Ari Israel, the executive director of Hillel at the University of Maryland, College Park, joined 19 fellow rabbis in a private meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House on Monday, September 29.
Presidential spokesperson Scott McClellan explained, "This is the Jewish High Holy Days, and it is a time for prayer and reflection in the Jewish community. Today's meeting is part of the President's ongoing commitment to reaching out to faith-based leaders who make our nation stronger."
Israel apprised the president of anti-Semitic incidents at Rutgers University Hillel and other campuses in recent months. The president said that his visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp earlier this year strengthened his resolve to eliminate anti-Semitism at home and in Europe. Asked to offer a message to Jewish college students, Mr. Bush emphasized that all college students should join together to promote freedom and liberty so that all people can enjoy the fruits of democracy.
Mr. Bush commented that faith played an important role in helping him to overcome his drinking problem as a young man, and that religion continues to be central to his life. He expressed his appreciation for those who offer prayers on his behalf.
The president dealt extensively with Israel and the peace process. He recalled seeing the beauty of the Old City of Jerusalem in the morning during a 1998 visit to Israel. He also spoke about touring the West Bank from the air with Ariel Sharon as his guide. The president referred to Prime Minister Sharon as "a friend" but stated that sometimes friends need to be told that they are wrong. He reiterated his commitment to Israel's security and commented that he supports Israel's new border fence as along as it is only for self-defense.
The president stated that he does not want Yasser Arafat as a partner in the peace process. He expressed his hope that the new Palestinian prime minister succeeds in his role.
The Hillel director was moved by the opportunity to speak informally with the president prior to the event and to sit next to him during the meeting. He watched the passing of time on the president's Timex.