A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of President George H.W. Bush

New York, NY

 Arthur Stark, Chairman and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued the following statement:

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and its members join the nation in mourning the passing of the 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush. We extend our condolences to President George W. Bush, to Governor Jeb Bush, and to the entire Bush family.  The late President Bush served this country with great distinction, honor, and dignity.

Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents Executive Vice-Chair/CEO, said, “We worked closely with President Bush during his tenure as president and vice-president. He maintained an open and welcoming relationship, even when there were areas of disagreement. We worked closely with him in gaining freedom for Ethiopian Jews, Syrian Jews, as well as the rescue and absorption of the Jews of the former Soviet Union.  Some of these intersessions dated back to his time as a US Ambassador to the United Nations.

The most contentious event with the Conference during his presidency involved the loan guarantees Israel sought for the resettlement of Russian Jews then exiting the Former Soviet Union. We organized a day of citizen advocates from across the country, which met with members of Congress to discuss the importance of this humanitarian measure, which the president opposed on grounds related to other issues in US-Israel relations. Following a meeting with a delegation in September, 1991, the President went public in a statement saying ‘I’m one lonely little guy facing…some powerful political forces’ made up of ‘a thousand lobbyists on the Hill,’ which gave rise to hostile and often bigoted reactions. 

Thereafter, the Conference was invited to meet with President Bush at the White House. Prior to the session, Conference Chairperson Shoshana Cardin and I were invited to a private meeting with the president and his key advisors. Mrs. Cardin told the president, ‘Mr. President, you are a fisherman. And you know that when you draw blood, the sharks come out. You drew blood, and the anti-Semites came out.’ She described some of the reaction that followed the president’s statement. Mr. Bush was taken aback and said, ‘I never realized the impact. I lived my whole life differently. I never would have done it,’ and went on to repeat similar comments and tears came to his eyes. Thereafter, he came out to the larger meeting of the Conference leadership and for a long time could not get off the subject, expressing regret. It was clear how impacted he was. We saw this humanity on other occasions, including when we came to the White House to arrange what became the Boshowitz mission to Ethiopia, which was critical to the rescue of Ethiopian Jews. He overruled his chief of staff, who had initially turned us down, even after we explained that there was a 48-hour window of opportunity to get the Jews out of Addis Ababa.

During a reception at the vice-president’s residence at the Naval Observatory, just before he moved to the White House, the president-elect hosted a reception and it was clear he was uncomfortable making idle chatter with the guests. He quietly asked then COP Chairman Morris Abram and me to go to his den on the second floor, where he kicked off his shoes and just talked to us about the status of the world and very personal matters. In fact, he went picture by picture on the mantle to talk about his grandchildren and said to me in response to a question, ‘the thing I am most proud of in my life is that my children want to come home.’ A great lesson for all of us.”

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The Conference of Presidents is the central coordinating body representing 53 national Jewish organizations on issues of national and international concern

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