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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

June 05, 2003

Bush, the man

The author of the following email, is the wife of a lawyer in Portland Oregon, Alan Abravanel, a lineal descendent of THE ABARBANEL (15c Spain) and a classmate of the President.

Tonight, I received a personal guarantee--from the President of the United States--that Karen would be safe during her upcoming clerkship with Aharon Barak, and that Israel's security would never be undermined.

This guarantee was sealed with two firm hugs, and memorialized forever with digital photos that I will send to you upon our return to Portland.

As you know, this was Allan's 35th Yale Class of '68 reunion. We were told that the President wanted very much to be there but his security--and his travel schedule--precluded his attending the planned events in New Haven. So instead, he invited the entire class "to the house". The invitation arrived a few weeks ago, for a picnic this evening on the White House lawn.

The Luncheon . . .
Earlier today, there was a luncheon for those from Allan's (and the President's) college, Davenport. Yale is divided into 12 residential colleges--Allan and the President were both in Davenport, and also took a number of courses together.

About 80 of us attended the Davenport luncheon, although the President himself was not there.

Clay Johnson--a classmate who was White House Chief of Personnel and is now Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget--was the speaker, and shared with us his personal insights about George's personality.

He presented a protrait of a man who consistently asks essential questions, who consistently deals with compassion, who steadfastly refuses to stoop to spite.

During the Q & A that followed, Allan raised the following question:

"You have spoken about how the President's personality plays a role in public affairs. I have a vested interest in this question, because my daughter is going to be living in Jerusalem for four months this fall.
What role will the President's personality play in upcoming negotiations in the Middle East crisis?"

. . .to which Clay responded that the President did not trust Arafat--he thought he was a liar--but that he generally "got along with the other players".

The Dinner . . .
All afternoon, we buzzed with speculation.

Would the President actually be in attendance at the "picnic"? Would any of us actually get to meet him? (General consensus was, unlikely ...)

And, as the rain began, we wondered, would there be a tent for shelter? (none dreamed we would get into "the house" . . .)

We arrived at the East Gate at 5 PM.

After coming through security,we found ourselves inside the White House, in a receiving line--and suddenly, face-to-face with the President and First Lady themselves.

Allan approached, and the President reached out his hand:

"Allan! How good to see you again! How have you been?" And then . . ."By the way, I heard that at lunch today you asked a question. I want to tell you: I assure you that your daughter will be safe."

We were dumbstruck. . .that he had heard, that he had remembered, that he felt compelled to respond . . .
I offered, "Mr. President, you know this is very important to me."
"Susan," he replied--we were all wearing nametags--"I know, her safety of course is important to you."
"No, Mr. President," I replied, "what I meant is, that it is very important to me that this is important to YOU."
At which point, he put his arm around my shoulder, hugged me, and said again, "don't worry--I promise you, we will make it safe for her. Israel's security IS important to me."

Allan and I moved on into the White House where we--and approximately 950 others--found ourselves being given the complete run of the White House for 5 1/2 hours--not a single room was off limits, with the exception of the private family quarters upstairs.

An hour later, the President and First Lady finished receiving everyone--and joined us inside, mingling amongst us. Allan approached and said to him, "Mr. President--what you said to Susan and me in the receiving line was very special." He looked at me, put his arm around my shoulder again, and said, "you are a mom, I understand, you are nervous--and I assure you, she will be safe."

Once again, a hug--this one Allan asked if he could photograph--"of course," came the reply, and he graciously posed--first with me, then with us both.

He continued, "You know, by the way, I am going to Auschwitz tomorrow . . ."

Laura--she is stunning in person, much more beautiful than you ever see in photos or on television--was inches away, and also agreed to photos. . .

She left shortly thereafter. But not the President. He stayed to chat, with one classmate after another, throughout the next 4 amazing hours. He did not even take time out to eat--he just talked and hugged and held court in our midst until it seemed that everyone who had something to tell him was satisfied.
We had been told that the evening would end sharply at 9 PM, that the President had an early flight out.
Yet he did not leave us until after 10:30 PM. There he was--the most powerful man in the world--not 5 feet away from us all that time. There he was--the most powerful man in the world--telling me once, then reassuring me again, that Israel's security is of utmost importance to him.

And I was not the only one with whom this was discussed:
Another conversation--this one with his arm around Rabbi Jim Ponet--Yale's Chaplain--and also a member of the Class of '68--
The President: "Jim, I understand you are the chaplain now . . .and I want you to know, I assure you--I will never do anything to undermine the security of the State of Israel. We must remove Arafat. He is not a good person. . ."
Rabbi Ponet: "Mr. President, what do you think of Abu Mazen?"
The President: "I don't know. I haven't met him yet . . .but his Chief of Finance--he's a good man . . ."The President: "I don't know. I haven't met him yet . . .but his Chief of Finance--he's a good man . . ." and then once more, "I promise you, I will never undermine Israel's security . . ."

The power of one . . .
Many of us attribute both the President's strong support for Israel, and for certain, his trip to Auschwitz--the first by a sitting President of the US--to his longstanding close friendship with classmate Don Etra. Don is an Orthodox Jew, an attorney in private practice in Los Angeles. He is also a frequent guest at the White House--Don and his wife Paula (whose mother is an Abravanel) were, in fact, staying at the White House tonight. Don was in Skull & Bones--a Yale secret society--with the President.

Don and Allan have also remained friends since their college years, exchanging client referrals, etc. of late. At the Davenport lunch today, Don told us that over the years, many people have known about his friendship with the President, and have asked him to arrange "special favors" or have asked him to deliver "special messages". He has always refused to do so.

Don explained, "I restrict my requests of the President to just one thing: never to sell out or undermine Israel." Don also told us that when the President told him he would be visiting Poland this week, he responded, "Mr. President, do it right, go to Auschwitz. . ."

This is truly a most amazing moment in time. From the White House, to G-d's ears . . .