Prime Minister Netanyahu today offered President Obama a direct and unequivocal reply to the demand that Israel cease building Jewish homes in Yerushalayim: no. “We will build in Jerusalem as we build in Tel Aviv.”
So far, the sky has not fallen. If Netanyahu retains this dignity and self-respect, he will compare favorably with Menachem Begin, who, as reported by Moshe Zak in the Jerusalem Post (March 13, 1992), knew how to deal with American presidents’ interference with Israel’s right to develop its own land: “As for settlements, too, over which the Administration rebuked Begin during all of his visits to Washington in the following six years, Begin knew how to respond with unconventional replies. “Why is it permitted for a Jew to settle and live in Bethel or Shiloh in the US, towns named after places in Judea and Samaria, but forbidden to build his home in the original Shilo or Beth El?” he asked Carter, and added: “I shall not lend my hand to discrimination against Jews in the Land of Israel.”
And not only with Carter, but at all his meetings with heads of state and government, Begin customarily replied with direct, frank words against anything he perceived as harming Israel’s interests or honor.
It is hard not to long for those days, and painful to ponder that it has been more than 30 years since Israeli prime ministers spoke like that. Here is another example, drawn from the same article, about a confrontation between Begin and that self-described “great Zionist,” Joe Biden, when the latter was a blowhard Senator, from 1982:
“In a conversation with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, after a sharp
confrontation in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the subject of the settlements, Begin defined himself as “a proud Jew who does not tremble with fear” when speaking with foreign statesmen.
During that committee hearing, at the height of the Lebanon War, Sen. John 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.”
After the meeting, Sen. Moynihan approached Begin and praised him for his cutting reply. To which Begin answered with thanks, defining his stand against threats.”
We say to PM Netanyahu: stand strong, and be strong, and the strength of an eternal people will carry you aloft.