December 1, 2018 — New York
AJC mourns the passing of George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States.
“President Bush was an outstanding American, a veteran who courageously served his country in time of war, and a public official who left an impressive record of achievement. While in the Oval Office, he exerted particularly skillful, indeed visionary, leadership during a period of dramatic change in the world,” said AJC CEO David Harris. “The overall record of support for endangered Jews worldwide and the quest for Arab-Israeli peace is also part of his enduring legacy.”
Bush served as president from 1989 to 1993, following eight years as vice president under President Ronald Reagan.
As president, Bush impressively mobilized a U.S.-led international coalition, including several Arab countries, to repel Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait. Following the successful military campaign that forced the withdrawal of Iraqi forces, Bush, seeing a new opportunity, organized the historic 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, which brought together representatives of Arab countries and Israel for promising talks on peace and cooperation in a variety of key areas, including economy and the environment.
President Bush, also in 1991, played a key leadership role in the successful repeal by the UN General Assembly of its infamous 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution, only the second time in UN history that a resolution was rescinded.
The Bush presidency coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of communism in Eastern European countries, the reunification of Germany and the implosion of the Soviet Union. President Bush brought his decades of experience, including serving as the U.S. ambassador to the UN and China, as well as heading the CIA, to lead the U.S., and the world, in dealing successfully with these extraordinary, and previously unimaginable, transitions to a post-communist era.
Earlier, as vice president, Bush addressed the historic December 1987 rally for Soviet Jewry, when more than 250,000 people gathered in Washington on the eve of the Gorbachev-Reagan summit. AJC’s Washington representative at the time, David Harris, was the national coordinator of the Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jewry. Bush’s participation further catalyzed the movement to free Jews from the oppressive yoke of the Kremlin.
Bush also demonstrated concern for endangered Jewish communities by his direct involvement with efforts to rescue Ethiopian Jews. He was instrumental in helping spearhead the 1985 rescue to Israel of Ethiopian Jews secretly transiting in Sudan. In 1991, as president, he provided invaluable American assistance to Israel’s historic effort that brought 14,000 Jews by plane directly from Ethiopia to Israel.
In the U.S., Bush is remembered for, among other landmark legislative initiatives supported by AJC, signing the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
As with any U.S. administration, there were occasional differences. In particular, the standoff between the Bush administration and many in the Jewish community regarding loan guarantees for Israel, led at the time by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, created a period of some tension.
Most recently, in 2005, Bush addressed the AJC Global Forum in Washington, together with President Bill Clinton, thanking AJC for our strong support of relief efforts following the devastating tsunami in Asia. The two former presidents led the U.S. response.