George W. Bush's speech in Palm Beach on Thursday keeps no-media policy he’s had since 2009

Updated Feb 05, 2014

Returning to the county that drew international attention in his 2000 election, former President George W. Bush will speak at a $600-a-plate Anti-Defamation League dinner at The Breakers on Thursday.

In keeping with the low profile that Bush has maintained since leaving the White House five years ago, the event is closed to the media. Bush also gave a pair of no-press lectures in Vero Beach on Monday.

“It was an honor to serve for eight years, but now that he’s out, he’s out,” Bush spokesman Freddy Ford said Wednesday. “He’s not seeking the limelight at this point, he’s happy to be off the stage and wants to let the president do his job.”

Bush has made at least two other low-key stops in Palm Beach since leaving office. He visited developer and GOP donor Llwyd Ecclestone’s house in 2009 and the Flagler Museum in 2012 to raise money for his presidential library.

At the Bush library, which opened last year at Southern Methodist University in Texas, a Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” from 2000 is among the artifacts on display.

During that election, many supporters of Democrat Al Gore complained that they were confused by Palm Beach County’s two-page ballot design and inadvertently voted for Pat Buchanan or spoiled their ballots by double-marking them. Bush ended up winning Florida, and the White House, by 537 votes.

The ADL dinner is expected to draw about 400 people. It is part of a two-day national conference for the 101-year-old civil rights group that focuses on combating anti-Semitism.

Bush will talk about U.S.-Israel relations and his experiences in the White House, said Ford. Aside from some public events to promote the work of his institute in Dallas, Bush prefers such “off-the-record” speeches, Ford said.

Bush was plagued by low approval ratings for most of his second term, but his image has improved of late. A Gallup poll last year found 49 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Bush, with 46 percent viewing him unfavorably. It was the first time since 2005 that Bush had a positive approval rating in the Gallup poll.

At Thursday’s dinner, the ADL will give Bush its America’s Democratic Legacy Award, which recognizes “those precious few individuals who have helped make our nation a place where freedom, equality and democracy are cherished rights forever.”

Other recipients of the award include former Presidents Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman; as well as Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, Justice Earl Warren, Saul Bellow, George Tenet, Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, Lee Iacocca, Walter Annenberg, Dwayne Andreas and Cardinal John O’Connor.

ADL Florida Regional Director Hava Holzhauer said Bush was picked for the honor because, as president, he was a staunch supporter of Israel, confronted terrorism and signed the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, which requires the State Department to document and combat acts of anti-Semitism worldwide. Holzhauer also praised Bush’s support for comprehensive immigration reform.

Also at the dinner, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene and his wife, Mei Sze, will receive the ADL’s Haym Salomon Award, which is given “to outstanding individuals for their contributions to our democratic society and to the well-being of its people.”