside rivalry for the greater good was displayed when he teamed up with his former foe, Bill Clinton, to raise money for relief efforts following the tsunami in Southeast Asia, Hurricane Katrina and the massive earthquake in Haiti.
For several years, it was reported that Bush was being treated for a form of Parkinson’s disease and was confined to a wheelchair for the last five years. Despite his illness, he skydived to celebrate his 85th and 90th birthdays.
George H.W. Bush will be remembered by many for leading the country with a steady hand through turbulent events. During his term in office, the Berlin Wall fell, he was Commander-in-Chief during Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait and he sent troops to Panama to overthrow Manuel Noriega. He is the longest-lived president in American history and will surely be missed.