Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Begin Mentioned at the Politico Blog

Making Bibi look like a pussycat


I wrote yesterday about how Ronald Reagan directed the sort of open criticism and threats at Israel that today's Republican Party views as beyond the pale; a reader notes that Reagan's Israeli counterpart, Menachem Begin, gave as good as he got at a moment when Israel's security felt far more fragile than it is today.

The reader sends on a couple of passages from Yehuda Avner's "The Prime Ministers."

At one point, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Samuel Lewis, informed Begin that Reagan had decided to impose a peace plan on Israel without consulting the Israeli government, to which Begin replied:

Please inform the president that I have read his letter and am most unhappy both with its contents and its implications. I have also listened very carefully to your oral message and am extremely upset by its contents. You may tell the president and the Secretary of State that I am astonished that your government did not see fit to indicate that such an initiative was in the making, or to consult with the government of Israel at any stage of its elaboration. This is entirely unacceptable. The whole initiative is utterly contrary to all our understandings with your country. It is not in accordance with the Camp David agreements; in fact it is a violation of those agreements. Of course, I will consult with my cabinet, and then give you a response. We being a democracy - unlike those others with whom your government has seen fit to consult - necessitates my being given time before giving a formal response.

And here's Begin's response to Reagan's decision to impose a peace plan on Israel on national television before allowing Begin's cabinet to convene (to Ambassador Lewis):

Is this the way to treat a friend? Is this the way to treat an ally? Your government consorts with our despotic enemies and yet you choose to ignore us on a matter of vital import to our future? What kind of a discourse is this between democratic peoples who purport to cherish common values? Is this the way to make peace? We do not deserve this kind of treatment...Mr. Ambassador, please convey to the president exactly what I've just said. Tell him I am hurt to the core. And tell him that our cabinet will convene tomorrow as planned, and then we shall provide your government with our official response. Good night!

And the conclusion of Begin's September 2, 1982 letter to Reagan:

Mr. President, you and I chose for the last two years to call our countries 'friends and allies.' Such being the case, a friend does not weaken his friend, and an ally does not put his ally in jeopardy. This would be the inevitable consequence were the 'positions' transmitted to me on August 31, 1982, to become reality. I believe they won't. 'L'ma'an Zion lo echeshe, u'l'ma'an Yerushalayim lo eshkot' - For Zion's sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest.

Reagan, per Richard Reeves' biography, quipped privately after the 1981 Israeli decision to annex the Golan Heights, "'Boy, that guy Begin makes it hard for you to be his friend.'"

The tensions then, like now, were very public: When the Reagan administration sought to sell the AWACS radar system to Saudi Arabia in 1981, American friends of Israel lobbied to kill the sale while Reagan worked Congress (successfully) to get the deal done.

The New York Daily News cover: "Ron to Israel: Butt Out - Raps Jewish anti-AWACS Lobby."

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