Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Menachem Begin and Iran

One never knows where one will find a reference to Menachem Begin, and certainly not the authenticity of the claim or its reliability.

Nevertheless, these, too, are part of Menachem Begin's legacy.

The following is something we found (here) on Begin and Iran:

...The Israeli government was another deeply interested player in the Iran crisis. For decades, Israel had cultivated covert ties with the Shah’s regime as part of a Periphery Strategy of forming alliances with non-Arab states in the region to prevent Israel’s Arab enemies from focusing all their might against Israel.

Though losing an ally when the Shah fell and offended by the anti-Israeli rhetoric from the Khomeini regime, Israel had gone about quietly rebuilding relations with the Iranian government.

One of the young Israeli intelligence agents assigned to this task was an Iranian-born Jew named Ari Ben-Menashe, who had immigrated to Israel as a teen-ager and was valuable because he spoke fluent Farsi and still had friends in Iran, some of whom were rising within the new revolutionary bureaucracy.

In his own 1992 memoir, Profits of War, Ben-Menashe said the view of Israel’s Likud leaders, including Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was one of contempt for Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.

“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”

After the Shah fell, Begin grew even more dissatisfied with Carter’s handling of the crisis and alarmed over the growing likelihood of an Iraqi attack on Iran’s oil-rich Khuzistan province. Israel saw Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as a far greater threat to Israel than Iran’s Khomeini.

Ben-Menashe wrote that Begin, recognizing the Realpolitik needs of Israel, authorized shipments to Iran of small arms and some spare parts, via South Africa, as early as September 1979.

After the U.S. hostages were taken in November 1979, the Israelis came to agree with Copeland’s hard-headed skepticism about Carter’s handling of the hostage issue, Ben-Menashe wrote. Even though Copeland was generally regarded as a CIA “Arabist” who had opposed Israeli interests in the past, he was admired for his analytical skills, Ben-Menashe wrote.

“A meeting between Miles Copeland and Israeli intelligence officers was held at a Georgetown house in Washington, D.C.,” Ben-Menashe wrote. “The Israelis were happy to deal with any initiative but Carter’s.

“David Kimche, chief of Tevel, the foreign relations unit of Mossad, was the senior Israeli at the meeting. … The Israelis and the Copeland group came up with a two-pronged plan to use quiet diplomacy with the Iranians and to draw up a scheme for military action against Iran that would not jeopardize the lives of the hostages.”

In late February 1980, Seyeed Mehdi Kashani, an Iranian emissary, arrived in Israel to discuss Iran’s growing desperation for aircraft spare parts, Ben-Menashe wrote. Kashani, whom Ben-Menashe had known from their school days in Teheran, also revealed that approaches from some Republican emissaries had already been received in Iran, Ben-Menashe wrote.

“Kashani said that the secret ex-CIA-Miles-Copeland group was aware that any deal cut with the Iranians would have to include the Israelis because they would have to be used as a third party to sell military equipment to Iran,” according to Ben-Menashe.

In March, the following month, the Israelis made their first direct military shipment to Iran, 300 tires for Iran’s F-4 fighter jets, Ben-Menashe wrote...

...By April 1980, Carter’s patience was wearing thin, both with the Iranians and some U.S. allies. After discovering that the Israelis had made a secret shipment of 300 tires to Iran, Carter complained to Prime Minister Begin.

“There had been a rather tense discussion between President Carter and Prime Minister Begin in the spring of 1980 in which the President made clear that the Israelis had to stop that, and that we knew that they were doing it, and that we would not allow it to continue, at least not allow it to continue privately and without the knowledge of the American people,” Carter’s press secretary Jody Powell told me. “And it stopped” – at least temporarily.

Questioned by congressional investigators a dozen years later, Carter said he felt that by April 1980, “Israel cast their lot with Reagan,” according to notes I found among the unpublished documents in the files of a House Task Force, which examined the October Surprise controversy in 1992. Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a “lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.”

Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski also recognized the Israeli hostility. Brzezinski said the Carter White House was well aware that the Begin government had “an obvious preference for a Reagan victory.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 8



This week we present Part 2 of the three-part series on Menachem Begin's first visit to the United States based on a recent donation of archival materials given to the Begin Center Archives by Mrs. Estelle Friedman.

In response to our previous article, we received emails from David Krakow and Estelle Friedman informing us of the name of the young man in the picture last week with Menachem Begin and Mrs. Jabotinsky. It was Seymour (Simcha) Rosenberg at the age of 24 who replaced Moshe Arens as Natsiv of American Betar in September 1948. The picture was taken at the Diplomat Hotel in New York. We also heard from Mr. Rosenberg's daughter, Meira, who confirmed the information. We thank them for taking the time to write and contributing details to the material in our archives.
We invite our readers to convey to us any additional information about this visit and, of course, our Archives awaits any historical records related to Menachem Begin (letters, documents, pictures and newspaper clippings) you possess which can be scanned and returned, if need be.

* * * * *

In The Jewish Ledger dated December 8, 1948, Simon Bloom describes Menachem Begin, his speeches and his first visit to the US. He says:

I had no idea of the type of person I was expecting to see, but considering the exploits of the Irgun, and the fact that it was they who made it so uneasy for the British that they got out of Palestine, I wasn't prepared to see a 'melamed'.
That was my first impression of Begin. That's what he looked like and that's what he talked like. But don't get the wrong idea, because I use the word 'melamed'. I don't mean a man with a long beard. … It's the appearance of Begin that gives the feeling, hard to shake off, that the man is a dreamer, an idealist. And he must have as the core of his inner-drive the same burning convictions which shaped the life of another dreamer of another faith, Ignatius Loyola. …

During that span, from my first to my last attempts to pigeon-hole him, I find myself still of the conviction that here is a dreamer who will continue to make events and shape destiny. …

He gave his talk to his audience extemporaneously. He seemed to be reading a speech part of the time, but there was no reading. It was his manner of talking. At times he would lift his head and gaze aloft at the audience. On one such occasion he said softly, "Now you have seen what a 'terrorist' looks like," referring to himself. "I will tell you about another terrorist, but he is not here, only his picture and spirit are here." He turned reverently to the picture of Dov Bel Gruner which flanked the dais on one side with the pictures of Jabotinsky on the other. …

[In referring to the men who joined him on the tour of the US, Begin said,] "These heroic soldiers will be good citizens in the land of Israel tomorrow." … "Our war was a war for survival. What would have happened to us if we did not wage that war is no longer a secret. It is public knowledge now that the Jewish Agency had accepted the Morrison Plan on condition that it be given the right to distribute the monthly quota of four thousand immigration certificates. And this we know too, that the British would have been very happy to exterminate us completely in Palestine. Were it not for our war of liberation, we would have been left in a ghetto, without arms and helpless and on D-Day we would have met in the heart of Asia, the same fate which our brethren met in the heart of Europe. …

[In the words of another member of the delegation in regard to the time when the Haganah was turning in wanted Irgun members,] There was resentment in the Irgun about the wanted [men] to fight back against the Haganah. This would mean civil war. Begin said the decision was up to the eight [commanders]. They could fight back against the Haganah if they wanted. If they did that they might destroy the nation. Or if they didn't make that choice, then the Irgun might itself be destroyed. It was a dramatic scene as Benjamin described it. Here in their hands eight men held perhaps the destiny of a nation. Could they fight back against the Haganah or should they risk their own destruction and perhaps with that destruction the one factor that would drive the British out of Israel.

The thing that made their minds up for them were the other words that Begin said. Solemnly he told them if you decide to fight against the Haganah, you will fight without me. I will walk out now and you are free to choose from among yourselves a new commander. The choice is yours – civil war and disunity among all our people without me at your side, or my continuation as commander and the avoidance of bloodshed among our own people. We have but one enemy and that enemy is Britain.
Menachem Begin was asked at the Newark press conference a question "Of what significance is the proposed acceptance of the state of Israel in the UN to the Freedom party [the Herut Party] and to the future of the state of Israel?" He answered, "I don't think it will be accepted and if it will be it will not be to the advantage of Israel because it can only be on a compromise basis and it will necessitate the surrender of additional territory by the Israeli government. …The UN has shelved the application for membership, but due to the difference in time, the shelving was not known then.


December is a very special time in Jerusalem. For the third year in a row, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center has participated in the initiative—Hamshooshalayim--of the Jerusalem Municipality to encourage tourism to Jerusalem in December. "Hamshoosh" refers to the Israeli slang term of a long weekend—Thursday, Friday, Saturday (i.e., Hamishi, Shishi, Shabbat). For three weekends in December, entrance to many museums, tourist sites and other entertainment options are free of charge or at a discount. On Fridays, many special walking tours of the city are provided, some of which are free of charge and some at a discount. Both English and Hebrew tours are available.

The Begin Center was fully booked last Thursday night from 9:00pm to 12:30am and is fully booked for the next two weeks. So many people requested reservations that due to limited space in the museum, some were unfortunately unable to get a reservation.
Not only tourists from abroad attend Hamshooshalayim events. Many people have come from all over Israel to participate. And many of those people have come especially to the Begin Center.

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 9



This week we present Part 3, the last of the three-part series on Menachem Begin's first visit to the United States based on a recent donation of archival materials given to the Begin Center Archives by Mrs. Estelle Friedman, who was married to the late Elitzur Friedman, Irgun Field commander and Herut emissary to the United States.
We invite our readers to convey to us any additional information about this visit and, of course, our Archives awaits any historical records related to Menachem Begin (letters, documents, pictures and newspaper clippings) you possess which can be scanned and returned, if need be.

* * * * *

The Answer, the newspaper of the Hebrew Committee for National Liberation, reported on the speech Menachem Begin gave in New York at the end of his first trip to the US. Begin spoke in Yiddish before several thousand people in the Manhattan Center on December 14, 1948. His remarks focused on the Chanukah story of the Maccabees.

"In those days too, before the fight began, we were a minority in our own country under the yoke of a once-great empire whose strength began to wane. In those days too, we faced surrender or complete annihilation. In those days too, a minority within the minority raised the banner of rebellion against the enemy; in those days too there were collaborators and assimilationists who besmirched the noble patriots, betrayed them to the enemy and called them the same names we were called in our time—with the exception of "fascists" and "gangsters"—probably because in those days those terms were not yet known.

Undaunted by betrayal and the overwhelming forces of the enemy, the Maccabees fought on until victory was theirs, until a small part of their homeland in the hills of Judea was liberated. And from those hills they swept down into the valleys, they freed Galilee, they freed the coast and they freed the south. And within a generation or two, a great Hebrew State, the greatest in the Middle East was established and consolidated.

The same is bound to happen in our days…not because of our desire for expansionism, not because of our love of fighting. We hate war. We hate it because we have no more blood to shed because for 80 generations we always were the victims of war, because ours is a great hunger for peace for ourselves and for our little children, who were born into turmoil and have never yet known a day of peace and quiet. It is bound to come because we are compelled to break out from the straitjacket in which we are being confined by economic, geographic and political reasons, by the very urge to survive, by the very choice which we face: to break out from the ghetto, to retrieve all of our homeland or to be pushed into the sea and perish. …

A foreign princeling, a man who doesn't belong to Palestine, a man from the Arabian Desert, a hireling of his British overlords, is ruling over four-fifths of the Hebrew homeland by the grace of Britain…and this foreigner has the temerity to proclaim himself "King of Palestine." This foreigner aspires to ascend the throne of David, to make Jerusalem—the eternal city of the eternal people—his capital. If this intrigue should succeed, then you must realize that in the very heart of our country, only five miles from Petach Tikvah, there will be Abdullah's guns, or rather, British guns…

Should this intrigue succeed, we shall find ourselves walled in—and strangling in a ghetto in which there will be no room for the millions of our brothers who are compelled to come back home, for the millions of our brothers who do not want to remain in places where they are not wanted, to the millions of our brothers who have but one desire—to come back to the land of their fathers…

A people who for two thousand years were denied the elementary right to self determination are like a suffocating man suddenly brought into the open air. On November 29, 1947, some of my brothers were incapable of thinking. All they could grasp was a gust of fresh air. Now, one year later, the drunkenness is dispelled. Now our people are sober—all of them—and now we all realize that not the ink on a document of the UN, but the blood of our fighters on the battlefields of our country will determine the frontiers of our State…

We have to expel the invaders from our country, not because we want war but because we want peace, real peace, a stable peace, peace with prosperity and without hostile foreign armies in the very heart of our land and on the threshold of our cities.
Our soldiers, the soldiers of the Irgun, the soldiers of the Hagana, the soldiers of the Lechi, our soldiers who served their country with their guns and their blood, now want to continue to serve their country with their plowshares and their sweat. We owe it to them and to their children. We must bring peace to them and this cannot be done as longas our whole country is not free."


The Begin Center facilities are often utilized by other groups for their special events. This week the Center served the needs of a variety of groups and activities.

* * * * *

The Begin Center was the venue of a special conference convened by MK Prof. Arieh Eldad and the Ariel Center for Policy Research entitled, "Facing Jihad", on December 14 which included a public screening of Fitna, the controversial documentary about Islam – intended to educate the Israeli and general public about the true nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The sessions were addressed by many experts on Islam and the Middle East including Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders. Among the other speakers were: Prof. John Lewis, Dr. David Bukay, Itamar Marcus, Prof. Shlomo Sharan and Daniel Pipes. The auditorium was full and the event attracted much media interest.

* * * * *

On Saturday night and Monday night this week, four special screenings took place at the Begin Center of the film "A Light for Greytowers" which coincided with the Jewish Film Festival. This is the film's premier in Israel. The Reuben Hecht Auditorium was full for each of the somewhat controversial screenings. The film was meant to be shown to women-only audiences, but the Cinemateque refused to screen it with that requirement. Following the Orthodox tradition of Kol Isha laws, which do not allow women to sing or dance in front of men, this film is a musical set in Victorian England in an orphanage where the young women are not allowed to practice Judaism. The film has an exclusively female Orthodox cast. It has already been screened for women-only audiences in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles.

* * * * *

President Heinz Fischer of Austria had a reception at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center's Terasa restaurant. It was the end of his long day of meeting with President Shimon Peres, meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and visiting Yad Vashem.


Next week the Begin Center will host two important events, the opening of the Krakow Exhibition "A World Before Catastrophe" on December 21 and the Begin Prize Ceremony on December 23. The following week, on December 30, the Academic Committee of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center will award scholarships to academic works related to Begin and/or his heritage including one in the name of the late Izzy Asper.


Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 10

DECEMBER 25, 2008 | VOLUME 5, ISSUE 10



Before a full Reuben Hecht Auditorium and in the presence of MK Reuven Rivlin and other distingished guests, the Menachem Begin Prize 2008 was awarded to Dr. Reuven Or for his critical medical and research work and for the establishment of two essential life-saving projects: the unrelated volunteer bone marrow donor registry and the national umbilical cord bank. Dr. Or is offering the hope of health for many people who are ill and who, for whatever reason, are unable to receive a bone marrow donation from a family member. Clearly thrilled to be receiving this recognition, Dr. Or peppered his speech with quotes from Uri Zvi Greenberg, Shai Agnon and other literary figures.

Harold "Smoky" Simon was honored for his many years of volunteer activity for the State of Israel and its society. His volunteering life for the State of Israel began in the War of Independence in 1948 as a member of the volunteer air force and eventual official appointment as the first Operations Commander of the IAF, and his volunteering activities only grew from that point, including working with Menachem Begin from South Africa, and continue even today. He is the Chairman of World Machal and recently organized an international gathering for Machal members to visit Israel for the 60th anniversary of the state, as well as acting as the Honorary Treasurer for the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation.

Prof. Moshe Arens was honored for his contribution to the security of the state of Israel and his illuminating research on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Moshe Arens began his career in Betar and in the government served as Minister of Defense, Foreign Minister, Israel's Ambassador to the US and currently he serves as the Chairman of the Ariel University Center of Samaria's Board of Governors. His most recent work has been researching the Betar organization's involvement during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He found that Pavel Frankel was a forgotten hero of the Muranovska Square battle and who had been a leader of the Betar group in the Warsaw Ghetto. This led to recognition of the Betar involvement in the Uprising both in Poland and in Israel.

A number of students were honored with scholarship awards from the Menachem and Aliza Begin Nobel Prize Fund, a fund that was started by Menachem Begin with the proceeds of the Nobel Prize he received in 1978.

The evening was emceed by Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, and music was provided by the Boarder Guards singing group. Yosef Wittelson lit the third candle of Chanukah at the opening of the evening.


On the first night of Chanukah, the Begin Center hosted the opening of a special exhibition brought from Krakow, Poland, called "A World Before Catastrophe". It is the exploration and documentation of the Jewish community in Krakow between the two World Wars. Many organizations cooperated with the Begin Center to bring this exhibit to Israel including the International Cultural Centre in Krakow (the original location of the exhibit), the Polish Embassy in Israel, The Polish Institute, the Poland @ Israel as part of the Polish Year in Israel 2008/9, the Landsmanschaft of Krakow Jews in Israel and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

The Reuben Hecht Auditorium was filled to capacity with many members of the audience remembering Krakow as it was presented in the exhibit and who were very moved to see the exhibition here at the Begin Center. Aryeh Golan, a senior Kol Yisrael program moderater, was the host for the evening and the ceremony was opened with short speeches by Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Begin Center, Her Excellency Agnieszka Magziak-Miszewska, the ambassador of Poland in Israel and David Reiser, the President of the Landsmanschaft of Krakow Jews in Israel. The main speakers that evening were Prof. Jacek Purchla, historian and author of the catalogue of the exhibition, and His Excellency Prof. Shevach Weiss, Israel's Ambassador to Poland. The Young Jerusalem Saxophone Group gave the musical performances during the evening.
The exhibition will be on display in the auditorium foyer at the Begin Center for free until April 15, 2009. The high quality catalogue is available in Hebrew at the Klein Souvenir Store at the Begin Center (it is a translation of the Polish/English one that was published in Poland).


Twenty-seven years ago, the Knesset, by a two-thirds majority, passed the Golan Heights Law which extends Israeli law to the Golan Heights. With its passing, the US declared that it would "punish Israel". Prime Minister Begin did not wish to stand by and allow the "punishment" to pass without comment. He issued a statement on 20 December 1981 that he read to the US Ambassador to Israel, read to the Cabinet and issued to the public.

In it he says:

A week ago, at the instance of the Government, the Knesset passed on all three readings by an overwhelming majority of two-thirds, the "Golan Heights Law."
Now you once again declare that you are punishing Israel.

What kind of expression is this – "punishing Israel"? Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic? Are we youths of fourteen who, if they don't behave properly, are slapped across the fingers?

Let me tell you who this government is composed of. It is composed of people whose lives were spent in resistance, in fighting and in suffering. You will not frighten us with "punishments." He who threatens us will find us deaf to his threats. We are only prepared to listen to rational arguments.

…As regards the future, please be kind enough to inform the Secretary of State that the Golan Heights Law will remain valid. There is no force on earth that can bring about its rescision.


On December 30 the Menachem Begin Heritage Center will host a ceremony to award scholarships to outstanding research work in fields related to Menachem Begin, his life, achievements and heritage. Three scholarships will be awarded for research work at the Doctorate and Master's level. Ya'acov Hecht wrote on the topic of politics and the diplomatic process before the strike on Osirak (the Iraqi nuclear reactor); Yaron Salman wrote on the psychological blocks of the Peace Process; and Harel Doron wrote about the "new rabbis" in the National Religious camp.

Four scholarships will be awarded for seminar papers at the Bachelor level. Avivit Mahatstri, who will be receiving the scholarship named after the late Izzy Asper of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, wrote about Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat in the Peace Process; Oded Mazor wrote about the idea of the "victim" with respect to the reparations from Germany; Tal Koifman wrote about religion in the Underground; and four authors, Eli Cohen, Doron Liba, Aviad Korman and Eliav Raviv, share the honor for their paper about Menachem Begin and Dr. Beny Begin and their rhetoric speaking styles.

RSVPs are required to attend the event as space is limited. (02) 565-2020 to reserve a place.


This week the B'nai Brith World Center-Jerusalem utilized the conference rooms here at the Begin Center. Philippe Karsenty gave a lecture about his court case in France regarding the Al Dura Affair, in which he was the successful defendant against France 2 television, and spoke about Israel and the media. He gave his lecture in English one day and in French the next.

* * * * *

The Jewish Agency is holding a brainstorming session at the Begin Center to redefine the role of the shaliach in Jewish communities abroad.


To our readers in Israel who attend the Parashat HaShavua on Thursdays, there will not be a lecture this week. We look forward to seeing you again next week when the Parashat HaShavua returns.

How are we doing?
Please let us know how you like the bulletin in terms of content and once a week format. Should we make changes? What kind of articles would you like to see?


Haaretz Columnist Claims Begin Didn't Have A Sense of Humor

The common denominator between Israel's past leaders and those currently vying for the country's leadership is the absence of a sense of humor. This is okay when it comes to Ehud Barak, since, according to the logic of his clever election campaign, every negative quality of his is supposed to somehow strengthen his leadership ability. Thus, the slogan, "Humorless. A Leader," should join the rest soon. But his predecessors in Labor and its precursors were, apparently, also filled with excessive self-importance and solemnity. (They say that Levi Eshkol used to tell jokes, but in Yiddish.) Can anyone remember a joke that David Ben-Gurion told? How about Golda Meir or Moshe Sharett? Yitzhak Rabin? No, on all counts. Shimon Peres tries and is successful on occasion.

In Likud, the situation isn't much better. Humor doesn't seem to go with the whole glory-of-Betar thing at all, or with Menachem Begin in particular. Yitzhak Shamir may have looked funny, but a sense of humor was as alien to him as compassion.

Source: Neri Livneh

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No "Parshat HaShavua" During Chanukah

Next lecture, Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

When Herut Was Ostracized By Ben-Gurion

Extreme lert-wing Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy, recalls when the Herut Party was ostracized in the early years of statehood:

An early announcement of a boycott of Likud is the weapon of last resort against the rise to power of Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. Such an announcement will weaken support for Likud and strengthen the alternative before the national elections.

David Ben-Gurion ostracized Menachem Begin - "the man sitting next to Dr. Yohanan Bader." Ben-Gurion said, "without Herut and without Maki," referring to his willingness to sit with any party in a coalition except the right-wingers and the Communists. Livni and Barak must similarly come out against a list that is far more extreme and unacceptable than Herut ever was. If the Israeli government boycotted an Austrian government that included Joerg Haider, who was much less of a racist than Feiglin and with much less blood on his hands than Ehud Yatom, an Israeli government formed by Likud can, should and must be boycotted.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Movie "Altalena" reviewed


Although lacking production quality, acting expertise and mise-en-scene, the story of this confused and deadly struggle between loyal Israeli forces is still a vital and important part of the history of Israeli independence

Known for his award winning documentaries, “Richochets” (Official Selection at Cannes), “The Summer of Aviya” (winner of the Silver Bear at Berlin) and others, director Eli Cohen focuses on one of the most fascinating and painful stories of Israel. This is the story of the ill-fated steamer Altalena and its cargo of some 1000 Jewish volunteers and fighters and tons of guns, ammunition and light artillery.

Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the region had seen a string of civil wars between Arabs and Israelis over the creation of the new Israeli homeland. On the Israeli side these wars had been fought by militias lead by Menachem Begin using weapons scavenged from wherever they could be found. When independence was declared the second phase of the Arab-Israeli war (or the War of Independence) began and Premier David Ben Gurion worked to consolidate the militias into the Israeli Defense Forces or IDF.

Predictably in the chaos of the newly formed state and under the influence of severe Arab threat many of the militias were reluctant to lay down their arms and declare loyalty to a new chain of command. The Altalena sailed from France with arms and volunteers to support these militias but were unwilling or unable to immediately concede their command to the IDF. On another level, new premier Ben Gurion was now pitted against militia leader Begin. Ben Gurion demanded a sovereign fighting force reporting ultimately to him.

This rivalry on both a personal level and a military level set the stage for the landing of the Altalena on Israeli soil. It was met by IDF forces and pinned down on the beach in mid-June, 1948. The fighters would not be allowed to land their weapons without a complete surrender to the new Israeli state. The story of the following battle between the two Israeli forces is surreal, even in the unbelievable confusion of war. Eventually the ship was shelled at great risk to the population in the area and all hands surrendered.

The debate still goes on as to whom was to blame with one side claiming Ben Gurion failed to negotiate effectively and the other claiming Begin started the battle to establish his own power base.

This film is a dramatization of these events, combined with archival footage of the incident. The storyline tells of the extreme mixed feelings of the loyal and brave forces firing at their comrades. In fact, some soldiers from the IDF joined the forces pinned down on the beach. Upon the surrender of the pinned down forces, all were imprisoned but released months later to joint he IDF.

Having stated the importance and drama of the story, the film itself is shot in what appears to be low definition video and the production quality is extremely poor. The acting and costumes appear to be the products of a low-budget/no-budget film school. There is little preparation for the audience to appreciate the drama of the story and if they have not studied the history before seeing the film their appreciation will be extremely limited.

But even in this first cut format, the story is there. Without this film most people in the world never have learned the tale of the Altalena and the tragedy and excitement of the first days of Israeli independence. If you get a chance to see this film, don’t miss it. But be sure and study the mesmerizing and fateful events that led up to it before you set foot in the theatre.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 7



Today we launch a three-part series about Menachem Begin's first visit to the US 60 years ago in December 1948 where he was greeted with a ticker-tape parade in the streets of New York accompanied by the mayor. We take this opportunity to thank Mrs. Estelle Friedman, whose husband Elitzur Friedman joined Menachem Begin on this visit to the US, for her recent contribution of newspapers from that time to the Begin Center archives. Over the next two issues of the Bulletin, we will be publishing segments from The Jewish Ledger and The Answer that describe Menachem Begin's visit and quote from his speeches.

For today, we present to you a picture of Menachem Begin with Yohanna Jabotinsky, widow of the Zionist leader and mentor of the Revisionist Movement, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, and members of the Betar Youth Movement at a festive dinner conducted in his honor.


This past week we watched in horror and dismay at the events in Mumbai at the Chabad House. May the families of the victims find comfort in their sorrow.

Menachem Begin spoke to and met with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson on several occasions and we direct our readers to the Chabad website where Menachem Begin says a few words about Rabbi Scheerson. The link is HERE. (As this is an external link to the Chabad site, we cannot be responsible if it doesn't work properly.)


One of the tasks that is undertaken by the Begin Center is to monitor the mentions of Menachem Begin on the internet. This allows us to see in what context he is mentioned and how often he is still mentioned even today. Here are a few examples this week:

• Israeli readers were reminded about Menachem Begin's modesty this week in an article in Ha'Aretz opinion piece lamenting the fact that our politicians today lack this admirable trait.

• The author of a new biography of the late Harold "Izzy" Asper (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), Mr. Peter C. Newman, reflected on Mr. Asper's admiration of Menachem Begin and the Irgun when he was interviewed about the book.

• The Los Angeles Times connected the King David Hotel with the attacks in Mumbai placing it first on its list of hotels that had been bombed. A few people who left comments mentioned that the LA Times notably neglected to include the bombings by Arabs against hotels in Netanya and Taba, actions that were directed solely against civilians. Yisrael Medad of the Begin Center wrote to the newspaper that "only the southern wing was targeted which was wholly British, having been taken over from the owners in stages, beginning already in 1938. The Army Headquarters were located there as were the offices of the Mandate Government Secretariat."


Amendment 40 of the Israel Communication Law was put into effect on December 1, 2008. It is an effort to eliminate, or at least reduce, spam advertisement messages.
The Begin Center is not in the business of sending advertisements and we hope that everyone on this list enjoys receiving news about the Begin Center, our events and invitations for upcoming programs. This bulletin list is an opt-in list which means that our readers have requested to be on it. If this is not the case, please refer to the bottom of this email and unsubscribe. If you have any trouble unsubscribing, you may simply reply to this email and request to be taken off the list.


There will be three major events at the Begin Center in December.
On December 21, the Begin Center, in cooperation with the International Cultural Center of Krakow, the Krakow Landsmanchaft and several other organizations, will open "A World Before Catastrophe", a view of the Jewish community in Krakow between the two World Wars.

On December 23, the Begin Prize will be awarded to Dr. Reuven Or of Hadassah Hospital and certificates of honor will go to Prof. Moshe Arens and Harold "Smoky" Simon. Participants in the PERACH program will also be honored at this ceremony.
On December 30, the Begin Center will award academic scholarships for university level research work done in fields about Menachem Begin and/or other related topics.


David Krakow adds:

The photograph which shows Simcha/Seymour Rosenberg, then Natsiv Betar U.S.A., together with Menachem Begin and Madam Jabotinsky was taken at a reception and Misdar conducted for Mr. Begin by the American Betar at the hotel Diplomat in N.Y. at the time of his visit in 1948. Natsiv Rosenberg, a long time member of the American Netsivut, had succeeded Moshe Arens as Natsiv in Sept. 1948 and headed the American delegation to the fourth Kinus Olami of Betar held in Tel Aviv in the spring of 1948.

Meira Rosenberg adds:

The Betari standing in the picture between Menahem Begin and Mrs. Jabotinsky is my late father, Seymour Rosenberg, who at the time was twenty-four years old and the Head of the American Betar.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Begin's Modesty

In an article bemoaning Ehud Olmert's style of hedonism:

Enjoying himself to the very end

By Yoel Marcus

Look at the yellowing photos of the state's founders in the old albums on the library shelf. Look at how thin they were and how simply dressed. I still remember Menachem Begin's first speech at Mughrabi Square in Tel Aviv. As a Polish gentleman, he was wearing a suit and tie, of course, but only those standing close to the podium could see how threadbare they were. In the old days, Israel's national leaders lived in tiny apartments. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi refused to move out of his wooden shack when he became president.

They all lived humbly - Levi Eshkol and Pinhas Sapir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. The most critical decisions were made in Golda Meir's kitchen in her modest apartment in Ramat Aviv. Cognac medicinal, Matias herring and calves' foot jelly were served at the little Jewish restaurants where Mapai's leaders discussed the issues of the hour. The attack plans for the Sinai Campaign were sketched on a paper napkin from the cafeteria of the Prime Minister's Office at the government compound in Tel Aviv.

I remember how Moshe Dayan left me to pay the bill at a restaurant where he had invited me for a meal, and how Minister Gideon Patt explained that he was not allowed to pick up the tab unless his guest was from overseas.

Modesty (sincere or under duress) gave way to hedonism only in the next generation. Yigal Allon, commander of the Palmach, and Shimon Peres, director-general of the Defense Ministry, were the bright young things who introduced deluxe overseas travel - Peres to Paris, Allon to London and New York - where they enjoyed the good life at the state's expense. They stayed in suites at posh hotels whose names were not familiar to Israelis.

As foreign minister, Abba Eban outdid them all, tacking his private purchases onto the hotel bill. Still etched in my memory is the picture of Walter Eytan, the Israeli ambassador, tearing his hair out and sharing his woes with me: "How am I going to send a bill like this to Israel?"...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Restaurant Now Has Partitions

At times, when events are held at the center during the day, a situation in which visitors can, literally, "look into the plates" of the celebrants is being corrected. The restaurant is experimenting with partitions:

The Education Ministry Event at the Center

From the fourth floor looking down:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

LA Times Links Mumbai Attack to King David Hotel Blast

The LA Times found an opportunity to smack around Israel regarding the Mumbai attacks on hotels:

Hotels have always been prime targets for soldiers and terrorists, and you could fill an entire guidebook with the list of lodgings that have been bombed or shot at by combatants looking to spill blood and get attention.

Here are some of the more notable hotel episodes of the last seven decades:

— The King David Hotel in Jerusalem was bombed in June, 1946. More than 90 people were killed, most or all of them British officials using the building as a headquarter. The British controlled Jerusalem at the time, and the bombers were Zionists, commanded by Menachem Begin (who was to become Israel’s leader decades later).

These comments were left there:

Mike Jefferson Says:
November 29th, 2008 at 5:38 pm
I find it ironic that the LA Slimes would lead off with the Irgun bombing of the King David. A few salient points are in order. First the King David Hotel was primarily a military target as it was the HQ of the occupying British troops. Second, the British received a phone call from the Irgun urging them to evacuate in advance of the bombing - the British chose not to. All of the other terror incidents you mention were perpetrated against innocent civilians.

Also, I find it interesting that the paper chose to ignore the many high profile bombings perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists including the Passover massacre in Netanya.

Seth Levy Says:
November 29th, 2008 at 7:33 pm
Why did you mention it was Zionists responsible for the King David Hotel, the IRA responsible for the Hotel Europa and Grand Hotel, and so on but omitted any responsible parties that were Muslim such as in Islamabad or Taba? Why did you forget the many hotel attacks in Israel that the Palestinians committed such as the recent Netanya Hotel attack in 2002 that killed 30? Will I ever see a response to this? Probably not but hopefully (if you publish it at all) someone will see it and recognize your bias towards appeasing radical Muslims.

Yisrael Medad Says:
November 29th, 2008 at 10:51 pm
One more comment on the King David Hotel attack: only the southern wing was targeted which was wholly British, having been taken over from the owners in stages, beginning already in 1938. The Army Headquarters were located there as were the offices of the Mandate Government Secreteriat. See Thurston Clarke’s book, “In Blood and Fire”.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Our New Traffic Circle

At the junction of Nahon, David Remez, Emeq Refaim and King David Streets:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Haaretz "Interprets" Menachem Begin

...Netanyahu will try to sell Obama a step-by-step and slow arrangement - but before that, Netanyahu will try to attract voters from Kadima based on his anticipated success in his convincing Obama of the same in the future.

First of all, Iran. Next Syria, and only in third and last place come the Palestinians. Even with the two tasks that entail an Israeli withdrawal - as opposed to the elimination of the Iranian threat, which is an Israeli demand - there would be an internal division into intermediate steps of prolonged cease-fire or armistice in return for partial evacuation of occupied territories. The Arab sides would not be asked to give up everything - a full peace; nor would Israel be required to provide it all either - a full evacuation.

If the formula sounds familiar, that is because it has already been tried - and failed. In the mid-1970s, during the Nixon and Ford administrations, Henry Kissinger and Yitzhak Rabin preferred to advance the peace negotiations step by step, one side at a time. Every Arab country was dealt with separately, the PLO was an untouchable abomination, and each stage was a small and hesitant jump. There was no single, daring - or possibly foolish - leap.

Jimmy Carter, then as today a Democrat entering office following eight years of Republican rule, threw out the method and strived for a regional agreement at a multi-lateral summit, and speeeded up Anwar Sadat on his journey to Jerusalem. Menachem Begin, an earlier version of Netanyahu, dropped his political platform out of fears of a confrontation with Carter. Netanyahu will be forced to decide which Begin he really is: the father or the son.


Henry Siegman in the Arab Media

In a recent interview following his resignation as prime minister, Ehud Olmert shocked Israelis by endorsing views associated with Israel's political hard left. Among other startling declarations, he said that the reason Israel was able to reach a peace agreement with Egypt - as opposed, for example, to its futile efforts to achieve a peace accord with Arafat or with Syria's two Assad's - was not Sadat's dramatic visit to Jerusalem. The real reason is that well before Sadat's visit, Israel's celebrated chief of staff and foreign minister, Moshe Dayan, at a secret meeting with Sadat's envoy in Morocco, delivered the following message from Prime Minister Menachem Begin: First, Israel is prepared to return every last inch of Egyptian territory under Israeli occupation. Second, now let us negotiate. That is something Israel has refused to say to the Palestinians and to the Syrians and that is why all previous negotiations have gotten nowhere.


A Journalist Recalls

From someone who claims to have interviewed Menachem Begin:-

Irgun participated in the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which killed ninety one. We know that Irgun was a terrorist organization because it said so, endorsing “political violence and terrorism” as “legitimate tools.” Even the New York Times said Irgun was terrorist.

The chief of Irgun was Menachem Begin, whom I interviewed for the Mike Wallace show before he became Prime Minister, in the CafĂ© de la Paix at the St. Moritz Hotel in New York, where he seemed out of place. Begin’s “five o’clock shadow” made Joe McCarthy’s – which the Communists loved to scare children with – look like a baby’s bottom.

I asked Begin to describe the core of his policy should he become Prime Minister. “We are going to march,” he replied. At the time, I was considerably more stupid than I am now. “March where?” I asked. “Everywhere!” he replied. “We are going to march everywhere to the boundaries of ‘Eretz Israel.’” Zionist authorities debate the exact meaning of the term, but it would certainly include a huge chunk of the Middle East.

And this reads like claptrap.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Begin - A"Lion of Judea"

Dr. Dmitry Radyshevsky, the executive director of The Jerusalem Summit, published an op-ed in Ynet, The Lion King and Zionism, and mentioned Menachem Begin.

An excerpt:

Just like in the famous musical, ‘lions’ of the Israeli Left usurped the throne
Dr. Dmitry Radyshevsky

Attending matinees with children can be highly educational. Take The Lion King that we went to see the other day...I realized that this was not about African lions; this was about the lions of Judea – the People of Israel.

Indeed, there used to be plenty of Lion Kings at the dawn of Zionism: majestic Herzl, roaring Jabotinsky, thick-maned Ben Gurion, noble Begin, and sharp-clawed Shamir. They were not the best of friends among themselves, but their fierce roar and their spiritual stride kept away the jackals and let the cubs – the revived nation of Israel – grow up in safety as they evolved into real lions of Judah on their legitimate pride territory. Yet the kings had relatives, too – brothers who were mangy in their souls, lagging in charisma, yet skilled in intrigue.

The plotters won the support of the jackals - eternal neighbors and enemies of the Jewish pride. Jackals were numerous, mean, cruel, and incapable of building a prosperous life for themselves. But at the critical moment when the Lions of Judah needed help, their tirelessly intriguing Jewish brothers pushed the spirit and the leaders of their own people under the hooves of the madding crowd called “world public opinion.” The lions of the Left climbed the throne and proclaimed “the new era when lions and jackals will live side by side on the Judea pride’s territory.” This bold lie met with the howling approval from the TV rocks and trees of the jungle, beginning with the White House lawn.

Not only did the lions of the Left usurp the throne and bring their jackal lackeys into the heartland of the pride, they also neutralized the rightful heir to the throne – the young Israelis. They inculcated the young cubs with a guilt complex – allegedly the lions “occupied” their own territory – and so the cubs went to hang out abroad, from India to California. Accompanied by hamsters and wild boars, they hummed their own version of the stage musical’s hit song Hakuna Matata glorifying living in the present and taking it easy; they shrugged off their duty and heritage and went on a diet of spiders, worms, and grass.

...The fairy tale has a happy ending: the young lion comes back, chases away the jackals, marries the rebellious ginger lioness and in short order produces an heir. The new king did not bother to taint his claws with his intriguer uncle’s blood; the traitor was eaten by his former jackal friends...

I don’t have the slightest doubt that life will imitate art and the revived Zionist tale will have the same ending, including the end of the Left at the hands of the Arabs. The question is: how many more bones have to fall on the ground of Judah's pride before the king's cub will wake up from the Oslo's Hakuna Matata? And who will play the funny old monkey? If no one claims that part, we - the columnists - should keep showing the cub the magic puddle of Jordan River repeating: Chazak ve Amatz, "Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the Almighty has sworn to their fathers to give them…"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Somehow, Menachem Begin Gets Involved in the Obama Election

Daniel Finkelstein in the London Times, in his column:

...The election of Mr Obama is a rebuke too, to the Eta Basque separatists who put bombs in shopping centres, to the IRA with their pub bombs, to the Baader-Meinhof gang with their abductions and killings. It is a rebuke to the Irgun terrorists whose terrible crime was to blow up the King David Hotel and to the murders and missiles of Hamas and Fatah. It is a rebuke to all those who abandon law and peace in favour of the gun.

And it is an affirmation that sometimes it is the moderates who are the boldest, the slow route that is the quickest, and the man who refuses to raise up his arms who is the most courageous.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ignorance and Antisemitism

An example of some of the ignorance, misrepresenations and downright antisemtisim out there on the Internet is this:-

Irgun, the army of his [Rahm Emanuel] father, is short for Irgun Zvai Leumi, which supposedly means something like "National Military Organization" in Hebrew. As a matter of fact, the Irgun was simply a terrorist Zionist group that operated in Palestine from 1931 to 1948. They killed innocent Palestinians and British soldiers and blew up buildings.

After 1948 they became part of the new Israeli government and did the same thing. In September 2001 they put their skills to work in New York City and Washington to kick start the "war on terror" - a conflict long promoted by their chief architect, Bibi Netanyahu, son of the former secretary of Ze'ev Jabotinsky.

The Irgun even has a website with pictures of the buildings they blew up before they demolished the World Trade Center with Thermite and high explosives:

In Israel, the Irgun is referred to as Etzel, an acronym of the group's Hebrew initials. The Irgun was considered a terrorist organization by the British authorities as well as by mainstream Zionist and Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Agency, the Haganah and the Histadrut. (It just has not made it onto the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations – even after blowing up the World Trade Center. Some people are slow to learn.)

Bible Studies and...Cholent

Found in a review article on a new cookbook:-

...Sherry Ansky cooks and tells stories like she does in her cooking column for Ma'ariv's weekend magazine. She tells stories well, with feeling, a bit of humor and lots of cook's tricks to give the recipes an extra fillip.

Her new book, "Hamin," published by Keter Publishing House this month, is a distillation of this combination: a whole book about the traditional winter dish, also known as cholent in Yiddish. Nearly all the recipes are accompanied by stories, memories and literary quotes. Who knew that a dish of beans and maybe meat could be so poetic?

...Sherry Ansky, 51, is the daughter of Bible scholar Professor Haim Gvaryahu, and was married to actor and broadcaster Alex Ansky, the father of her children Michal and Hillel. She has spent the last 16 years living with photographer Alex Levac, an Israel Prize laureate and Haaretz contributor...

...She tells about her father's correspondence with Menachem Begin about the Bible,

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ehud Olmert on Menachem Begin

...Our goal should be, for the first time, to designate a final and exact borderline between us and the Palestinians so that the entire world, the United States, the UN, and Europe can say, "These are the borders of the State of Israel, we recognize them, and we will anchor them with formal resolutions in the major international bodies. These are the recognized borders of Israel and these are the recognized borders of the State of Palestine."

...Who seriously thinks that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, this will make a difference for Israel's basic security?

...Is the absence of a resolution between us and the Palestinians the result of Israel's intransigence? No. Let there be no doubt in this matter. I regret to say that the Palestinians lack the necessary courage, power, inner strength, will, and enthusiasm. If we don't reach a solution, I'm in no way prepared to lay the blame on Israel. The blame rests first and foremost with the other side.

I would like to learn from my own mistakes. I hadn't seen this before and I'm not trying to justify myself. Exactly thirty years ago, when Menachem Begin returned from Camp David, I spoke out against [the agreement he made there] and I voted against it. I confess; I'm not trying to hide or obscure that.

What was Menachem Begin's genius?... He started from the end. He began by saying, "I am ready to pull out of the entire Sinai—now, let us negotiate."

...When I look back to the prime ministers who preceded me, Arik Sharon, Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory, I can say that each made a step in the right direction but that at a certain point in time, at a particular juncture at which a decision was necessary, the decision did not come....


Bernard Lewis on the Peace With Egypt

Recently, it was my pleasure to talk with Professor Lewis [who] told me something about Sadat. I will paraphrase, but pretty faithfully, I think:

“Sadat did not decide to make peace with Israel because he suddenly converted to Zionism. His reason was quite different. He was aware that Egypt was becoming a Soviet colony. I saw that myself, on frequent visits to Egypt. The Soviet presence was palpable — more obtrusive than the British presence, and I’m old enough to remember that. The Soviets were taking over, there were places where no Arab was able to set foot.

“I remember talking with a shopkeeper in Upper Egypt. He said there were no tourists coming anymore, which was, of course, very bad for business. ‘But you have plenty of Russians,’ I said, whereupon he spat into the gutter and replied, ‘They won’t buy a package of cigarettes, and they won’t give you a cigarette.’

“Anyway, the Russians were taking over, and Sadat saw that. He realized that, on the worst estimate of Israel’s intentions, and on the most generous estimate of Israel’s power, they were less dangerous than the Soviets. And the Israelis were not going to take over Egypt, that was clear. That was why Sadat decided to make peace. Fortunately, he found someone on the other side who would respond.

“We are moving to a similar situation now. Many Arabs have concluded, ‘Israel is not our main danger, our main problem.’ If you look at the Hezbollah war, in 2006, Arabs silently hoped that Israel would finish the job, and were very disappointed when they failed to do so. That continues now. Obviously, they don’t come out strongly in support of Israel — they wouldn’t do that. But there is, shall we say, a readiness to accommodate which did not exist in the past.”

Some time ago, Professor Lewis was paid an extraordinary compliment. One of his books was published in Arabic translation (unauthorized). It was published by the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, the book was published in Hebrew by the Israeli defense ministry — and, as Professor Lewis says, that is an interesting pairing: the Muslim Brothers and the Israeli defense ministry.

In his preface to the Arabic version, the translator said, “I don’t know who this author is, but one thing about him is clear: He is either a candid friend or an honorable enemy, and in either case is one who has disdained to falsify the truth.”

An extraordinary compliment indeed.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Karpf is Wrong

Anne Karpf from the UK utilized an op-ed of hers in The Guardian, based on an essay in A Time to Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices on Israel, Zionism and Jewish Identity to lambast Menachem Begin in connection with an attack on the term "islamofacism":

It is, perhaps, understandable that Israel invoked the spectre of a Holocaust in the Middle East in the aftermath of the liberation of the concentration camps; but Israeli historians have documented the ways in which, as the country became the dominant military power in the region, successive Israeli prime ministers deployed it as an ideological tool, even as the state demonstrated indifference to real Holocaust survivors in its midst.

No one collapsed the differences between the Nazi genocide and the Middle East conflict more unashamedly than Menachem Begin who, at the height of his country's bombardment of Beirut, sent a telegram to Ronald Reagan declaring that he felt as though he was facing Berlin where Hitler and his henchmen were hiding in a bunker. To which the novelist Amos Oz responded tartly: "Mr Begin, Hitler died 37 years ago ... Again and again ... you reveal to the public eye a strange urge to resuscitate Hitler in order to kill him every day anew in the guise of terrorists."

Of course, what Ms. Karpf is negligent about is what were the historical facts and what was the context.

For example, she seeks to whitewash the Mufti, Arafat's hero, by writing:

But the biggest weapon wielded by those intent on confusing Arabs or Muslims with Nazis is the person of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Palestinian leader known as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In a new book, Icons of Evil, two American academics rehash the charges against the Mufti - that he received funding from the Nazis, met Hitler, sat out much of the war in Berlin, and helped establish a Muslim-Balkan unit in the Waffen-SS. In their inflation of the importance of the Mufti (an inflation deliberately encouraged in Israel by the 1961 Eichmann trial), what such accounts fail to provide is evidence that the Mufti gained any power over Nazi policy. Conversely, plenty of evidence shows he lost almost all his influence over Palestinian Arabs in the period.

There was no inflation here. The Mufti was directly responsible for the deaths of Jews; for broadcasting Nazi propaganda across the Middle East; for promoting violence against Jews while seeking Nazi aid as early as 1933; and by bequeathing Nazi antisemitic parameters to the national struggle of the Arabs of WEretz-Yisrael for decades.

The Mufti tried hard but his failure at causing more deaths and damage should not be used as a mitigating factor.

Menachem Begin viewed, correctly, that Arafat had inherited the Mufti's identification with racial antisemitic hatred of the Jew as a Jew and therefore, it is not the Holocaust that Begin was promoting as a symbol but the very real physical deaths that Arafat was promoting at the time. Oz's remarks about 37 years having passed in connection with Hitler are totally irrelevant.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A 'Letter to the Editor' in the Salt Lake City Tribune

Begin no terrorist

William Hewitt compares the former terrorist that Barack Obama purportedly “pals around” with to the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who he says led a Jewish “terror” group (“Reagan's pal,” Forum, Oct. 25).

Begin fought a war of liberation against a British regime that shut the gates of the Jewish national home to Jews fleeing Hitler and his concentration camps. The Irgun's military operations were always forewarned. The attack on the King David Hotel that Hewitt mentions was directed against the building's southern wing, which was entirely a British headquarters and not a tourist center, as implied.

In that sense, Begin should be compared to George Washington, not to a former Weather Underground activist.

Yisrael Medad
Information Director
Menachem Begin Heritage Center
Jerusalem, Israel

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Letter on Begin In Wall Street Journal


Gary Pilcher's letter "Ayers Issue: Is There Atonement Without Repentance?" (Oct. 21), in which he defends forgiving Bill Ayers by comparing him to Menachem Begin is pernicious. First, there is the difference in context. Mr. Begin was fighting to establish a country against vicious enemies -- brutally anti- Semitic Arabs and slightly anti-Semitic British. The British had reneged completely on the Balfour/Churchill promise to establish a Jewish homeland once the British gave up control of the Palestinian Mandate.

Mr. Begin did not take part in the massacre of Arabs at Deir Yassen (neither did regular soldiers of the Haganah or Irgun who condemned what they saw had happened). Also, the bombing of the King David Hotel was not meant to kill: It was established by both the British and Israelis that at least 30 minutes warning had been given to evacuate.

If Mr. Pilcher wants a Jew to compare with Bill Ayers may I suggest Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. Like Bill Ayers, he remains unrepentant, though he has been in prison for 12 years.

D. O'Neill
New York

And the Pilcher letter:

Mr. Frank reminds me of the redemption of many famous persons whose activities earlier in life have been labeled "terrorist" (or "treasonous," as the British viewed our Founding Fathers during our Revolution).

One prominent example is Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel and previously, from 1943-1948, the commander of the Irgun which, under his leadership, blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91; killed over 100 persons in the Deir Yassin village massacre; and attacked the British in countless other incidents. Irgun was twice described by the New York Times as a terrorist organization in 1947, and was condemned by the World Zionist Congress and others.

Thirty years later, in 1978, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Anwar Sadat. The prominent Likud Party, which Mr. Begin led, traces its roots to the Irgun.

Gary Pilcher
Canfield, Ohio

P.S. Actually, it seems there's a trend on this theme for here's an earlier letter we found in the Salt Lake City Tribune:

Reagan's pal
Public Forum Letter
Salt Lake Tribune

Much has been said about Barack Obama's alleged "palling around" with former terrorists. But the same could be said about the late President Ronald Reagan - in the White House, no less!

On Sept. 9, 1981, a tuxedo-clad president and Mrs. Reagan hosted a White House state dinner for then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Who was Begin? In former days, he was a leader of the Jewish terror group the Irgun. Under Begin, this group conducted a campaign of extortion, kidnapping and bombings, including the attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem that killed 91 people. No less a personage than David Ben-Gurion denounced the Irgun and Begin as an "enemy of the Jewish people." No doubt, time had changed the heart of Begin, who was later able to forge a peace treaty with Egypt and made a major contribution toward a peaceful Middle East.

The Republican attempt to distort Obama's record leaves the party open to similar charges, which reminds us that no one's hands are clean in this respect.

William E. Hewitt Jr.
Salt Lake City

Friday, October 24, 2008

Begin and Economic Theory

To call the monopoly-ridden, tightly government controlled Israeli economy a "free market economy" is an insult to their readers' intelligence, let alone to the facts. To refer to the plunder of public and former Histadrut assets after they went bankrupt "privatization" is a sad joke. These former government and Histadrut assets, that wastefully dominated the economy in its "social democracy" phase, went bankrupt when Menachem Begin's government refused to continue massively subsidizing them.

Daniel Doron

Menachem Begin Figures in a New Theater Presentation

'Good acting always hurts'

Keren Tsur feels freedom, genuine freedom. She is liberated, freed from being pretty, in the role of Anda in Hillel Mittelpunkt's new play.

...Anda, the fictional heroine of Mittelpunkt's play, is a survivor of Bloc 10 in Auschwitz, which was part of the Nazi experimentation with mass sterilization by injecting poison into the ovaries. She wants to testify at the Eichmann trial, which is underway when the play's action takes place. She wants to tell the world about the crimes done to her. But the Ben-Gurion-controlled political establishment disqualifies her from testifying.

Anda had been a member of Herut for a few months and protested outside the Knesset against the reparations from Germany in a demonstration organized by Menachem Begin. Secondly, she was from Hungary. Some people sought to limit the number of witnesses from there because of the Kastner trial several years earlier. So 110 witnesses testified at the Eichmann trial, and Anda was not among them.

Anda powers the plot of the play that bears her name, which depicts a judicial system that capitulates to the intervention of the political branch, which draws comparisons between then and now. No wonder the play is sparking public debate in the media. There was heated debate at the play's premiere.

Tsur says that even on stage she sensed the opposition: "I felt the vibes of opposition from the politicians in the auditorium. They weren't interested in the personal human story, in which a Holocaust survivor leaves the country with a slam of the door, but only in what is being said about them, what they did or did not do. That is what the play is about actually."

How do you prepare for such a powerful role? Tsur: "I read this moving play and realized that for me it would be the closing of a circle, and that it was the role of a lifetime. Four years ago, I started interviewing my grandmother, Yona Weinberger, a Holocaust survivor, who is now 91, who was born in Hungary, was in Auschwitz and was taken from there to work in an airplane factory in a village in Germany. I videotaped her over a period of months; every session started with a protest on her part - why is this necessary? The video I recorded became part of my preparation for the role.

"I also read books, including "Judgment in Jerusalem" (Yisrael Bemishpat) by Pnina Lahav, "The State of Israel Vs. Adolf Eichmann" by Hanna Yablonka and "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil" by Hannah Arendt. There is also a lot of material to be found on the Internet. Of course, Anda is a figment of Hillel's imagination, but that's his job as a playwright, he must tell the human story without which it is impossible to put on the play. These things took place; there was intervention. Mapai was the state, and the state was Mapai."

Do you think a playwright is obligated to the historical truth?

"As I see it, the basis of the historical truth must be there, but a performance or a play is not a documentary film."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Book Review of Two New Books

Israel Affairs / Keeping the faith
By Yechiam Weitz

Kisela eitan (As Solid as a Rock), edited by Yossi Achimeir
Yedioth Ahronoth and the Jabotinsky Institute (Hebrew), 272 pages, NIS 148

Ein li koakh lehiyot ayefa (No Strength to be Tired), by Geulah Cohen
Reuven Mass Books (Hebrew), 192 pages, NIS 82

Yitzhak Shamir and Geulah Cohen were both members of the Lehi (Stern Gang) pre-state underground militia who went on to play central roles in Israeli politics. And both are now the subject of new books.

In terms of personality, one could hardly find two people more different. Shamir (who turns 93 this month) is close-mouthed and introverted, whereas Cohen is passionate and outspoken. They do, however, share one major trait that we have begun to miss: They have always been motivated not by ratings or fleeting political considerations, but by their own inner truth. Words like "zigzag" do not exist in their political and intellectual world. What Hebrew writer Amos Oz observed about the founders of the Greater Israel movement, in his 1996 book "Under This Blazing Light," applies to both of them: They were "pure of heart and believed in what they did." They hailed "not from scum but from the aristocracy of the Jewish people."

Shamir's belief in a Greater Israel (one that would include both the sovereign state and the territories conquered in 1967) led him to sabotage the peace process. He blocked the London accord signed by Shimon Peres and King Hussein in 1987, an agreement that might have prevented the first intifada, which erupted later that year. He refused to acknowledge the political aspect of the uprising, something that even the army chief of staff, Dan Shomron understood. In short, Shamir (who served as prime minister 1983-84 and 1986-92) was very much afraid that the political process would lead to withdrawal from "our homeland."

Unlike similar albums, which often end up being hagiographic, this Yitzhak Shamir anthology is interesting. The articles in "As Solid as a Rock" portray Shamir not as a caricature but as a flesh-and-blood human being. Take, for example, the article by Yaakov Perry, whom Shamir appointed head of the Shin Bet in 1988. Perry describes the intolerable tension between Shamir's fierce opposition to territorial concessions and the constraints of diplomatic reality: "He went to the [1991] Madrid Conference unwillingly. It was clear to anyone watching from the sidelines that he accepted the initiative as a kind of default option, bowing to the political reality, and not out of any hope or belief that it would succeed."

Another example is the article by Avi Pazner, who was Shamir's media adviser when he was foreign minister and later prime minister. Their first meeting attests to one of the more admirable facets of Shamir's personality: When he was visiting the United States as foreign minister, Pazner, then a media affairs consultant at the Israeli Embassy, organized a major press conference for him. Shamir walked in, briefly answered a few questions and beat a hasty retreat. Pazner made so bold as to tell him what he thought of his performance: It was lousy. Shamir looked at him in silence and, after a few minutes, which felt like an eternity to Pazner, he invited him to sit down and talk.

In the course of that conversation, Shamir told the stunned Pazner that his criticism was justified. He was not used to the media, he said, and certainly not the American media. "Most of my life I've lived in the shadows - in the underground, and then the Mossad," said Shamir. "I've never mastered the art of talking to journalists or appearing in the media. Your honesty is much appreciated, and I would be happy to work with you."

So began their collaboration, which lasted for 10 years. Over time, Shamir learned to work with the press. He realized what a vital and indispensable tool it was, but always remembered that it was a means and not an end - in contrast to many politicians today, for whom the media is everything. "After many years of hesitation and mutual distrust," writes Pazner, "Yitzhak Shamir made his peace with the media. Hopefully, there were also times when he enjoyed himself."

Meeting adjourned!

One subject that comes up often in the book is the Gulf War of 1991, which took place while Shamir was prime minister. Many contributors see his decision not to respond to the Iraqi missile attacks on Israeli cities as a historic decision. At the time, Shamir stood up to pressure from the defense establishment, headed by defense minister Moshe Arens, and in so doing blocked a reckless move that might have been catastrophic. Ronny Milo, then police minister, describes how Shamir dismissed the idea of reprisal. At the end of a long, tense government debate, he thumped on the table and announced: "At the moment, we have a majority against military action! Meeting adjourned!"

Dan Meridor, then justice minister, writes that Shamir "set an extraordinary example of how to manage a military crisis in a cool, calm and sensible way, in stark contrast to the warmongering label people liked to pin on him." Shabtai Shavit, who headed the Mossad at the time, writes that Shamir "deserves a medal for his leadership in this difficult and complex chapter in Israeli history." What nobody mentions is that there was more than a pinch of irony in his decision, considering that restraint was such a dirty word in the Revisionist lexicon. "Silence is despicable," goes the Betar anthem.

Two people loom large in this book. One is Menachem Begin. Some of the contributors explore the tension between Begin and Shamir, and write about their complicated relationship. Ze'ev Eviansky, who had been a member of the Lehi pre-state underground together with Shamir, cites some intriguing observations by Shamir himself on this charged topic: While "Begin was very much preoccupied with form, pomp and circumstance, and ceremonial gestures," Shamir did not attribute much importance to such things. Neither was he impressed by Begin's speeches. His oratory was "overwrought and dripping with pathos," Shamir wrote mockingly.

In many important respects, Begin far outshone Shamir - in vision, charisma, rhetorical skills and political acumen. But Shamir had attributes that Begin lacked, and that are hard to sneer at. One of them was: Shamir had clear limits. Not so for Begin, for whom red lines did not exist. That is clear from his oratory. One cannot even begin to imagine Shamir delivering a Begin-style speech - for example, the one he gave at Zion Square in Jerusalem on January 7, 1952, the day German reparations came up for debate in the Knesset: "Even if it is my fate to die and never see my children again, I would choose death over ignominy." Or the speeches he delivered at mass rallies in 1981, when he was prime minister: "Assad! Raful [IDF chief of staff Rafael Eitan] and Yanush [GOC Northern Command Avigdor Ben-Gal] are waiting for you!"

Shamir, too, would never have dared to link the bombing of the atomic reactor in Iraq to his party's election campaign, as Begin did in the elections for the 10th Knesset, which took place three weeks after the operation. Immediately after the attack, Begin officially announced that Israel had knocked out the reactor, breaking the taboo of silence adopted by all previous governments. For the party, it was a gift worth its weight in gold, but Begin was fiercely criticized for this announcement. Shmuel Segev, a journalist who belonged to the intelligence community for many years, wrote in Maariv at the time: "Menachem Begin's actions violate the policy of all Israeli governments to date. Until now, no one in the government has ever said a word about impressive feats of this kind. With all the awe such deeds may inspire, Israel's national interest has always taken precedence over immediate political profit."

Shamir was totally different in this respect. Ehud Barak, who was chief of staff toward the end of Shamir's tenure as premier, describes how Shamir made decisions about "secret military operations that could have brought him personal glory and political gain if he had gone public. For Shamir, this was not even a consideration. The possibility never even crossed his mind."

The other figure whose presence is very much felt is Ehud Olmert, even if his name is never mentioned. Shamir is depicted by many of the contributors as the antithesis of the current prime minister, both personally and professionally. They portray him as humble, ascetic and straight as an arrow, a man who did all he could to guard the public purse. Shabtai Shavit calls him "a remarkably modest man." Ruby Rivlin writes that he was an "honest politician who performed his duties with utter integrity." The journalist Shlomo Nakdimon describes how Shamir ran the Mossad in Paris: "He traveled all over the city to meet his agents, but was extremely frugal, using only the Metro or buses." Ammunition was treated the same way. One of the agents writes: "He told me to keep a careful list of all the bullets fired in target practice. It was a carryover from his Lehi days: No wasting bullets, no shooting unless you have to. Some people made fun of him for that." How far we have come since his day.

Cohen and Ben-Gurion

Geulah Cohen's book is a whole other kettle of fish. It is, in many ways, an eclectic composition, a collection of anecdotes and episodes from her long and full life. Some are interesting, others less so. I have chosen two topics for discussion here. One is her relationship with the state's founding father, David Ben-Gurion. In 1962, Cohen, who was born in 1925, published her book "The Story of a Fighter," about her work as an announcer for Lehi's clandestine radio station. She sent a copy to Ben-Gurion, who was then in his twilight years in power, and a few days later she received a letter of thanks.

This letter is quite well known and has been published before. It is very long (eight pages), and only a small part of it appears in this book. Cohen has left out all the criticism. She does not mention Ben-Gurion's remarks about Lehi leader Yair Stern's attempt to contact the German Embassy in Ankara in 1940 for the purpose of collaborating with the Nazi regime - a mortifying incident that Lehi members have tried their hardest to ignore until today.

Wrote Ben-Gurion: "I have nothing but censure for [Yair Stern's] international endeavors and political approach to establishing a Jewish state. When Yehoshua [Ben-Gurion's closest friend, Yehoshua Cohen, a former member of Lehi who lived in Sde Boker] told me that Yair had given orders back in 1940 or 1941 to cooperate with Hitler in the war on Britain, I would never have believed it if it had not been Yehoshua who told me... Only those who are struck blind and believe in the dangerous principle of "all or nothing" would fail to rejoice on hearing of Hitler's defeat. A person would need an even worse case of blindness to join up with Hitler against England in World War II."

What Cohen does include is Ben-Gurion's enthusiastic admiration and praise. He did indeed have warm words for the heroism of the Lehi fighters - things he would never have written about (Begin's) Etzel: "As I read your book my heart welled up with emotion, with excitement, with infinite esteem. In some chapters, I felt as if I were there, a partner to the acts and events described - I bowed my head in respect to the two Eliyahus who died heroes' deaths in Cairo, to Moshe Barazani, Meir Feinstein and the others."

Ben-Gurion's letter is evidence of his complex relationship with the Revisionists in those days, as his hostility toward Menachem Begin was reaching a peak (in May 1963, he described Begin as an out-and-out 'Hitler type').

As for Geulah Cohen's attitude toward Begin, his decision to give up all of Sinai in exchange for peace with Egypt in 1982 was a source of bitter disappointment for her: "In my darkest dreams, I would not have believed that my battle from then on would be with the head of my own movement, the man I fought for with all my might to make my prime minister." Cohen argues that with this act, Begin was emulating a historic agreement that he had flatly denounced - the Munich accord. She said things in the Knesset debate that must have been very painful for him: "In 1938, after the agreement, Jabotinsky was wrong to believe in the conscience of the world, and Begin was right not to believe in it - a conscience that went up in flames along with six million of our people." And now Begin himself was wrong in agreeing to hand over all of Sinai to Anwar Sadat in exchange for an empty piece of paper.

Indeed, a large part of the Herut leadership disagreed with Begin's move, but Cohen was the only one who did something about it, quitting the Likud to form the new party that became Tehiya: She left the fleshpots of power for the political desert to fight for a "minor" principle - listening to her conscience. Today, of course, it is clear that she was wrong: Begin took a decisive step that radically improved Israel's strategic standing. But even so, she deserves our respect. She followed the dictates of her conscience - a rarity then, and even more so now.

Yechiam Weitz is a professor in the Land of Israel studies department at the University of Haifa. His book "The First Step to Power: The Herut Movement, 1949-1955" was published by Yad Ben-Zvi (Hebrew) last year.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Questionable Recall by Bernard Avishai

Could Israel have developed along similar lines if it had been based around the Yiddish language?

The answer is probably yes but it’s just hard to play these historical games. The Yiddish language was more than just a raft of vocabulary. It was nuanced, it has an ironic sense of humor. When I read -- and I can only read them in translation -- Yiddish writers, I feel like I’m being transported into a world which is a little like the world of blacks singing the blues. Could blacks who sing the blues create a tough national movement? We know that it’s possible. Look at the Black Panthers. People who sing the blues can be after some generations in a different space and a different experience and could use that language to reflect that different experience. But the Zionists always thought the Yiddish language would not lend itself to this.

It was the language of weakness.

Exactly. I remember Menachem Begin was filmed in an unscripted moment after he came to power in 1977. He was sitting around with a bunch of friends. I don’t know if he realized he was being filmed but I don’t know if he would be embarrassed if he knew he was. He was explaining how you could never run an army in Yiddish. “Could you imagine even if we had the Hebrew phrase Amod Dom (‘Stand at attention’) in the Ashkenazi pronunciation: Amoid Doim.” And he burst out laughing at the idea that these bent-over Ashkenazi, religious Yiddish types could ever conduct war in Yiddish. We know from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising that of course they could have done so. So what Begin was reflecting was the whole supercilious attitude of the Zionists toward the whole Yiddishkeit. Because they saw themselves as the solution to Yiddishkeit. So you are asking me could a national life have evolved around Yiddish? Yes. Could it have been a tough national life? We know that it could under certain conditions. Was Yiddishkeit likely to produce the kind of national movement Zionism became? Well the answer is that it didn’t. It created the Bund and it created left-wing organizations, because it was a language that embodied the Jews as this sort of pushed-around minority culture around this larger framework.


May we point out that Ze'ev Jabotisnky formulated the first military words of command in Hebrew for the Jewish Legion in World War I. Perhaps Avishai misunderstood Begin's humor, if indeed, the incident occurred as he recalls.

Recalling Menachem Begin

From an article of remembrance by Yael Lotan, now a raidcal leftist but the daughter of a former Revisionist:-

House of dreams

...When Begin arrived in Mandate Palestine, he was a veteran in the Beitar Movement, and it was only natural for him to be in contact with my father, Binyamin (Benno) Lubotsky, a central figure in the movement at the time.

The commander of the Etzel underground then was Yaakov Meridor, but he didn't do well in the post and wanted to step down. One night, the heads of the movement met at our house in order to choose whom to appoint in his place. (About 30 years later, my father described the event in his memoirs, which were recorded by the Institute of Contemporary Jewry and eventually compiled in a pamphlet entitled "Memories from the Right Wing," published by Am Oved in 1990). I was almost seven years old, and accustomed to gatherings in our apartment. Incidentally, the apartment was in a house that was built in the 19th century as an inn near Jaffa Road, when there was not yet a city outside Jerusalem's walls. The two-story house, known as the Shiber House after its Arab owner, who owned a good deal of property in western Jerusalem and lived in an attractive villa in Talbieh - was long and as massive as a fortress. The large staircase that led to the top floor was outdoors, and there were only a dozen or so stairs inside the building. Downstairs, in the spacious yard, which was paved with stones, were two wells. Underneath the yard were two curved spaces, which had in the past housed camels and donkeys.

That night (in August 1942, according to my father's memoirs), they decided to appoint Menachem Begin as commander of Etzel, in place of Meridor. At the end of the meeting, my father accompanied the members as they left. Once outside, someone suggested they go raise a glass (perhaps at Fink's, the legendary bar?), and my father asked them to wait while he went to tell my mother he was going with them. But he didn't get back to them. Nor did he go home. The members thought he had decided to stay home, and my mother thought he had gone out with his friends. But in reality, he fell on the dark stairs inside the building. It was at the height of World War II and the darkness was complete. My father lay there almost unconscious, and almost an hour passed before one of the neighbors saw him and called for help.

...the ambulance came and took him to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. Once there, they discovered that he had broken his hip - a particularly difficult and problematic break...He suffered a lot from heat and itching, and my mother would drip eau de cologne underneath the cast and scratch the skin with a long knitting needle.

When they removed the cast, it turned out that his leg had shortened by seven centimeters, and my father remained handicapped for the rest of his life. He was 33 years old. Naturally, he never forgot the night they appointed Begin Etzel commander - a decision he says he regretted soon thereafter.

Incidentally, the person who cared for my father most loyally and was a big help to my mother was an old friend, a Beitar member named Yaakov Hilvitch. He would eventually turn most of his friends over to the British, who smuggled him to the United States. He didn't inform on my father, however, a fact my parents attributed to his personal affection for them, especially for my mother (she claimed he just loved her soup).

Menachem Begin and his wife, Aliza, Binyamin and Beba Lubotzky,

and the children Eldad Bukspan and Yale Lotan

The photograph is of Menachem Begin, still in a Polish Army uniform, with his wife, Aliza, my parents and I. The boy was the son of members of the movement - his mother probably took the picture. It was taken on Bezalel Street, which would become Hillel Street, across from the Eden Hotel...There's no trace left of it - just as there's no trace of the impressive Shiber House, which was demolished not long after the 1967 war. In its place rose an ugly 14-story monster called the Rasko Passage.

For the sake of historical justice, I am obliged to note that my father quit Beitar a few years later and established a party called "The Nation's Movement for a Hebrew State," which joined the Histadrut Labor Federation. After the establishment of the state, the party dissolved and my father joined Mapai, precursor of the Labor Party. He always seemed a little foreign and unusual there, but his talents led him to several interesting posts. He continued to move leftward, objected strongly to the occupation after 1967, and in the last elections before his death, voted for the left-wing Moked party...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When Washington bridled and Begin fumed

When Washington bridled and Begin fumed
Oct. 6, 2008

Shoulders stooped, dark shadows under his eyes, Menachem Begin sat slumped in a wheelchair, steeped in morose musings. Pain, physical and mental, swayed through his mind and body as he contemplated the diabolical happenings swirling around him in the closing months of 1981.

For one, he had slipped and broken his hip - hence the wheelchair and the physical pain. Second, his peace partner, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, had been assassinated. Third, his incessant efforts to reach an agreement on an autonomy plan for the Palestinians had stalled. Fourth, Syria had all but taken over Lebanon, and Yasser Arafat's PLO its southern reaches. Fifth, the Israeli-US relationship was souring, president Ronald Reagan warning against an Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Sixth, the national economy was in the doldrums. And seventh, his beloved wife, Aliza, was sick.

So, there he sat in the simply furnished apartment of his official Jerusalem residence, and brooded. The room was as quiet as a crypt, but for the purr of the radio broadcasting the evening news, to which he was hardly listening. But, suddenly, his ears prickled at the sound of the announcer quoting Syrian president Hafez Assad as saying he "would not make peace with Israel even in a hundred years." The premier picked up the phone to his longtime and most trusted aide, Yehiel Kadishai, and asked him to find out the current population of the Golan Heights, and call him straight back. This he did - 10,000-12,000 Druse were living on the Golan, and a few thousand Israeli settlers.

Begin closed his eyes and forced himself to think through his pain: The Golan Heights rose 300 meters over the farm-rich Hula Valley. Were it governed by a friendly neighbor, the escarpment would be of little military value, but in enemy hands it was a strategic nightmare. Its capture in the Six Day War put an end to years of Syrian harassment and bombardment of the villages and towns below. Now, Assad, the most intractable and intransigent of all the Arab leaders, was saying for the umpteenth time that Syria would never recognize the Jewish state. So why wait? Why leave this sparsely populated critically strategic plateau in a state of legal limbo under military administration when, by a simple act of legislation, it could be incorporated into Israel's sovereign law?

This is precisely what Begin did the following day: He pushed through a unanimous cabinet decision in the morning, a two-thirds Knesset majority in the afternoon and ignited a firestorm in Washington in the evening. "You know, Al," said president Reagan to his secretary of state, Alexander Haig, "this Golan business makes me mad. It has complicated Middle East peace-making endlessly."

"I agree," concurred an angry Haig, "particularly after we've recently signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the Israelis, which Begin pressed for. I assumed that that agreement would put paid to the Israeli penchant for taking us by surprise, and that they would fully consult with us before taking such a drastic unilateral action."

"Does the agreement oblige them to consult with us?" asked the president.

Haig shrugged, and his sharp eyes, set in a high strong-boned face, narrowed when he answered, "Well, nowhere does it say so specifically. The Israelis never actually promised to consult us, but we had every reason to understand that as strategic allies we would be consulted on matters which clearly affect our interests as well as theirs."

"So what do you propose?" The president popped a few jelly beans into his mouth.

Haig took his time answering, and when he did, his voice was pensive and measured: "Well, Mr. President, we have to convey to Mr. Begin a message sharp enough so that he'll sit up and take note, and not surprise us again."

"Such as what?"

"Such as suspending the strategic cooperation agreement until we conduct a serious review about our interpretations of it."

The president mulled and chewed and said, "You're right, Al. That's the way to go. Let's do it."

"I'll instruct our ambassador, Mr. President," said the secretary of state.

NEXT DAY the prime minister received ambassador Samuel Lewis in his private apartment. He was sitting in a chair, with one foot propped on a stool and, by him, a table covered with papers.

The men liked each other. Begin respected the 51-year-old, ebullient Texan's urbane and well-honed diplomatic skills. In the eight years he was to spend at his Tel Aviv posting, which spanned the Carter and the Reagan administrations, Lewis became so well connected and was so well trusted that frustrated politicians would occasionally unburden their souls to him and dole out confidences that were properly the preserve of hush-hush forums.

"Come on in, Sam," called Begin when Lewis appeared at the door accompanied by a note taker.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Prime Minister?" asked the ambassador solicitously, shaking him by the hand. He noted that the premier's cheekbones and chin were more pronounced than ever, and there was pain in his eyes.

"Much better, thank you," answered the premier, vainly trying to pump a bit of cheer into his voice. "The trouble is, I can't bend my leg. But you know me by now, Sam - a Jew bends his knee to no one but to God."

Whether this was a bit of banter or a declaration of defiance was hard to tell.

The prime minister invited Lewis to take a seat, stiffened, sat up, reached for the stack of papers on the table by his side, put them on his lap and in a face like stone and a voice like steel, resorted to histrionics as a vehicle of diplomacy by speaking nonstop for almost an hour, never once pausing to look at his notes, and beginning with a thunderous recitation of the perfidies perpetrated by Syria over the decades, and ending with: "Therefore, Mr. Ambassador" - that's what he called him whenever he was blasting off - "I have a very personal and urgent message to president Reagan which I want you to transmit immediately."

"Of course," said Lewis, having been through this sort of ritual before where everybody knew their roles and recited their lines.

"Mr. Ambassador, during the last six months the US government punished Israel thrice. On June 7 we destroyed the atomic reactor near Baghdad. It was an act of salvation in the highest sense but, nevertheless, you announced you were punishing us by breaching a written and signed contract for the delivery of F-16 aircraft."

"Not punishing you, Mr. Prime Minister, merely suspending..."

Begin galloped on in a tone that told Lewis this was no fleeting squall: "Not long passed and we, in self-defense - after a PLO massacre of our people, one of them an Auschwitz survivor - bombed the headquarters of the PLO in Beirut. Regretfully, there were civilian casualties, and again you punished us. You suspended delivery of F-15 aircraft."

"Excuse me, Mr. Prime Minister, it was not..."

"By what right do you lecture us on civilian casualties? We rack our brains to avoid civilian casualties. We sometimes risk the lives of our soldiers to avoid civilian casualties."

"Mr. Prime Minister, I must correct you..."

"A week ago, on the recommendation of the government, the Knesset adopted the Golan Law, and again you declare you are punishing us. What kind of language is this - punishing Israel? Are we a vassal state? Are we a banana republic? Are we 14-year-old boys that have to have knuckles slapped if they misbehave?"

"This is not a punishment, Mr. Prime Minister, it's merely a suspension until..."

"You cannot and will not frighten us with punishments, Mr. Ambassador. Threats will fall on deaf ears."

"But we've not used the term. The intention is to..."

"Excuse me, Mr. Ambassador, you announced that you are suspending the deliberations on the memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation."

"We simply have to..."

"I regard your announcement as a renunciation of the agreement on the part of the American government. We shall not allow a sword of Damocles to hang over our heads. The people of Israel have lived for 3,700 years without a strategic agreement with America, and it will continue to live without it for another 3,700 years!"

"Please allow me to explain..."

"Moreover, in imposing upon us pecuniary sanctions you have broken the word of the president who said the United States intends to purchase from Israel military hardware to an amount of $200 million. Now you are saying this commitment will not be honored. Is this proper, Mr. Ambassador? Is it done? What are you trying to do, hit us in our pockets?"

"If only you'd allow me to..."

"In 1946 there lived in this house a British general whose name was Barker. Today I live in this house. After we blew up his headquarters in the sequestered part of the King David Hotel, Barker said, 'You can punish this race only by hitting them in their pockets,' and he issued an order to his British troops that all Jewish coffee shops were to be out of bounds. That was the Barker philosophy. Well, I now understand why the whole great effort in the Senate to win a majority for the arms deal with Saudi Arabia [the sale of highly sophisticated equipment] was accompanied by such an ugly anti-Semitic campaign."

"Not so..."

"Yes so. First came the slogan, 'Begin or Reagan!' - the inference being that to oppose the deal with Saudi Arabia was tantamount to supporting a foreign prime minister while being disloyal to the president of the United States. Are such eminent senators as Kennedy, Jackson, Moynihan, Packwood and, of course, Boschwitz [a Jew], who expressed opposition to the deal, disloyal citizens? Are they? Then came another slogan: 'We will not allow the Jews to determine the foreign policy of the United States.' Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Ambassador: No one will frighten the great and free Jewish community of the United States. No one will succeed in intimidating them with anti-Semitic propaganda. They will stand by us. This is the land of their forefathers, and they have a right and a duty to support it."

"Mr. Prime Minister, you surely don't believe that..."

"We are being told the Golan Law adopted by the Knesset has to be rescinded. The word 'rescind,' Mr. Ambassador, is a concept from the time of the Inquisition. Our forefathers went to the stake rather than rescind their faith. We are not going to the stake, Mr. Ambassador."

"We are merely suggesting a review..."

"It is my firm belief there is not a man alive who can convince the Knesset to annul the Golan Law. So please tell the president that nothing and nobody can bring about its abrogation."

Ambassador Lewis clearly had had enough. Dispensing with even the pretense of nicety, he shot back: "Mr. Prime Minister, you have not allowed me to explain what I have to say. I shall certainly deliver your urgent and private message to the president. But in the meantime I have a message for you: Between friends and allies there should be no surprises. There should be consultations by either party on issues which affect the other's interests."

"Correct, but the surprise on this occasion was because we did not want to embarrass you by putting you in a predicament vis-a-vis the Arab capitals with which you have ties. Had we told you beforehand what we intended to do, you would have said no. We did not want you to have to say no and then proceed with the legislation, which is what we would have done under all circumstances."

Faced with this unyielding barrage, which to the ambassador seemed somewhat hyperbolic and, in part, even paranoid, he saw no point in carrying on, so he took his leave and set out for the drive back to his Tel Aviv embassy, to cable off his report. On the way out of Jerusalem he switched on the car radio and what he heard flummoxed him totally. It was the voice of the cabinet secretary repeating almost word for word in English, for the benefit of the foreign correspondents assembled outside Begin's residence, the fieriest of the fieriest all the passages of the premier's harangue.

THE WHITE HOUSE was livid. It deemed the language of the premier's message intemperate. It deemed its tone improper. And it deemed the treatment of its envoy an affront to America itself. But Begin refused to retract a single word.

Shortly thereafter, Ambassador Lewis escorted a senior senator to meet Begin and assess the frozen situation. When the meeting was done, the ambassador said, "Mr. Prime Minister, there is something I wish to talk to you about. It concerns me personally."

Begin gave him an amiable look, and said, "Go ahead, Sam. What's on your mind?" There was not the slightest hint of guile in his voice.

"It has to do with the handling of the urgent and private message you asked me to deliver to the president - the fact that you authorized the release of that message to the media almost immediately was, to put it mildly, a violation of every diplomatic norm and practice. And the way you did it made me feel I was being treated like an idiot."

"But surely, you realize there was nothing personal in what I said or did," said the premier, surprised at Lewis's rancor. "I considered your government's act of such grave national consequence that I felt compelled to fully inform our people of our stand, there and then - that we, too, have red lines."

"Yes, but hardly had I left Jerusalem I heard your spokesman on the radio quoting what you'd said to me almost word for word, in what was supposed to be a personal message to the president."

Begin pursed his lips in thought, and said, "I simply never thought of it in that light, Sam. My one consideration was that, given the sharpest difference of views we had - and still have - on a matter so vital to our future as the Golan Heights, I felt our public had a right to know exactly what was said, and where we stood. I apologize if I embarrassed you personally. Please, forgive me."

The tone of contrition in the prime minister's voice filled Sam Lewis with a sense of uncommon bemusement. For never did he believe that this proudest of men, Menachem Begin, was capable of such humble apology. It was something he still remembered when talking to me not very long ago.