One Lonely Man

How George Bush Sr.'s clash with the Israel Lobby cost him re-election, and how Biden may be traveling down the same road

One Lonely Man

Robert Kennedy Jr has been an anomaly, some would say black horse, in the 2024 Presidential election. Described as a populist, Kennedy has taken issue with the United States’ heavy-handed response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its intervention in foreign wars and support of autocratic regimes, as well as concern about America’s eroding middle class. Initially, some speculated that RFK could pose a threat to Donald Trump’s campaign, stealing his thunder on the aforementioned issues and splitting the Republican vote. 

More recently, however, it seems that RFK could be used to siphon votes from incumbent President Joe Biden, splitting the vote not on the right, but the left. After all, an RFK staffer was recently fired for saying as much[1]. The development has no doubt been influenced by the events of October 7th and the ongoing war in Gaza. RFK is a staunch supporter of Israel, whilst also toeing the line on key Democratic issues like climate change, opposing nuclear energy, and moderate gun control. Supported by billionaire Bill Ackman[2], a man who has recently made common cause with MAGA influencers over the United States’ continued support for Israel, RFK could play a role in the Israel Lobby’s ongoing conflict with those elements of the Democratic party and the Biden administration who have exerted pressure upon Israel to end its war in Gaza.

This would not be the first time an attempt to split an incumbent’s ticket on behalf of Israel took place. Over three decades prior, George H W Bush found himself locked in a struggle with the Israel Lobby and America’s Jews due to his desire to curtail Israel’s expansion of its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Since the passage of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in the late 1970s, Israel had been receiving hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Soviet Union, with that number to reach a million by the beginning of the 21st century[3]. Many of these immigrants wound up in the West Bank settlements. 

The United States had also promised ten billion dollars in loans to Israel to help facilitate the continued settlement of these immigrants. Bush, however, sought to make the aid conditional, exchanging loan guarantees for guarantees that Israel would halt its illegal settlements[4]. Upon declaring his intentions to freeze the loan guarantees for a period of four months, the Israel Lobby became incensed to override the President and his ambitions. An intense lobbying campaign broke out in Congress, led by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). 

Bush decried the lobbying campaign set against him, asserting that he was “one lonely little guy” against “1000 lobbyists up on the Hill lobbying Congress”[5]. Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians not long after, delivering the news to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that the United States would not deliver its aid if settlements were continued. In the end, AIPAC backed down from its goal of overpowering the President, likely due to Shamir’s acquiescence to the conditions and agreement to take part in the 1991 Madrid Conference[6]. Another factor may have been H W Bush’s 70% approval rating, with the concern that AIPAC’s open antagonism towards the President could alienate itself from a large segment of the US population.

Bush’s remarks about the vast ocean of pro-Israel lobbyists reflects the vast change underwent in the American political establishment since the 1970s. Bush, as well as James Baker, were some of the only Republicans who still adhered to an earlier realist tradition in foreign policy. Bush believed that a lasting peace in the Middle East was in America’s interest, and that Israeli provocations towards its neighbors threatened Bush’s aims in the region. This view was not held by the now-dominant Neoconservative faction in the Republican party. These Neoconservatives, led by Cold Warrior liberals such as Irving Kristol and Scoop Jackson, were staunchly pro-Israel and were not in favor of concessions to Israel’s neighbors. The Jewish makeup of the Neoconservative movement was the primary factor in this policy orientation, as Israel was the ethno-religious homeland of many Neoconservative thought leaders and policymakers. Narratives were constructed about how Israel was America’s ally against the Soviet sphere of influence through its support of the Arab states, and later about how Israel was the United States’ first line of defense against Islamic aggression. 

The Presidential election of 1992 presented an opportunity for AIPAC and the Israel Lobby to move against Bush once more. Still reeling from their defeat a year prior, and with Bush’s 70% approval rating, a frontal assault on a popular president would not be a viable option. Instead, a third party candidate, Ross Perot, was quickly becoming popular amongst the American middle class, particularly those who supported moderate, center right policies. Whilst Perot’s campaign was focused primarily on economics, he did voice strong support for Israel at a time when conservative Jews found themselves alienated from the incumbent President. Thomas Dine, Executive Director of AIPAC at the time, had this to say about Perot,

He is a believer in the Israeli way of defending itself. I am told by those who know him that he would be a very interesting person to deal with and probably very friendly.

Perot would speak to pro-Israel political groups, such as the American Jewish Committee. Later, Perot donated 100,000 dollars to that same organization[7]. When his name was mentioned at the April 1992 AIPAC National Convention, Perot received cheers and enthusiasm, a stark contrast to the hostile booing when Bush was mentioned. Pro-Israel activists viewed Perot as the answer to the likely Bush second term. New York Times columnist and future President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Leslie Gelb, penned an article explaining the idea of Perot being a spoiler candidate in an effort to secure electoral victory for Clinton[8]. By supporting Perot, the less popular, yet staunchly pro-Israel Bill Clinton would have a high chance of success in the election. Perot ultimately garnered 19% of the popular vote, compared to Bush’s 37% and Clinton’s 43%, successfully spoiling the Bush campaign. Bush performed abysmally with Jewish voters, getting just 11%. 

Interesting still are Perot’s lasting ties to Israel and American Jews. He employed Morton Meyerson, a longtime friend, associate, and executive of Electronic Data Systems, as well as the later Perot Systems. Meyerson would later become the chief technology officer of General Motors, which would acquire Electronic Data Systems in 1984[9]. Meyerson was also the mentor of Michael Dell, founder of Dell Technologies, which would eventually acquire Perot Systems in 2009. Meyerson would go on to found 2M Companies, a business which funds the Meyerson Foundations, whose purpose is to invest in Jewish organizations and causes[10]. Electronic Data Systems would contract with the US Navy and Marines, providing electronic services for over 300 military bases. The deal was settled for 6.9 billion dollars[11]. EDS would also form a joint venture with Israeli company Kardan to form EDS Israel. Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister of Israel, served as a special advisor to EDS starting in late 2001[12]. 

Perot would also play a role in the breakdown of the Shah’s regime in Iran in the late 1970s. Electronic Data Systems was active in Iran under the Shah, with whom it had established a business contract. Two EDS employees were arrested on charges of suspected bribery. While Perot ordered his lawyers to immediately find solutions to meeting the bail, he would also recruit Special Forces Colonel Arthur Simons to lead a rescue mission. Simons, the leader of the Son Tay raid in Vietnam, led the mission with a team of seven volunteers from the company. Perot was also involved in the support and rescue of POW’s during the Vietnam War, another link between him and Simons[13]. They eventually instigate a mob attack on the Qasr prison in Tehran, freeing the employees and embarking on a near 500 mile trip to Turkey, where they were flown to Germany and then back to the United States. The rescue is described in detail in the 1983 book On Wings of Eagles.

One final interesting detail of Ross Perot’s relationships and business dealings is found with the Dallas Mavericks. Perot had purchased the team in 1996, and by the year 2000 had sold it to Mark Cuban. Cuban has recently sold the team to the wife of deceased investor and pro-Israel activist Sheldon Adelson. All these ties taken together, it is not surprising that Ross Perot was considered a friend to Israel and America’s Jewish population, a friendship which persisted long before and after his 1992 presidential campaign.

Robert Kennedy will likely perform the same function this coming November. He has voiced repeatedly his belief that Israel must be allowed to conduct and finish its war in Gaza, that Biden is throwing away the Democratic party’s historically strong ties to the Jewish community, and that he would rather lose the election than stop supporting Israel. Kennedy was hailed by Rabbi Schmuley Boteach as a great defender of Israel in his debate on the war in Gaza with Breaking Point’s Krystal Ball. 

President Biden faces an uphill battle this November in the face of his lackluster support for, and at times conflict with, Israel following October 7th. His situation is reminiscent of that of George Bush Sr, whose hardline stance on Middle Eastern peace and reeling in the Israeli government cost him his re-election over thirty years ago. Just as Ross Perot was used to split the Republican ticket in the favor of Israeli ally Clinton, so too will RFK Jr be used in a similar fashion, splitting the Democratic ticket in favor of Israeli ally Donald Trump.

[[1]] "Kennedy Campaign Fires Consultant Who Sought to Help Trump Win"
[[2]] "Robert F. Kennedy Jr hailed for ‘single greatest defense of Israel': 'Worth three minutes of your time'"
[[3]] "Terminating the Application of Jackson-Vanik Legislation to Russia"
[[4]] "Former US president George H.W. Bush dies at age 94
[[5]] "Former US president George H.W. Bush dies at age 94
[[6]] "The Road to Madrid — James Baker and the Middle East Peace Talks"
[[7]] "The Israel Lobby Bashes Bush, Ponders Perot and Co-opts Clinton"
[[8]] "Remembering Ross Perot’s relationship with Israel and the American Jewish community"
[[9]] "Morton Meyerson"
[[10]] "Foundations"
[[11]] "EDS grabs Navy contract worth $6.9 billion"
[[12]] "Electronic Data Systems Names Former PM Barak Special Adviser"
[[13]] "Ross Perot’s Forgotten Mission During the Vietnam War"