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Bush’s opposition to Israel in ’91 hurt his bid for second term, and skewed U.S. foreign policy right

Media Analysis
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The American press’s obsequies for George H.W. Bush as a supposedly great one-term president have left out an important question: Did his opposition to Israeli settlements cost him a second term in 1992? A number of analysts have suggested as much over the years. And while the evidence is hardly slam-dunk, there is no question that taking on the Israel lobby hurt the president.

Bush openly opposed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir over billions in U.S. loan guarantees that would be used to build illegal settlements in 1991. In doing so, he stated the American people would be behind him; but he violated the core principle of the Israel lobby, There must never be daylight between the White House and the Israeli government.

And Bush famously took on the lobby. During the battle, the president uttered his famous line, “there are 1,000 lobbyists up on the Hill today lobbying Congress for loan guarantees for Israel and I’m one lonely little guy down here asking Congress to delay its consideration of loan guarantees for 120 days.”

As the Times of Israel pointed out: “The notion of the president — leader of the world’s only super power — as ‘one lonely little guy’ going up against the pro-Israel lobby has become a staple of the narrative that Israel backers wield excessive power in the American political system.”

Bush won the battle: Israel had to put a slight curb on settlements for a short period. Israelis blamed Shamir for overplaying his hand with the U.S., and voted him out in 1992, The Washington Post’s Glenn Frankel wrote. But Frankel assessed that Bush also “paid a price” for his decision to cast the Israel lobby as counter to U.S. interests.

“[The standoff] clobbered the Jewish community, left us in a state of shock,” one American Jewish leader told me later…

Bush paid a price… He got crushed in a small group of heavily Jewish precincts in states such as New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Florida in his November 1992 election loss to Bill Clinton.

Bear in mind: Bill Clinton ran to Bush’s right on Israel, supporting the settlements, and took the White House.

The argument that the issue turned the election is not convincing by the overall numbers. Clinton won by a resounding electoral margin, 370 to 168, and Bush’s gaining N.Y., N.J. and Ohio (two of which he’d won by big margins in ’88) wouldn’t have changed the outcome. But the Jewish vote cratered for Bush, and so presumably did Jewish donors. He had won 27 percent of the Jewish vote in ’88, only 15 percent in ’92.

Just as Jimmy Carter was said to believe that his stance on Israel cost him a second term, it is said that Bush held a similar belief. “Many believe that George H.W. Bush’s defeat in 1992 was the result of Jewish-American opposition fueled by his hard line against Israeli settlements under the Shamir government,” Michael Desch, the political scientist, wrote. His footnoted evidence includes informal comments to students by the former President himself, in a visit to the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M in February 2005, a visit at which Bush decried the power of AIPAC (the preeminent pro-Israel lobby).

Tom Friedman also said (not in the Times, but on an Al Jazeera broadcast), that the lonely lobbyist moment all but cost Bush the presidency and pulled American politics, including Bush’s son George W. Bush, to the right.

[A]s you know, President Bush the first stood outside the White House one day and said I’m one lonely man standing up against the Israel lobby. What happened as a result of that… is that Republicans post Bush I, and manifested most in his son Bush 2, took a strategic decision, they will never be out pro-Israel’d again. That they believe cost them electorally a lot.

So that pulled the American spectrum to the right. And it created an arms race with the Democrats, over who could be more pro Israel.

This brings up the neocons and the Iraq War disaster of Bush the Second– again, something the press has ignored in honoring George H.W. Bush. The neocons were devoted to Israel’s security, and helping Israel was an important driver of that war. Thankfully, NYT columnist Maureen Dowd, who had a long correspondence with the late president, insisted on talking about the late president’s passivity, and his son’s Iraq folly, during broadcasts yesterday. She said that George W. Bush went against his father’s implicit counsel on Iraq, and “ruined” his presidency.

Here’s Dowd on PBS News Hour last night:

[I]t was heartwarming to see W.’s incredible emotion toward his father [in his eulogy], but it was also kind of heartbreaking, because, you know, I have spent decades covering the family. And the father, you know, constantly worried that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were leading W. astray on the Iraq War, and the neocons were leading him astray. And I think W. didn’t want to seek his father’s advice or hear what he had to say about the invasion of Iraq.

And then it took years and years before he came around and realized his father was right, and distanced himself from Rumsfeld and Cheney. But, by that time, it was too late. It was the worst mistake in American foreign policy.

So, you know, to see all that emotion, you just wish that, you know, they had been more mentor and protege during the time when he needed it.

Dowd said a similar thing on MSNBC. The late Bush believed that the neocons “hijacked” George W. Bush’s presidency.

“I think he agreed with my analysis of the Iraq War, that it was a mistake to go into Baghdad and trump up this reason for war because he had decided not to do that,” Dowd said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“But he couldn’t say that, except to his closest friends,” she added.

Dowd said that the former president, who died Friday at the age of 94, often sent notes to her over the years as the two developed a close relationship.

She added that the elder Bush also believed that the presidency of his son, George W. Bush, was “hijacked” by neoconservatives.

“He also agreed with me that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons hijacked W’s presidency,” she said. “And finally in the end he told that to Jon Meacham. He said they … had sort of ruined his son’s presidency.”

Cheney was George W. Bush’s vice president and Rumsfeld was his Defense secretary from 2001 to 2006.

Of course discussing these issues in any depth would involve addressing the power of the Israel lobby in U.S. politics. The press doesn’t like to do that because any discussion of Zionist influence is thought to be anti-Semitic. But that failure only empowers the lobby– which loses when it is called out openly, as it lost in 91 to Bush– and because the influence is so obvious that the silence fuels anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, about the lobby controlling foreign policy and the press.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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11 Responses

  1. CigarGod on December 6, 2018, 11:43 am

    Well, we’ll get to watch an Irish version of this unfold.
    I just noticed the Irish Senate has voted to outlaw all occupied territory products.

    • Misterioso on December 7, 2018, 10:42 am


      Right on!!

      Here’s the report:

      “Irish senate passes bill banning goods from Israeli settlements” Dec. 6/18 Middle East Monitor

      “Ireland has become the first country to push through a bill that will criminalise the import of goods from Israeli settlements and impose a five year jail sentence or a €283,000 fine on anyone found guilty of profiting from illegal settlement industries.

      “The bill passed yesterday will ban the import or sale of goods or services from settlements regarded as illegal under international law. The legislation passed in the Seanad, a branch of the country’s legislature, makes Ireland the first EU member state to criminalise the purchase of goods produced on Israeli settlements.

      “Irish sources reported that the bill was supported without a vote. This was described by independent Senator Frances Black, who championed the legislation, as ‘historic.’
      The successful passing of the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 was met with sustained applause and a standing ovation by opposition Senators. The bill makes it an offence ‘for a person to import or attempt to import settlement goods’ or to assist anyone in doing so.

      “The measure now needs the endorsement of the lower house of the parliament, known as the Dáil Éireann, before the Irish president can sign it into law. However, it is likely to face stiff resistance. The Government is said to be reluctant to push the legislation further. Fianna Fáil, a centre-right liberal-conservative party, has indicated it will re-introduce the bill early in the New Year if necessary.

      “According to the Irish Times, Palestinian Ambassador Ahmed Abdelrazek worked on the drafting of the bill, which was sponsored by several organisations, including Trócaire, Christian Aid and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU)”

  2. marc b. on December 6, 2018, 1:38 pm

    Growing up in a staunchly union democratic household, i never voted for Bush I, but history should treat him well, given what came after. read the National Security Archives and in a few pages you can see the evolution of Russia-US relations leading to the sorry state of affairs of the moment. *spoiler alert* Bush/Baker good; Clinton/Christopher bad.

    there’s been so much written about Bush I’s loss to Clinton, the causes aren’t entirely clear. Some sum it up by blaming Perot, but others insist if you wade into the details, the demographics state-by-state, Perot’s impact was de minimus. Conspiratorial as i am, i couldn’t help but feel something suspicious was afoot after viewing Bush’s projectile vomiting episode in early ’92 in Japan.

    • Mooser on December 6, 2018, 3:59 pm

      ” Bush I, but history should treat him well, given what came after”

      Works the other way round. Considering what Republicans came after, he will look worse.

    • William3 on December 7, 2018, 8:35 am

      “history should treat him well”

      Why don’t we let the families of 3000 dead Panamanians from El Chorillo decide that….

  3. JLewisDickerson on December 6, 2018, 3:51 pm

    RE: “Many believe that George H.W. Bush’s defeat in 1992 was the result of Jewish-American opposition fueled by his hard line against Israeli settlements under the Shamir government,” Michael Desch, the political scientist, wrote. His footnoted evidence includes informal comments to students by the former President himself, in a visit to the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M in February 2005, a visit at which Bush decried the power of AIPAC (the preeminent pro-Israel lobby). ~ Weiss

    SEE: “The Film the Israel Lobby Does Not Want You to See” | by
    Chris Hedges | | Dec. 03, 2018

    [EXCERPT] . . . What the lobby is all about is to make sure that Israel gets special treatment from the United States, forever,” John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” says in the film.

    Mearsheimer says, “What AIPAC does is it makes sure that money is funneled your way if you’re seen as pro-Israel, and it will go to significant lengths to make sure that you stay in office if you continue to be staunchly pro-Israel.”

    “What happens is Jeff [Talpins] meets with congressmen in the backroom, tells them exactly what his goals are,” David Ochs, founder of HaLev, says of the pro-Israeli hedge fund manager Jeff Talpins and how politicians receive sums of as much as $200,000 from the Israel lobby. “And by the way, Jeff Talpins is worth $250 million. Basically, they hand an envelope with 20 credit cards and say, ‘You can swipe each of these credit card for $1,000 each.’ ”

    “If you wander off the reservation and become critical of Israel, you not only will not get money, AIPAC will go to great lengths to find someone who will run against you,” Mearsheimer says. “And support that person very generously. The end result is you’re likely to lose your seat in Congress.”

    “They have questionnaires,” recalls former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat from northern Virginia who was in the House from 1991 to 2015. Moran, who opposed the 2002 congressional resolution to invade Iraq, became a target for the Israel lobby, which pushed hard for the war. “Anyone running for Congress is required [by the lobby] to fill out a questionnaire. And they [AIPAC] evaluate the depth of your commitment to Israel on the basis of [those questions]. And then you have an interview with local people. If you get AIPAC support, then more often than not you’re going to win.”

    “There was a conservative rabbi in my district who was assigned to me, I assume, by AIPAC,” Moran says. “He warned me that if I voiced my views about the Israeli lobby that my career would be over, and implied that it would be done through the Post. Sure enough, The Washington Post editorialized brutally. Everyone ganged up.”

    There is a screen shot of a Washington Post headline: “Sorry, Mr. Moran, You’re Not Fit For Public Office.”

    Character assassination is a common tactic used by the Israel lobby against its critics. Bill Mullen, a professor of American studies at Purdue University, has been a campaigner for the BDS movement for years. His wife was sent a link to a website containing a letter addressed to her.

    “It was a Sunday,” he says. “I was in the kitchen. My partner was in the living room with my daughter. Came in with her laptop and said, ‘You’ve got to see this.’ This letter, reported to be by a former student, said she had been sexually harassed by me. She had found other students at Purdue who have had the same experience. And she was writing this letter to tell their story. Within a very short time, within about 48 hours, we were able to establish that these multiple sites that were attacking me had been taken out [created] almost at the same time. And that they were clearly the work of the same people. One of the accounts said, in the process of supposedly putting my hand on her, I invited her to a Palestine organizational meeting. Well, I thought, ‘You’re sort of putting your cards on the table there,’ whoever you are.” . . .


  4. Keith on December 6, 2018, 6:57 pm

    First John McCain, now George H. W. Bush. Liberals heaping praise on warmongers. Such is the sorry state we find ourselves in.

  5. wondering jew on December 6, 2018, 8:46 pm

    The fact that Bush and Carter attributed their losses to bucking the lobby is significant.

    If we focus on the next Democratic president and plan to support him/her/them in an effort to change the direction of US foreign policy regarding Israel Palestine to the degree that they succeed in accomplishing a peace, then the Lobby will be a formidable enemy/opponent in that effort.

    The Lobby supports the Israeli government, except when it doesn’t. Such as when Rabin and Ehud Barak tried to make peace, the Lobby really wasn’t behind them, the lobby’s attitude does not have the changing of the guard that a Labor prime minister taking over from Likud entails, the lobby is not elected and cannot change that quickly. it’s the same people who supported likud and they do not change on a dime. there needs to be a prolonged sustained governmental change before the lobby’s attitude could reflect it in a new attitude. so the lobby was more tied to likud than it was to the changing of the guard implied by the premiership of Rabin and Barak.

    But assume that the next president is bernie sanders, just to pick an example. His ability to raise funds on line gives him an independence that is not found elsewhere in politics today. First, please realize: he will frame his goal as a two state goal. Second: the lobby will try to defeat him in this effort.

    (It seems that Obama would have been willing to go full court press against Netanyahu, if only the Democratic party wasn’t hurting for funds. Given the advantage that republicans have in the electoral college (meaning that it does not reflect the population of the big cities, but rather we are not a nation where the people decide, but nation where the states decide) and the senate (with its advantage to the empty white states in the west), so the ability to navigate foreign policy according to his own vision could be as limited as Obama’s despite his ability to raise funds in a presidential campaign.)

    In Israel No changing of the guard is coming soon.

    Netanyahu will not be in power forever, but there is every reason to assume the continued prominence of the Likud and the right wing. (The vulnerable point in the right wing coalition is in fact the Haredi ultra Orthodox, whose constituency is hardcore right wing, but whose leadership is devoted to issues other than security, and therefore theoretically able to switch sides if some Talmudic expert decides that the policy being proposed fits his own concept of practicality.)

    People who support Israel (as conceived previously) but oppose the Israel that has developed will have a tough time undercutting Israel on behalf of Bernie sanders trying to pressure israel. Young ‘uns who do not have a history of supporting Israel will not be as difficult to persuade, but the lobby will probably be quite robust in its fight against the bernie sanders peace campaign.

    • Misterioso on December 7, 2018, 11:00 am

      @wondering Jew

      Palestinians have the momentum, especially among “Young ‘uns,’ while “Israel’s” image is in freefall worldwide, including the U.S. It’s only a matter of time.

      Meanwhile, some good news for those who support the indigenous Palestinians in their just struggle against occupation, oppression and dispossession perpetrated by Zionist Jews of foreign origin:

      “France-Israel propaganda ‘season’ ends in failure” Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah, Dec. 3/18

      “A major propaganda effort sponsored by the French and Israeli governments has been a failure, Israeli officials are acknowledging.

      “The so-called Saison France-Israël, or France-Israel Season, was a series of hundreds of ‘cultural’ events backed by both governments, running for six months until the end of November.

      “’We were hoping that culture would have a diplomatic impact. We put an enormous amount of money into this operation, which had zero success regarding Israel’s image in France, or that of France here,’ an Israeli diplomatic source told the newspaper Le Monde last week.

      “BDS France, a group that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, is celebrating the admission of failure as a victory for activism in support of Palestinian rights.

      “The France-Israel Season was an attempted ‘whitewashing operation, cleansing the state of Israel of its crimes against the Palestinian people, its constant violations of international law and universal human rights,’ BDS France stated on Saturday, noting that dozens of French artists, including legendary film director Jean-Luc Godard, had declared they would not cooperate with it.

      “’The French public didn’t fall for the ruse and the propaganda doesn’t work any more,’ BDS France added. ‘The defenders and accomplices of Israeli apartheid are increasingly isolated, and our solidarity with the Palestinian people in the framework of the BDS campaign is stronger than ever.’

      “Activists held protests against France-Israel Season events all over the country, and one of the first planned events – at the University of Lille – was abandoned as a result.

      “’Many of the events held in France as part of the France-Israel Season took place before a small audience,’ BDS France said. ‘Preparations were carried out in a semi-clandestine manner and events were announced at the last minute, so much did the two governments fear public protests.’

      “French snub: Adding to Israel’s disappointment, according to Le Monde, is that French President Emmanuel Macron, broke his promise to travel to Israel during the season.”

  6. James Canning on December 7, 2018, 12:55 pm

    George H. W. Bush tried to bring about a resolution of the Israel/Palestine problem, and clearly this effort played a large role in his defeat in the 1992 presidential contest. One might well ask if it was a good thing for Israel, to set itself up for endless occupation of the West Bank and relentless oppression of the Palestinians.

  7. Kathleen on December 12, 2018, 3:49 pm

    Was glued to the news in the run up to Bush 41’s invasion of Iraq. My kids then ( 13,11, 4) remember me weeping as I listened to NPR and the sounds of our original bombing. We headed in from the country side to the Athens Ohio Court House steps for a candle light vigil for the people of Iraq. Never a mention on any of the outlets about the numbers of deaths of Iraqi soldiers or innocent people during that period. I was so pissed off that there was no mention of Iraqi lives on Cable outlets etc I called the Iraqi Embassy in D.C. They had numbers but were hesitant to release.

    Bush 41 was no saint. No protector of innocent life in that case. That is for sure.

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