Thursday, September 11, 2008

Begin vs. Biden by Harry Hurwitz

Begin versus Biden

Written by Harry Hurwitz

Tuesday, 09 September 2008

Twenty-five years after his retirement from political life and 16 years after his death, Menachem Begin is suddenly a factor in the US Presidential election. His name has appeared in reports and numerous web sites describing a June 1982 confrontation Begin had while visiting Washington, DC, with then-Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware and now vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket.

The report circulating quotes a major article by Moshe Zak, a leading Israeli journalist and one-time editor of Ma’ariv, who wrote in the week of Begin’s death in 1992 that “during that committee hearing, at the height of the Lebanon War, Sen. John [sic, Joseph] Biden (Delaware) had attacked Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria and threatened that if Israel did not immediately cease this activity, the US would have to cut economic aid to Israel. When the senator raised his voice and banged twice on the table with his fist, Begin commented to him: ‘This desk is designed for writing, not for fists. Don’t threaten us with slashing aid. Do you think that because the US lends us money it is entitled to impose on us what we must do? We are grateful for the assistance we have received, but we are not to be threatened. I am a proud Jew. Three thousand years of culture are behind me, and you will not frighten me with threats. Take note: we do not want a single soldier of yours to die for us.’”

When that report appeared last week, the Begin Center in Jerusalem received numerous inquiries from people asking for verification from official sources that such a conference had actually taken place. The Information Resources team at the Begin Center searched for relevant documents and found the official report of a press conference that Begin gave on his return from that particular visit to the US on June 23, 1982 in which he enumerated various important meetings he had with the president and other personalities and House of Representatives and Senate Foreign Relations Committees. Begin said that in the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate a young senator rose and delivered a very impassioned speech – “I must say that it’s been a while since I’ve heard such a talented speaker – and he actually supported Operation ‘Peace for the Galilee.’ He even went further, and said that if someone from Canada were to infiltrate into the United States, and kill its citizens all of us (and thus he indicated a circle) would demand attacking them, and we wouldn’t pay attention as to whether men, women or children were killed. That’s what he said.

“I disassociated myself from these remarks. I said to him: No, sir; attention must be paid. According to our values, it is forbidden to hurt women and children, even in war.… And thus the argument went. But, as I said before, the same senator supported our operation in Lebanon – with all his heart, he said. What he doesn’t like are our settlements in Judea and Samaria. I regret that I could not agree with him. He hinted – more than hinted – that if we continue with this policy, it is possible that he will propose cutting our financial aid. And to this I gave him a clear answer: Sir, do not threaten us with cutting aid.

“First of all, you should know that this is not a one-way street. You help us and we are very grateful for your help; but this is a two-way street, we do a lot for you. And also in recent battles we did a lot for the United States and I gave some examples, but this is not the place to go into them. Therefore, do not threaten us with cuts in aid, but take note: That if at any time you demand of us to yield on a principle in which we believe, while threatening to cut aid, we will not abandon the principle in which we believe – and propose cutting aid.”

Moshe Zak wrote that “after the meeting, Sen. [Daniel] Moynihan approached Begin and praised him for his cutting reply. To which Begin answered with thanks, defining his stand against threats.”

Harry Hurwitz is founder and president of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation
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