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George Walker Bush

(1946- )


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BUSH, GEORGE WALKER° (1946– ), 43rd president of the United States (from 2001). Bush was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the oldest son of George Herbert Walker *Bush , the nation's 41st president, and Barbara Bush. In 1994, Bush won the election for governor of Texas and was reelected in 1998, the first Texas governor to win consecutive four-year terms. He was elected president in 2000 defeating Al Gore in a race so close it was only decided after the Supreme Court, by a 5–4 decision, awarded him Florida's electoral votes, giving him a 271–266 victory in the Electoral College. He was re-elected in 2004, besting Massachusetts Senator John Kerry by around 2.5%.

Bush's share of the Jewish vote in 2000 was a modest 19%. During his first administration the Republican Party made concerted efforts to outreach to Jews, including a special event for Orthodox Jews at the 2004 nominating convention. Given his strong support for Israel's security concerns, many thought Bush would achieve a breakthrough in Jewish popularity. Notwithstanding his increased popularity among American Jewish activists, Bush received no more than 22–25% of the Jewish vote. Nonetheless, the 2004 election cast in doubt the "myth" of a homogeneous Jewish vote, institutionalizing the idea that American Jews are a two-party community with Republicans having a niche of predominance among the Orthodox.

Bush's presidency was transformed by the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States. The subsequent "war on terror" led to the invasions of Afghanistan (Oct. 7, 2001) and Iraq (March 20, 2002). It became the defining act of his presidency.

After 9/11, American Jewish opinion of Bush changed as the president moved closer to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel *Sharon as an ally in the war against terror. Even Democrats spoke of his support for Israel in glowing terms. Many credit his strong religious faith for this attitude. In particular, Bush gained considerably in the Orthodox community, where his strong pro-Israel views and his social conservatism found significant resonance.

Domestically, Jews remained concerned about the perceived rise of the Christian right in government. During Bush's first term, his political advisors focused on his conservative evangelical base and indeed, many credit that voter group for Bush's 2004 victory. The president explicitly spoke of himself as "born again." He urged use of "faith-based" organizations to provide social welfare, which concerned many Jewish organizations. He supported "school vouchers" for private (including religious) schools. He supported efforts to stop enactment of a Florida State Court – ordered withdrawal of life support for Terry Schiavo. He limited Federal funding for stem-cell research.

Bush came to the White House without much foreign policy experience. He had visited Israel in 1998 with the Republican Jewish Coalition and took a famous helicopter trip with Ariel Sharon over the West Bank. Because of the failure of President Clinton's Camp David initiative, Bush's initial attitude in the first year of his administration was to maintain a "hands-off" policy and do little to force the peace process forward. As the second Palestinian Intifada grew in intensity and Sharon turned to the military option, sending Israeli troops into Palestinian-controlled areas, the U.S. showed considerable understanding of Israel's needs. After Israeli forces captured 50 tons of weapons on the Karine-A vessel designated for the Palestinian uprising, Yasser *Arafat 's credibility with Bush was destroyed; it was never to be regained.

On June 24, 2002, Bush called for "a new and different Palestinian leadership" effectively rejecting Arafat. At the same time he called for creation of an independent and democratic Palestinian state, and for Palestinian leadership opposed to terror and committed to reform. This two-part vision became the lodestar of Bush administration policy and the basis for the U.S. sponsored "road map" designed to assure security to Israel and result in the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

With the death of Yasser Arafat on November 11, 2004, the U.S. re-engaged in the peace process promoting both parts of Bush's June 24 vision. It supported Sharon's "unilateral" withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank and held out the future promise of a "two-state" solution.

The Bush presidency showed unusual understanding of Israel's security needs. It supported the controversial "security fence" (while pressing for a route closer to the "green line"), called suicide bombers "homicide bombers," and praised Sharon even while he was being accused of war crimes in many parts of Europe. Bush underscored his preferences by never inviting Arafat, who had been a most frequent visitor during the Clinton presidency, to the White House.

The Bush administration received plaudits from American Jews for its efforts to combat increased antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere. Under his watch, the U.S. walked out of the 2001 UN Durban World Conference on Racism; publicly rebuked Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for allegedly antisemitic remarks; with the passage of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, established an office to monitor and combat antisemitism in the State Department; and appointed a special envoy on antisemitism with ambassadorial rank.

[Marshall J. Breger (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

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