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.