WASHINGTON – Former US president George W. Bush spoke at a fundraiser Thursday night hosted by the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, an organization that works to convert Jews to Christianity.

The former president – a Texan and a Methodist, born-again Christian – made religion a priority throughout his eight years in the White House. Bush founded the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives during those years, as well as centers for faith-based initiatives in 11 federal agencies, promoting the general benefits of faith through government.

And yet never as president did he explicitly prescribe one faith over another, which has led to controversy over his appearance at the Messianic fundraiser in Irving, Texas.

“President Bush is a friend who has an abiding love and respect for Israel and the Jewish people,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said on Monday.

“I know that he does not represent or embrace the purpose or the mission of this group, and therefore I wish he would not speak there.”

Bush retired to his ranch in Texas in 2009 and has kept a low profile since, granting limited press availability and delivering few speeches.

He spoke extensively about the value of faith throughout his presidency, if not specifically about the Jewish faith. But in 2005, during a celebration of 350 years of Jewish life in America, Bush told a crowd that he embraced Judaism as a positive force in the United States.

“The stock of Abraham has thrived here like nowhere else,” Bush said then. “And we’re a better and stronger and freer nation because so many Jews from countries all over the world have chosen to become American citizens.

“Freedom to worship is why Jews came to America three-and-a-half centuries ago; it’s why the Jews settled in Israel over five decades ago,” he continued. “We both have built vibrant democracies. Both our countries are founded on certain basic beliefs, that there is an Almighty God who watches over the affairs of men and values every life.”

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