Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Begin The Butt of Jokes

From Sarah Honig's Another Tack column:

In the footsteps of Sam Lewis's suck-ups

Sometime at the very start of 1982 I attended a function at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, which would have been entirely forgettable except that rarely was I since as nauseated as then. I came away revolted by the spectacle of my Israeli colleagues eagerly milling around ambassador Sam Lewis, seeking his attention and trying to outdo each other in heaping mockery and contempt on their own prime minister. Brutal jokes at Menachem Begin's expense came fast and furious. Lewis visibly appreciated them and laughed condescendingly.

It was one of the sorriest displays of Israeli self-debasement I had until then witnessed.

But in time I came to regard it as typical of the fawning eagerness to curry favor with foreign bigwigs. Kowtowing to the exceedingly well-connected and widely-courted Lewis wasn't merely ingratiating. It also served the local Left's visceral anti-Begin politics. Undisguised American displeasure with him seemed a serendipitous source of support.

It was after Begin had serially disobeyed Washington. First he dared destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Though America should have thanked Israel for the service, secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger (to my shame a distant relative of my father's) was livid. Hence previously contracted delivery of fighters was "suspended." Later the IAF bombed the PLO's Beirut headquarters and more aircraft deliveries were put on hold. Then the bill extending Israeli law to the Golan Heights was enacted. The US responded by reassessing its strategic cooperation agreement.

Begin decided not to take his lumps. He summoned Lewis and subjected him to the most undiplomatic dressing-down any US diplomat probably ever received from an ally. Begin bristled at the very notion of American diktats. "Are we a vassal state?" he demanded, and went on to stress that Israel is neither a banana republic nor a bunch of "14-year-old boys who have to have their knuckles slapped" for misbehavior.

Begin was on a roll. He told Lewis that Israel wouldn't be intimidated by threats of punishment and that they would fall on deaf ears. He vowed not to allow "the sword of Damocles to hang over Israel's head... Jews had survived without a strategic cooperation memorandum with America for 3,700 years, and can live without it for another 3,700 years."

The Golan legislation, Begin stressed, wouldn't be annulled.

This earful was immediately released verbatim by the Prime Minister's Office for publication, so the populace would know its government drew red lines and stood by them.

However, Israel's left-dominated media never lost an opportunity to lay bare its obsequiousness. It reacted with the shock of a stern cleric to outright unpardonable blasphemy. But more than it was genuinely upset, it exploited Begin's candid indignation as yet another pretext to pillory him. National pride was already then perceived as reactionary and uncool, especially when it clashed with post-Zionist dogma.
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