Center Field: ‘Thank you, George W. Bush’

by Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, Wednesday Jan 07, 2009

Once again, in Israel’s hour of need, George W. Bush has supported the Jewish state eloquently, passionately, gracefully. At a time when most presidents use their rapidly shrinking bully pulpit to burnish their legacies, Bush devoted one of his final Saturday radio addresses to defending Israel’s actions and condemning Hamas. “This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group supported by Iran and Syria that calls for Israel’s destruction,” Bush declared. He added that “Since Hamas’s violent takeover in the summer of 2007, living conditions have worsened for Palestinians in Gaza. By spending its resources on rocket launchers instead of roads and schools, Hamas has demonstrated that it has no intention of serving the Palestinian people.” George W. Bush has consistently used this kind of clear rhetoric to distinguish between Palestinians’ self-destructive addiction to terrorism and Israel’s justified self-defense.

With his stirring rhetoric and noble, timely, friendship, George W. Bush has woven himself into the fabric of Jewish history. His actions will stand out as golden threads, tempered and as hard as metal, glittering as a beacon to all good people. President Bush encouraged Israel in April 2002 when, after hundreds of terrorist murders, Ariel Sharon finally attacked the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank. President Bush supported Israel during the summer of 2006 when it fought Hizbullah’s menacing missiles. President Bush celebrated Israel in May, 2008, with an eloquent speech toasting Zionism’s achievements when he visited during Israel’s 60th birthday festivities. And now, President Bush is reinforcing Israel’s campaign to stop the incessant rocket barrage in the South. Each time, President Bush did not just do his duty he demonstrated his friendship for Israel publicly and powerfully. President Bush did not support Israel because it was expedient, but because it was right. For any one of these actions, George W. Bush should be lionized in the annals of Jewish history as a friend of the Jews and of the Jewish state. For any one of these actions Jews individually and collectively should be saying, “Thank you, George W. Bush.”

Instead, most Jews have taken Bush’s pro-Israel actions for granted – and joined the general public pile-on against him. Intelligent beings can hold competing positions, supporting some presidential positions and not others. The polarizing partisan Bushophobia which has characterized the last eight years, wherein people cannot say anything positive about the President is foolish and dangerous. Life – and particularly American politics – is too complex to approach issues so simplistically and fanatically. One can thank Bush for standing by Israel while disliking his tax policies or his war in Iraq. One can even thank Bush for standing by Israel at critical moments while criticizing his approach to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In fact, a heartfelt thank you from a longstanding liberal or Bush-critic can be even more resonant and appreciated than yet another round of praise from conservative fans.

Thanking Bush publicly, collectively, flamboyantly for befriending Israel is particular important because American Jews are facing a growing gratitude gap with Republicans. Clearly, George W. Bush, John McCain, Evangelicals and millions of other Americans right and  left support Israel because it is the right thing to do, not because it is the politick thing to do. The contempt of the world for the pro-Israel position, as well as the contempt of so many American Jews for Republicans and Evangelicals, suggests that there are easier paths to popularity and votes. Still, politics is a game of give and take. What Tom Wolfe calls “the favor bank” is significant. American Jews need to figure out how to thank Republicans and Evangelicals for supporting Israel, even if it does not translate into massive Republican votes. At the same time, American Jews should be more wary of the Democratic party’s role as the home for many of the most virulently anti-Israel forces in America today.

American Jewish voting behavior powerfully disproves both the claims of dual loyalty and all the Israel Lobby stereotypes. The fact that three-quarters of the American Jewish community consistently votes Democratic proves that American Jews vote as Americans more than as Jews and are more concerned with a candidate’s domestic policies than foreign policies. Still, this lovely demonstration of American Jewish patriotism risks neutering the American Jewish community. A community that rewards its enemies and punishes its friends rapidly loses political clout.

Having mostly missed our opportunity to thank George W. Bush during his presidency, I propose a warm embrace during his post-presidency. American Jews should donate to his presidential library, perhaps to a particular wing, – as Jews, and as explicit thanks for his warm pro-Israel friendship. American Jewish organizations should shower ex-President Bush with as much love and as many awards as they showered on Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. And American Jewish individuals should send letters and emails with this simple message “thank you George W. Bush.”

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