Home National Politics Remember When Reagan, Bush and Bush “Threw Israel Under the Bus”

Remember When Reagan, Bush and Bush “Threw Israel Under the Bus”


With all the hysteria, blather, and ahistorical idiocy in the political rightnutosphere over Barack Obama supposedly “throwing Israel under the bus” for, essentially, reiterating what U.S. policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian situation has been for decades, you’d think that Republicans were pristine when it comes to being “pro-Israel” (note: I think all this “under the bus” talk is utterly idiotic, but let’s just go with it for a few minutes here). Which really makes me wonder, does anyone out there have a memory longer than a tadpole? Or, more to the point, are people looking to score cheap political points simply engaging in selective amnesia, conveniently forgetting when their “side” did the exact same thing they’re now decrying, or possibly even “worse?”

For all the right-wingnut amnesiacs out there, here are a couple of trips down memory lane you might enjoy. First, does anyone remember the Reagan Administration and the AWACS controversy?  I do, as I was in the process of finishing my Master’s Degree in Middle East Studies from George Washington University at the time (1986-1987) and was following this situation closely. What happened, in a nutshell, is that the Reagan Administration’s proposed sale of advanced Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia “saw objections from a majority of Americans, prominent US Senators, the State of Israel and the Israel lobby.” Israel, under right-wing (Likud) Prime Minister Menachem Begin, expressed “profound regret and unreserved opposition” to the proposed sale. In response, the Reagan Administration lashed out harshly:

The Reagan Administration actively sought to diminish Israel’s voice and influence over the deal. In public speeches, Administration officials admonished Israel for getting involved in a U.S. foreign policy matter. Secretary of State Alexander Haig said the President must be “free of the restraints of overriding external vetoes,” and went on to say that were the AWACS deal blocked by Israeli influence, there would be “serious implications on all American policies in the Middle East… I’ll just leave it there.“[7] Reagan himself declared, “It is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy.”[11] In August 1981, the Administration delayed indefinitely the delivery of military aircraft to Israel, a move that Israelis interpreted as pressure to approve of the AWACS sale.

In short, the Reagan Administration’s actions precipitated a serious crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations, as well as barely-veiled charges of dual loyalty on the part of U.S. supporters of Israel (translation: Jewish Americans, although the majority of American supporters of Israel are almost certainly not Jews, but evangelical Christians). The reaction by American Jews makes the current tempest in a teapot over Barack Obama’s remarks look like nothing. For instance, Rabbi Simcha Krauss argued that American Jews had made a huge mistake in believing that Reagan and the Republicans were more “pro-Israel” than Jimmy Carter and the Democrats. In fact, according to Rabbi Krauss:

It was in the AWACS debate that the fundamental error of American Jews embracing right positions was revealed. For in the AWACS debate, the President himself initiated a barrage of anti-Semitic statements which, we had hoped and prayed, had ceased on this continent a long time ago. I do not accuse President Reagan of being anti-Semitic. But I do accuse President Reagan of unleashing the rhetoric of anti-Semitism, of injecting anti-Semitic rhetoric into the public forum – something which has not happened in America for a long time. And here, I believe, we are unfortunately reaping the bitter harvest of our own making.

Then there were these comments by Hyman Bookbinder, at that time the director of the American Jewish Committee:

Why is Israel singled out for having expressed a point of view, when no administration spokesman. from the President on down, has ever expressed concern that Saudi Arabia itself is trying to influence our foreign in its direction?…Why I ask, in a serious non-rhetorical spirit, is only Israel (actually its American friends) being berated for expressing a view?…what the White House evidently resents is the fact that the “Jewish lobby” has not been equally restrained. Well, we are Americans – and we have every right in the world to exercise our right to petition, our right to speak out…Why are we being singled out and berated for our efforts? We are being told, in the words of the New York Daily News front-page headline this morning, to “BUTT OUT.” That front page also headlines the President’s speech with this line: “[Reagan] Raps Jewish anti-AWACS lobby.”

That’s right, those were the “good old days” of U.S.-Israeli relations under the great Republican President Ronald Reagan. But wait, you say, that was just an isolated incident, right? But no, it wasn’t. In fact, there was another very serious incident towards Israel and American Jews in yet another Republican administration, that of George HW Bush. Anyone remember this (bolding added by me for emphasis)?

… Bush was a self-described pragmatist in international affairs, and in the giddy early days after the end of the Cold War, it was no longer fashionable to view the world in binary terms. As a result, many conservative ideological causes-among them Israel-no longer found a champion in the White House. The point was made most clearly when Bush demanded, in 1991, that the Israelis stop building new settlements in Palestinian-controlled territories. Unlike previous presidents, Bush sounded serious, threatening to block millions in loan guarantees if Israel disobeyed. (Later, when his re-election was in doubt in 1992, Bush promised to press Congress for the loan guarantees unconditionally.)

Just as damaging was the elder Bush’s knack for seeming as out of touch with Jewish voters as he did with everyone else. Once, during a 1991 White House press conference, Bush Sr. complained about the strength of the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill-the implication being that “Jews work insidiously behind the scenes,” as David J. Forman wrote in the Jerusalem Post. On another occasion, Bush reminded his critics that the United States gives “Israel the equivalent of $1,000 for every Israeli citizen,” a remark that detractors took as an allusion to the stereotype of Jews as money-obsessed and greedy.

And then there was Secretary of State James Baker’s infamous “fuck the Jews” remark. In a private conversation with a colleague about Israel, Baker reportedly uttered the vulgarity, noting that Jews “didn’t vote for us anyway.” This was more or less true-Bush got 27 percent of the Jewish vote, compared with 73 percent for Dukakis, in 1988. And thanks in part to Baker, it was even truer in 1992, when Bill Clinton got 78 percent of the Jewish vote and Bush got only 15 percent-the poorest showing by a Republican candidate since Barry Goldwater in 1964.

But wait, there’s more. Check out Secretary Baker’s speech to AIPAC in July 1989, which stated point blank:

For Israel, now is the time to lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of a Greater Israel. Israeli interests in the West Bank and Gaza, security and otherwise, can be accommodated in a settlement based on UN Resolution 242. Foreswear annexation; stop settlement activity; allow schools to reopen; reach out to the Palestinians as neighbors who deserve political rights.

Oh, and for those of you who don’t remember UN Security Council Resolution 242, that’s the one that calls for “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict [the 1967 War].” In other words, the George HW Bush administration pushed strongly for resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on Israeli withdrawal to, or very close to, the pre-1967 borders. Sound familiar?  Of course it does, because none of this is anything new. In fact, pretty much everyone knows that a final resolution to this conflict will involve some sort of Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – aka, the “occupied territories.” Pretty much everyone also knows that Israel can’t be both Jewish AND democratic if it continues to occupy the West Bank. Finally, we’ve already had Israeli prime ministers agree to variants on exactly that. For instance, does anyone remember the Oslo Accords (1993), Oslo II (1995), the Wye Accords (signed and ratified in 1998), the Sharm el-Sheik Memorandum (1999), the 2000 Camp David Summit, the Taba Summit, and the Road Map for Peace (2002; George W. Bush called for an independent Palestinian state, an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, and afreeze on Israeli settlement expansion)?

Apparently, for all the right-wingers out there ranting and raving about how Barack Obama has supposedly said something new, radical, or whatever, all of this has gone down the memory hole, as if it never happened. It would be bizarrely laughable if the stakes weren’t so high. Anyway, since Barack Obama’s addressing AIPAC this morning, and since I’m sure the coverage on Faux “News” will be “fair and balanced” as always (not!!!), I just wanted to take a few minutes and set the record straight. I also wanted to remind people of the good ol’ days when Republican Presidents like Reagan, Bush and Bush, were busy “throwing Israel under the bus.”