Does Association With James Baker Affect Jeb Bush’s Pro-Israel Credentials?


james-bakerBy Sean Savage

Former secretary of state James Baker, a prominent figure in president George H. W. Bush’s administration and a critic of the Israeli government’s policies, is under fire from conservatives and pro-Israel activists for his decision to speak at the annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. But should the pro-Israel community’s concern extend to former Florida governor and presumed presidential candidate Jeb Bush, for whom Baker serves as a foreign policy adviser?

Fred Zeidman, a Houston businessman and Republican fundraiser who is close with the Bush family, said there is a misconception about Baker’s role in the Bush campaign.

“Baker is not a key adviser to Jeb Bush; he has about a dozen policy advisers, all of whom are strong supporters of Israel,” Zeidman told “An adviser means that you call him when you are trying to understand something. We all greatly respect Secretary Baker, even if we disagree with him on things.”

“Jeb disagrees with [Baker] on the U.S.-Israel relationship and the way forward in the Middle East,” said Zeidman.

Indeed, Baker is one of 21 foreign policy advisers for Jeb Bush, who appears to have chosen a wide range of policy experts-many with strong pro-Israel records-from Paul Wolfowitz and John Negroponte, who served under his brother’s administration, to elder statesman George Shultz. Baker also served as a foreign policy adviser to the staunchly pro-Israel George W. Bush, even though he was often strongly critical of the second Bush-family president’s foreign policy, especially on Iraq, during his two terms in the White House.

While Baker served a distinguished career as White House chief of staff and secretary of the treasury under president Ronald Reagan, and then secretary of state under George H. W. Bush, he is probably best-known among Jews for his infamous “F**k the Jews, they didn’t vote for us anyway” remark-words Baker has denied using. Baker is also known for his battles with former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir over housing-loan guarantees for Israel during the early 1990s, an episode many regard as a historic low in U.S.-Israel relations.

In his keynote speech at the J Street conference on March 23, Baker struck a more moderate tone than in the past, expressing his “great admiration and respect” for Israel and saying he is “proud” that America has supported Israel. But unlike most of his fellow Republicans, Baker was extremely critical of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, blasting his “diplomatic missteps and political gamesmanship” during his recent election campaign, including Netanyahu’s much-debated speech to the U.S. Congress on Iran and pre-election remarks about a two-state solution and Israeli Arabs.

“Frankly, I have been disappointed with the lack of progress regarding a lasting peace-and I have been for some time,” Baker said. “In the aftermath of Netanyahu’s recent election victory, the chance of a two-state solution seems even slimmer, given his reversal on the issue.”

Following Baker’s J Street address, Jeb Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell emphasized the expected presidential candidate’s opposition to Baker’s position on Israel.

“Governor Bush consults a wide range of advisers on foreign policy,” Campbell said. “While he respects Secretary Baker, he disagrees with the sentiments he expressed last night and opposes J Street’s advocacy. Governor Bush’s support for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu is unwavering, and he believes it’s critically important our two nations work seamlessly to achieve peace in the region.”

In the eyes of J Street, which seeks to be the liberal alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and has supported President Barack Obama’s heavy criticism of Netanyahu, Baker represents a rare senior Republican figure who stands up to right-wing leaders of Israel.

“It’s unfortunate that Baker, who can certainly pick his speaking venues, chose to keynote the J Street conference and give support to an organization that has become increasingly hostile to the State of Israel,” Jay Lefkowitz, a Jewish attorney who served as special envoy for human rights in North Korea under George W. Bush and director of cabinet affairs for George H.W. Bush, told

“At a time when we should be looking to promote bipartisan support for America’s closest and most important ally in the Middle East, J Street often works to frustrate that objective,” he added.

Yet despite Baker’s controversial record on Israel and his decision to address the J Street gathering, Zeidman said he views Baker as a “patriot and brilliant statesman.” He said, “How can you not have someone like Baker as one of your advisers?”

Lefkowitz said Jeb Bush’s statements about Israel and his foreign-policy objectives “make it clear that he has a very different perspective about Israel than Jim Baker.”

“Baker is an old family friend to the Bushes. But just as Baker clearly had no influence on George W. Bush’s Israel policy, I wouldn’t expect him to have any influence on Jeb’s,” said Lefkowitz.

Some pro-Israel commentators, however, are more critical of Jeb Bush’s association with Baker.

Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine, wrote that Baker’s “long record of hostility to Israel” should “make him radioactive for a candidate seeking to brand himself as a supporter of the Jewish state and a critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.” Zionist Organization of America National President Mort Klein said in a statement, “It is deeply disconcerting that Governor Bush would, not only contemplate, but actually appoint, as adviser someone who has been utterly wrong about the Middle East and unrelentingly hostile to Israel, endlessly demanding concessions and suggesting that Israel is the stumbling block to peace, while ignoring the continuing extremism, rejectionism and terrorism of the Palestinian Arabs, Syria and other hostile regimes.” Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, tweeted, “James Baker & J Street. The anti-Israel pre-Reaganite GOP meets the anti-Israel post-Clinton left.”

At the same time, Jeb Bush has visited Israel several times and has a warm relationship with the Jewish community in Florida, where he has governor from 1999-2007.

“Since I’ve started talking to Jeb about this over a year ago, I’ve never had any qualms or questions over his stance on Israel. He has certainly never given any indication that he won’t be as strong of a supporter as his brother,” Zeidman told

Despite the association with Baker, Lefkowitz believes that Jeb Bush will ultimately be judged on his own actions and words.

“I think American voters who care about Israel, and that includes the vast majority of Americans, are going to judge Jeb Bush based on his record, not the statements of a former secretary of state who, on other issues, is one of many foreign policy advisers to his potential campaign,” Lefkowitz told




  1. Why do so many want to credit George W as being so pro Israel. There are plenty of circumstances of an anti-Israel stance. Even right wing radio condemned George W. when Israel was fighting terrorists and he spoke of restraint. George W. didn’t use restraint in his fight.

    Also, it was under his administration that Rubashkin and Agriprocessors had its downfall. During that time Bush was being attacked for his immigration policies and the lack of prosecuting violators, and what happened was one of the biggest cases on record. I think there was more behind the scene than we’ll ever know. I don’t trust Any of the Bush’s.

  2. President George W. Bush was also associated with James Baker and that didn’t stop him from being possibly the most pro-Israel President in history.

  3. I cannot help but be skeptical of any politician whose has any association of any kind be it personal or professional with the likes of someone like James Baker. To include him in an inner circle of advisers, be it ever so large, can only serve to raise the level of suspicion as to the appropriateness of Jeb Bush as a Presidential candidate. And most of all, to consider James Baker “an old family friend” is worse than Barack Obama’s association with that hater of American whites, Jeremiah Wright. It exceeds the bounds of human decency.

    When James Baker advised against unequivocal unwavering, uncompromising support of the policies of the State of Israel during the 1980’s and 1990’s, it might have been understood as a manifestation of “Realpolitik”, the theory that moral principles should not deter a statesman from committing to policies that would ultimately benefit one’s own nation. However, the year is 2015, not 1985, and whatever might have been considered a pragmatic solution thirty years ago would be deemed foolhardy today at best, mean spirited and even treasonous at worst.

    Yes, treasonous.

    When radical elements of an unmentionable persuasion openly announce their goal of world domination, loudly proclaim that the United States is their greatest enemy, when those elements behead innocent hostages, kidnap and rape African children in the thousands, butcher millions of their own coreligionist civilians in numerous Muslim countries it is most unwise to seek “diplomatic” solutions and positions of compromise. What sort of compromise can be suggested here? To have these enemies of humanity agree to reduce their aim to merely partial world domination? To have those butchers concede that they will no longer behead their hostages with serrated knives, but with more humane razors? That from now on they will merely kidnap children, but not rape them (unless of course the children are over the age of twelve, which doesn’t really count as rape in that society)? Or how about limiting the killings of civilians during an armed conflict to say, hundreds of thousands, instead of millions? Anyone who advocates moderation in a situation when the globe is so imperiled is not fit to be an adviser to a dogcatcher, let alone a President of the United States.

    But when the United States has suffered the ultimate catastrophe, an attack on U.S. soil that killed three thousand civilians, (to the resounding approval of most Palestinians), when U.S. lives are threatened daily both here and abroad, when Iran, who is promising to destroy Israel and threatening the sovereignty of many Arab states, is most certainly going to possess nuclear weapons in a short while, when other states of the region are promising to follow suit, when James Baker suggests that the election of Benjamin Netanyahu who has simply raised the alarm regarding the impending apocalypse, is an obstacle to peace, Baker is giving aid and comfort those who are attempting to bring about the downfall of the United States which might even be considered an act of treason, no less than that of Tokyo Rose. James Baker ought to be met with scorn and disdain as if he were a follower of Vidkun Quisling, not as an “old family friend”.

    Needless to say, I, an unabashed committed Republican of over four decades shall not be casting my ballot for Jeb Bush

  4. If James Baker has anything to do with a Republican Nominee for President then I will vote for someone else even someone in another party or just no one.

    James Baker is bad news.