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Will Bush Tell Jay Leno His Joke about Jews "All Going to Hell?"

November 13, 2013

NBC has announced that former President George W. Bush will appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Tuesday, November 19. Coming just days after the Anti-Defamation League admonished Bush for agreeing to deliver the keynote address at a fundraising event for an evangelical group whose mission is to convert Jews to Christianity, the timing of Dubya's lighthearted Leno appearance couldn't be better. Unless, that is, Bush decides to retell his 1998 joke about Jews "all going to hell."
Bush's supposed rib-tickler first appeared in the Austin Statesman on December 1, 1998. But as Raw Story reported in September 2006, the bizarre episode surrounding then-Governor Bush's upcoming trip to Israel also was recounted in the book by Texas-based journalists James Moore and Wayne Slater, The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power:

"You know what I'm gonna tell those Jews when I get to Israel, don't you Herman?" a then Governor George W. Bush allegedly asked a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman.
When the journalist, Ken Herman, replied that he did not know, Bush reportedly delivered the punch line: "I'm telling 'em they're all going to hell."

Following his 1993 declaration reported in the Houston Post that only those who "accept Jesus Christ" go to Heaven, Governor Bush's jest did not sit well with the ADL and its director Abraham Foxman. But after Bush wrote Foxman an apology explaining "judgments about heaven do not belong in the realm of politics" and announcing "I regret the concern caused by my statement and reassure you and the Jewish community that you have my deepest respect," all was forgiven:

"We welcome the Governor's sensitivity and demonstration of respect for religions other than his own and his commitment to tolerance, diversity and the principles of religious freedom."

Sadly, during the run-up to his Iraq war five years later, Bush's supposed sensitivity was nowhere to be seen. As Mother Jones recounted in 2009, President Bush tried to persuade his French counterpart Jacques Chirac to support the invasion because the End Times--certainly not a happy ending for the Jewish people--was almost at hand:

Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their "common faith" (Christianity) and told him: "Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East.... The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.... This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins."
This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its "coalition of the willing" to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush's call and "wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs."

As his appearance tomorrow at the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute event would suggest, George W. Bush well may be superficial and fanatical in his beliefs. But as his 1998 guffaw showed, at least he had a sense of humor about them. We'll just have to watch the Leno show next Tuesday to see if that's still true.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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