Remembering What George H.W. Bush Did for the Jews, Even within a Decidedly Mixed Legacy

While the first President Bush, who died on Friday at the age of ninety-four, did not always have easy relations with Israel and the American Jewish community—most notably, his administration convened the 1991 Madrid conference, which helped to legitimize the PLO and to pave the way for the Oslo Accords—it was in his tenure that, thanks largely to the efforts of John Bolton, then an assistant secretary of state, the UN was induced to rescind its infamous 1975 Zionism-is-racism resolution. Bush also did much specifically to help Jews. Ron Kampeas notes that when Bush served as the U.S. ambassador to the UN during the Nixon administration, he “made Soviet Jewry one of his signature issues.” And these efforts continued thereafter:

[A]s 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. . . . Bush was deeply involved in foreign policy as vice-president, and Jewish leaders said he helped orchestrate the dramatic seder hosted by then-Secretary of State George Shultz at the U.S. embassy in Moscow in 1987.

He also ignored advice from much of his national-security team in 1991—the very period when he was in the throes of his most difficult arguments with Jewish leaders [over loan guarantees for Israel]—and approved American overtures to the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia that resulted in Operation Solomon, which brought 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. . . .

Bush also was instrumental in persuading Hafez Assad, the Syrian dictator, to allow young Jewish women to leave Syria for New York so they could be matched with men in the Syrian Jewish community. While some of these actions were secret at the time, Bush was averse to claiming responsibility even in subsequent years.

As for Bush’s relations with Israel, Kampeas notes that in his memoir, coauthored with his national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft, Bush recounts “that he expected a degree of gratitude from Israel for protecting it during the Gulf War—apparently not realizing that it was precisely this unwanted protection that stirred resentment among Israelis fiercely committed to protecting themselves.” Protecting itself was exactly what Bush pressured Israel not to do when Saddam Hussein bombarded it with Scud missiles.

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More about: American Jewry, Ethiopian Jews, George H. W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Soviet Jewry, Syrian Jewry

Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela