Alexander M. Haig Jr., the retired four-star general and former U.S. secretary of state, urged members of the congregation of Temple Beth Kodesh on Sunday to support Vice President George Bush in the upcoming presidential election because he is a “friend to Israel” and would not have “to relearn the lessons of history.”
“I think the Republican Party has historically and traditionally been a friend to Israel, and I know George Bush will be,” Haig said.
Known for his outspoken bluntness and sloganeering, Haig, wearing a red velvet yarmulke like most of the men in the audience, talked to the West Hills congregation primarily about Jewish issues in the election and said that Bush was the candidate best equipped to represent them.
“The relationship between the United States and Israel has never been better . . . and I don’t want to see a new president come in and have to relearn the lessons of history,” Haig said. “You simply cannot put amateurs in the Oval Office,” he said, referring to the Democratic presidential nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.
Withdrew From Race
An estimated 300 people attended Haig’s speech. Several asked questions of Haig, 63, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination but withdrew from the race just before the New Hampshire primary in February, after receiving less than 1% of the vote in the Iowa precinct caucus.
Haig resigned as secretary of state in July, 1982, over a difference with the Reagan Administration’s policy on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Haig favored a soft line on Israel, while others in the Administration advocated that Israel be rebuked.
When asked his opinion of the GOP vice presidential candidate, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, and why Bush had chosen the senator as his running mate, Haig hedged the question, saying he had known Quayle for several years and respected him.
“I’m particularly impressed with his energy and his grasp of national security issues,” Haig said. “I know he’s a damn good golfer, too.”
Comments like this one were met with good-natured laughter, and a few remarks triggered applause. At the conclusion of his speech, Haig received a standing ovation from many members of the audience.
Change of Heart
Haig defended his support of Bush, even though he was an outspoken critic of the vice president and backed Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas early in the campaign. During a nationally televised debate last December, Haig ridiculed Bush’s claim that he was Reagan’s “co-pilot” and said later that he did not think Bush was electable.
But after the speech Sunday, Haig said he was a staunch backer of Bush.
“He’s got my unreserved support,” Haig said. “I’ve known him for 25 years. I have confidence in his experience.”
Although many of those in attendance said they planned to vote for Dukakis, some said they were impressed by Haig.
“I thought the speech was very good,” Steve Wold said. “He’s an entertaining politician.” However, Wold’s wife, Nancy Stein, was troubled that Haig focused on the Middle East and did not address more local issues.
“I felt that he kept centering on Israel a lot just to placate us,” Stein said. “But there are other issues Jews are interested in.”
Some said they had not been swayed by Haig to vote for Bush, but would likely vote for the vice president because they considered him the lesser of two evils.
“We in the Jewish community are not particularly happy with George Bush,” said Ira Braverman. “But, certainly of the two evils, George Bush is preferable.”
Doubts on Jackson
He said that many in the Jewish community had turned against Dukakis because the Massachusetts governor “refused to denounce” the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom he labeled “an anti-Semite and anti-Israel.” Others in attendance expressed concern over the role Jackson might play as adviser in a Dukakis administration.
Some in the audience, like Hilda Recht, a Democrat and Dukakis supporter, said they attended simply because they were curious to see Haig in person and hear what he had to say.
“I always like to hear what the opposing view is,” Recht said.
And a few people said they were so impressed by Haig that they wanted to turn back the clock.
Marcia Plager of Encino said, “I wish he were running for president now; I’d vote for him.”