My time with George H.W. Bush

Joseph Aaron

Thanks to my long and illustrious journalism career, I have had up close and personal encounters with every president since Jimmy Carter. But none more up close and personal than with George Herbert Walker Bush.

When I was a young reporter covering the suburb of Glenview, President Carter was attending an event in the northern suburbs, and so his plane, also known as Air Force One, landed at the Glenview Naval Air Station when there still was a Glenview Naval Air Station. And I was right there when it landed, getting to stand on the tarmac as the incredibly beautiful and majestic plane landed. I was awed by its sight and what it symbolized. And then off the plane came the president of the United States. I was close by as he walked into his waiting limo and then I scrambled to find my car, not quite a limo, to drive over to where Carter was making his appearance.

My encounter with Ronald Reagan actually came before he was president, though it was very clear he was about to be elected president. For some reason, Reagan made the very last stop of his 1980 campaign at a North Shore high school and I was not far from him in the auditorium as he spoke. But it is before he spoke that I had a very painful experience. I was told where the press was to stand and watch and so I walked toward the area. As I was almost there, a big Secret Service agent happened to extend his arm and bam he hit me right in the face, pushing my glasses into my face. I know from personal experience that Secret Service agents are very strong. I can still feel my face walking into his arm.

Then there was George H.W. Bush, but we’ll get back to him in a minute. I was in the East Room of the White House with Bill Clinton when he was presiding over the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan. There, literally feet from me, was Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, Jordan’s King Hussein and Egyptian President Mubarak.

My next president was George Bush the son. I was in the Rose Garden of the White House as he stood and made some statement about something I don’t really remember what. I was not ten feet from him and found the setting of the Rose Garden breathtaking and inspiring. George W. not so much. It was, however, cool to watch as he boarded the Marine One helicopter and be almost blown over when it took off.

I got to see President Obama up close and personal when he made his visit to Israel. I was at Ben-Gurion airport in a roped off area as Air Force One landed and I must admit, though it had been more than 30 years since I had first seen Air Force One in person, the effect was the same, still gave me goose bumps.

So far, thank G-d, I have been fortunate enough to have my streak broken and I have not had the misfortune of seeing Trump up close and personal.

But let’s get back to George H.W. Bush. Being with him was the most special of all my presidential encounters. It was during the 1992 campaign and I was among a small handful of Jewish journalists that was invited to meet with Bush in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. And so there I sat at a long table, portraits of Teddy Roosevelt and FDR on the wall, and watched as Bush came in through a door connecting the Roosevelt Room to the Oval Office. He very graciously walked around the table, shaking hands with each and every one of the journalists, including me, asking our names and taking a minute for small talk. I was struck by how tall he was and how nice he was.  Here was the president of the United States schmoozing with each one of our motley crew.

He then spent an hour with us, answering our questions. I got to ask two questions of him and must admit it was a special feeling. He was amazingly well versed on the Jewish issues we asked him about and was very generous with his time, actually spending more time with us than what had been allotted.

So that’s my George H.W. Bush story. He’s the only president that actually invited me to sit down with him in the White House, the only one to let me ask him some questions and the only one whose hand I shook. It was quite the special experience and I must admit I didn’t want it to end. So even after our meeting was done, I found myself a seat in the entrance area of the West Wing, in the room behind the door you see on TV when people arrive at the White House. I watched as one famous face after another walked by or sat down. I sat there for hours even when it got dark and everyone had left. I asked the security guard if I could go into the Cabinet room which I could see from where I was sitting but he said no. He did let me walk halfway down the corridor towards it.

I could tell in the hour that I was with Bush that what has been said all this week is true. He really was kind, gentle, polite, gracious, not at all pretentious, very solicitous to make a personal connection. It was a special day for me and a lot of it had to do with the special man whose essential decency was clear as I sat in a room with him.

He was what a leader should be and yes, I’m going to contrast him with the behavior of the man who is and has been leading Israel for about a decade now and will probably still be doing so a decade from now.

I’ve written several columns the last year or so warning that Israel’s democratic nature is under real threat. I have cited some obscene laws and horrible actions of the Bibi government, laws passed and steps taken that a democracy should not take. And I’m not even counting that he seems to love authoritarian rulers most of all. He meets with Putin all the time and they are always chummy. He invited two of the most disgusting dictators on the planet, the heads of Hungary and the Philippines, to Israel this year and showered them with praise. And most shamefully and disgustingly of all, it was Bibi, more than any other world leader, indeed he was the only world leader who went to bat for the Saudi crown prince who ordered the murder of a journalist. Bibi has had nothing but supportive words for MBS and really pushed the White House to leave MBS alone. Indeed we just learned that it was an Israeli company that supplied the technology that allowed MBS to track the whereabouts of and spy on Jamal Khashoggi.

Many people have said I’m nutty to suggest Israeli democracy is under threat.  No way, these Jews who prefer to live in fantasy land, tell me, accuse me of just hating Bibi. Well, looky here. A new assessment found that nearly half the Israeli public believes that democracy in the Jewish State is in “grave danger.” Almost half.  Grave danger. Maybe Mr. Aaron is not so wackadoodle after all.

The Israel Democracy Institute in its annual survey found that some 45.5 percent of Israelis believe that democracy is in danger. Tamar Hermann, director of the IDI’s Guttmann Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, said that the findings suggest a widespread belief that Israeli democracy is on “shaky ground.”

This is a serious problem that’s only going to get worse because American Jews don’t think it’s a problem at all, don’t believe it, don’t want to hear about it or know from it. And so the threats to democracy get bigger and scarier.

And this week brought some stunning not stunning news, news that might be a foreshadowing of what will soon happen to the orange faced baboon now leading the United States. I have always said that I believe Bibi and Trump are clones of each other. They both are on wife number three. They both are under criminal investigation, which they both dismiss as ‘a witch hunt,’ using identical language, both think the media is the enemy of the people, using identical language, both have attacked as corrupt the law enforcement agencies who are investigating them, thus eroding public confidence in those institutions, and both have incredibly stupid eldest sons. You already know about Donald Junior who, when told the Russians had gathered dirt on Hillary and wanted to help get Trump elected, didn’t say ‘I’m calling the FBI,’ but rather said ‘I love it,’ let’s meet. And we have Bibi’s boy Yair who recently sued a driver who made recordings in his limousine during which the prime minister’s son disparaged women and discussed a national gas deal.

Yair Netanyahu was apparently drunk and accompanied by a driver and a state-salaried bodyguard when he visited several Tel Aviv clubs with Nir Maimon, son of gas tycoon Kobi Maimon, and Roman Abramov (a Russian!), the Israeli representative of billionaire James Packer, on the night in 2015 that the recordings were made.

Now one would think Yair would like to make this story go away. But no, boy genius that he is, he brought it even more public notice by filing a one million shekel lawsuit against driver Roi Rozen for defamation, infringement of privacy and other stuff.  And so we are hearing all over again that among the statements Yair made that were captured on audiotape: “Bro, you have to spot me. My dad made an awesome deal for your dad, bro. He fought, fought in the Knesset for this, bro” and “Bro, my dad just got you a $20 billion deal and you can’t spot me 400 shekels?” (about $116, to get into a strip club) – both referring to the $20 billion deal for Kobi Maimon to develop gas fields off Israel’s Mediterranean coast. He also said: “If you want, I’ll fix you up with [Yair’s girlfriend at the time]. I have to fix her up with everyone, I’m paying off my debts,” implying that he was pimping her out.

Oh and one other thing. The Israeli police – for the third time this year – just recommended that papa Bibi be indicted on bribery, fraud and other charges. Yes, for the third time this year, the police have urged that Netanyahu face criminal prosecution. And the beautiful Trumpian thing is that the guy who will decide if Bibi actually gets indicted in one, two or all three of the cases against him, is Israel’s attorney general — whom Bibi appointed.  Matt Whitaker anyone?

Tzipi Livni, the leader of the opposition in the Israeli Parliament and a former justice minister, wrote on twitter, “Bribery! Netanyahu has to go before he destroys the law enforcement authorities in order to save his own skin.”

You know, Trump is right. Never have Israel and the United States been closer, had more in common.

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