web analytics
July 25, 2014 / 27 Tammuz, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Begin’

Israelis As Nazis, 1982

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

This summer marks the 25th anniversary of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. For those who labor under the mistaken assumption that media liberals and leftists turned against Israel because of its handling of the two Palestinian intifadas, or because of what they perceive to be the neoconservative hold on the Bush White House (particularly during Bush’s first term), or because they lay the blame squarely on Israel for the collapse of Oslo and the failure of the Clinton initiatives at Camp David and Taba, it might be instructive to take a brief look back at what liberals and leftists were saying about Israel a quarter-century ago.

Columnist Nicholas von Hoffman, who recently described Israel as “not good for much beside limited or mass destruction” and who decries “the Israeli-American war against the Palestinians,” was already secreting his anti-Israel bile back in 1982 when he wrote, “Incident by incident, atrocity by atrocity, Americans are coming to see the Israeli government as pounding the Star of David into a swastika.”

The late columnist Carl Rowan also looked eastward and beheld the Fourth Reich rising in Jerusalem: “In their zeal to ensure that the Jewish people never suffer another Holocaust, Israel’s leaders are imitating Hitler.”

Columnist and author Pete Hamill cited an unnamed “Israeli friend” who supposedly said of Israel, “Forgive me, but all I can think of is the Nazis.” (One of the Monitor’s journalistic rules of thumb: When a reporter quotes anonymous sources, they invariably agree with the reporter’s agenda or story line – assuming the sources are even real in the first place.)

The late Alfred Friendly, former managing editor of the Washington Post, was in fine frenzy: “[Israel’s] slaughters are on a par with … Trujillo’s Dominican Republic or Papa Doc’s Haiti. Still absent are the jackboots, the shoulder boards, and the bemedalled chests, but one can see them, figuratively, on the minister of defense.”

Columnist Richard Cohen, who just a few months ago tried to backpedal from his statement that Israel is “a well-intentioned mistake,” had this to say 25 years ago: “Maybe the ultimate tragedy of the seemingly nonstop war in the Middle East is that Israel has adopted the morality of its hostile neighbors. Now it bombs cities, killing combatants and non-combatants alike – men as well as women, women as well as children, Palestinians as well as Lebanese.”

Columnist William Pfaff suggested that “Hitler’s work goes on” – and speculated that Hitler may “find rest in Hell” with “the knowledge that the Jews themselves, in Israel, have finally … accepted his own way of looking at things.”

The late NBC News anchor John Chancellor, reporting from Lebanon, delivered a series of commentaries sharply critical of Israel, including this historically illiterate blast: “What will stick in the mind about yesterday’s savage Israeli attack on Beirut is its size and scope…. Nothing like it has ever happened in this part of the world…. What’s an Israeli army doing here in Beirut? The answer is that we are now dealing with an imperial Israel which is solving its problems in someone else’s country, world opinion be damned [emphasis added].”

NBC’s Tom Brokaw, interviewing Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, burnished his progressive credentials with this bit of nonjudgmental gable: “…the PLO, or the terrorists as you call them [emphasis added].”

Reporters and anchormen weren’t the only media types to take the sledgehammer to Israel. Zev Chafets, in Double Vision, his 1985 study of anti-Israel media bias, noted that editorial cartoonists were particularly vicious and inclined toward the Nazi imagery favored by so many pundits:

Artist Steve Benson compared Ariel Sharon with Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and showed goose-stepping Israeli storm-troopers guarding a death camp labeled BEIRUT; Tony Auth depicted the ghost of a Jewish inmate of Auschwitz looking at a bombed-out site in Lebanon and, in horrified recognition, saying, “Oh, my God.”

The Louisville Courier-Journal ran a picture of Begin looking into a hole where Lebanon had been, captioned “A final solution to the PLO problem,” and the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner carried a Bill Schorr cartoon in which Begin said, “For every problem, there is a final solution.”

The Indianapolis Star carried one cartoon by Oliphant of a wrecked city with a sign saying WARSAW GHETTO crossed out and the words WEST BEIRUT substituted and another with Israeli soldiers saying, “We are only obeying orders.” The Arizona Republic ran a picture of Begin wearing a badge saying NEVER AGAIN, and an Arab standing next to him wearing a button saying UNTIL NOW.

Chafets’s book, by the way, is as powerful today as it was when first released, not least because many of the journalists whose work he critiques are still active.

Second Thoughts? An Interview With Shlomo Ben Ami

Friday, December 12th, 2003

Shlomo Ben Ami was Israel’s foreign minister under Ehud Barak and served as the lead Israeli negotiator at the Camp David summit in 2000.

Klein: At Camp David, you presented the Palestinians with most of what they said they wanted. Instead of responding with a counter proposal, Arafat turned you down and started the intifada. How have your views about Arafat changed since negotiating with him at Camp David?

Ben Ami: At Camp David, I thought Arafat was capable of leading his people in a compromise with Israel. It was the essence of the Oslo accords. I mean, he was brought into the territories because Israel believed it could make peace with Arafat.

After Camp David, I came to the conclusion that the man is incapable of making a decision because he simply doesn’t recognize the right of the Jewish state to live in peace in the Middle East. I think he is a major tragedy for the Palestinian people. He is incapable of producing the transition from a revolutionary leader with a keffiyah and a gun to a statesman. That’s the problem.

Initially, you told reporters the aim of the intifada was to internationalize the conflict so Arafat could be offered a better deal brokered in the international arena instead of by the U.S., which Arafat viewed as biased toward Israel. Is this still what you think his strategy is?

Yes, yes absolutely, that is the strategy. You see, Arafat believes there is hardly any room for negotiations because a peace agreement needs to be predicated on what he calls international legitimacy, which according to Arafat is all the resolutions that were passed by the UN Security Council while Israel was internationally isolated. He says they need to be implemented. That is it. And he would not even discard Resolution 181, [the 1947 Partition resolution which called for the split of British-ruled Palestine into Jewish and Arab states]. Israel cannot go into this trap, it is beyond any reasonable possibility.

And Arafat continues not to trust that America is an honest broker. This past American president did more for the Palestinian cause than any other statesman in the world. I mean, [French President Jacques] Chirac can speak until eternity, but he will not compare to what Clinton did for the Palestinians.

If you knew then what you know now, that Arafat is not a peace partner, how would you have handled things differently?

Well, you know the benefit of hindsight is that you see things in perspective. You see there were people in the military intelligence that said then what we know now about Arafat. So the papers about the personality of Arafat are more or less what is my position today. We are not surprised that this is the profile of Arafat.

But what alternative did we have? You always believe when you go to negotiate, whatever it is for, that your counterpart is incapable of taking a position. But you believe that perhaps, perhaps there is a ray of hope, that at the last moment the leader will emerge. What people tell you about the interlocutor is important, but it can?t be an obstacle for going and trying to reach an agreement.

Before Menachem Begin went to Camp David, if [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat would have opened a file about Begin in military intelligence, he would have said “I am not going to talk with this guy. He is not flexible, he is an ideologue.” And by the way, on his way to Camp David, Begin made a pompous declaration that he is planning to buy land in Sinai and build his own house! This should have discouraged Sadat from going there. But in the moment of truth, the leader in Begin emerged. So this is always the hope.

Are you comparing Begin to Arafat? Isn’t there a difference between the prime minister of Israel and a dictator involved in terrorism, who preaches murder of Israelis and violates Palestinian human rights?

Hmm.

You were talking about military intelligence. Do you think Camp David was an intelligence failure? That Israel, with its enormous intelligence capabilities, failed to predict that Arafat would turn down your offer and instead initiate a war? Or maybe you were presented with this data, but decided to ignore it?

Well, if it was a failure, we are in good company - we share it with the United States. Because Camp David was orchestrated by America. By Clinton. But I don’t see it that way. One day we will have some sort of agreement with the Palestinians; this cannot go on forever. And then, the journalists of the next generation, a younger guy like yourself, will see Camp David in the proper perspective. As a visible step toward maturity.

Things were perhaps not ripe at the time. And now after a series of errors – the whole course is trial and error - maybe we paid the price so that future generations of peacemakers will learn from our mistakes and problems, our incapacity to win the battle back then.

Do you, and does Barak, take responsibility for your part in the ‘mistake’?

Barak never takes responsibility for his part in anything. [Laughing.] Barak is the perfect politician, he never takes responsibility. But I really don’t think here there is a question of responsibility at all. You see, why did we go to Camp David? Because we had signed seven years earlier the Oslo Accords. According to the Oslo accords, five years after the signature in 1993, we should have [been] ready to find a deal. So we were forced by international commitments. I mean, we didn’t have much of a choice. We needed to try the possibility of having an agreement. So we said let us put on the table written proposals and see if we can develop a dynamic of give and take, and maybe we can reach an agreement.

There have been a lot of rumors lately that Arafat had a series of heart attacks. That he is dying. Do you have any inside information about this?

Well, not really. I have seen him dozens of times and he was always like that. You know, trembling and a sense of weakness. Part of it is acting, by the way. If Arafat should ever have received a prize, it should have been not a Nobel but an Oscar. He plays with his weak English intentionally. He tries to dodge his interlocutor in all kinds of ways. So some of it is pretending.

But otherwise, he is not the healthiest of people. He has a slight form of Parkinson’s, and presumably, he overcame it. Listen, he has been secluded for two years in conditions that are not easy. He is a tough guy, you should not underestimate him. So the conditions probably have contributed to his weakness.

Let’s say he dies tomorrow. How would that affect the Middle East, and how would that affect Israel?

Well, if he dies from natural reasons, that’s one thing. If it becomes clear that Israel had a hand in his death, this will make him into a martyr. These are two things. I think given that he is being held under difficult conditions by Israel, my fear is that even if he passes for natural reasons, it will be perceived as because of the conditions and he will become a sort of martyr. I am afraid this will unleash an outburst of violent demonstrations. Israel would have it very, very tough.

Would his death a leadership vacuum? Are you afraid that maybe Hamas would take over?

Absolutely, absolutely. I think you can see the possibility of a transition period of turmoil. Because there is no mechanism of succession. You have all kinds of warlords. There is a difference between Gaza and the West Bank, and of course Hamas could fill the vacuum.

Sharon seems to have ruled out killing Arafat, or sending him into exile, but do you think he should be arrested and tried? No. Of course not. I don’t think it would be productive. I really don?t understand why the idea of getting rid of Arafat crossed Sharon’s mind. It seems to me Arafat is his best card. I mean, the reason Sharon has such popularity is because he maintains the cause of Arafat.

Let’s say you were in charge of handpicking the new Palestinian leader, is there anyone you particularly trust?

There are some good people around. Abu Mazen is a very good man, but he is no leader. I predicted his downfall from the very beginning. Abu Ala is a political animal, but with no charisma and with no personal political power base. [Former Gaza security chief Mohammed] Dahlan has both charisma and a power base, and a sort of coalition with the younger leaders, those who didn?t come from Tunis. I think those who came from Tunis were the disaster of the Palestinian cause. And the leaders from the next generation are those who can be trusted.

Let’s say one day there’s a Palestinian leadership that actually wants peace with Israel. What kind of agreement do you foresee?

Well, I think it would be based on the Clinton perimeters – it’s more or less the 1967 borders with modifications created by the parties. Those perimeters, you should know, were not the Southern wind of a lame-duck president. I mean the man did not just invent the ideas. The perimeters of Clinton were at the point of equilibrium between the positions of the parties as they stood at that particular time. So he was acting as an honest broker. And I believe the Clinton perimeters can liberate.

When you were at Camp David, was it your intention that the Israeli offers – which included East Jerusalem – were to be binding to future Israeli governments, that they should be used as the starting point for future negotiations, or was it a one-time deal?

Proposals are not meant to be binding unless they are signed. But there is a collective memory, and you cannot go back to things from scratch, there is no way to start from zero.

What are your views about the fence Israel is building?

The fence is the result, in a way, of a sense of despair. Everything else was tried to stem this avalanche of terrorism into Israel proper. Are you aware that we never had suicide terrorists coming from Gaza because we have a fence there? And that fence is elementary, not like the sophisticated one they are building in the West Bank.

So after we have tried just about everything to stop suicide terrorism, Sharon came to the idea of the fence, which by the way is not his idea, it’s an idea of the left, not the right. To the right the fence is a political defeat, because to them there is no difference between the state of Israel and the land of Israel - Judea and Samaria.

The idea to build a fence says we can’t control all of Israel….So it is as a last resort that Sharon came to this conclusion to erect the wall and protect the citizens. Another thing is that if Sharon believes this is the final border, I don’t think the Palestinians will accept it, and I don’t believe the international community will accept it.

Israel recently bombed what it says is an Islamic Jihad training camp in Syria. Will this open up a second war front?

Not for the time being, because I think the Syrians are not interested in engaging us and they are not capable of facing Israel. Syria is a country that did not move from the Eastern bloc military doctrine to a Western situation, so they just aren’t capable. So Israel’s action against Syria was an isolated incident that will have no further consequences.

America and Israel are worried about possible nuclear activity in Iran. Let’s say Israel has accurate intelligence that Iran is defying the international community and building a nuke. Should Israel bomb the Iranian reactor as it bombed Iraq’s in 1981?

Well, you see I am afraid that the nuclearization of the Middle East is a process that cannot be stopped, and the problem is not nuclearization, the problem is the regime. We are in a competition against time and space between democratization and nuclearization. And we are agreeing to the nuclearization of Pakistan and India. We?ll find it difficult to stop the nuclearization, but what needs to happen is that democratization must happen first.

In the last Israeli elections, Labor lost pretty much half its seats, and many people are saying your party will continue to decline. What is the future of the Labor party?

I think the future of the Labor party lies in the future of the Sharon government. It is connected. Whenever the [ruling] government sees its powers eroded, this favors the opposition. It’s very important that Labor is in the opposition. It was a huge mistake for Labor to have joined the Sharon government because they discredited themselves as the alternative. I really believe things are improving for Labor and we’ll have elections in June. If we have a new and dynamic leadership, things can change.

Do you plan to run?

For the time being, I don’t see it as an immediate possibility, but in the future it could happen.

Aaron Klein, former editor of the Yeshiva University undergraduate newspaper, previously conducted interviews with Yasir Arafat, Benjamin Netanyahu and leaders of the Taliban. His account of his experience interviewing members of Osama bin Laden’s organization, ‘My Weekend With the Enemy,’ appeared in The Jewish Press in 1999.

Deconstructing Sharon

Wednesday, July 9th, 2003

Discriminating readers of The New York Times grew accustomed in the late 1990′s to the error-prone (as well as transparently biased) reports filed with mind-numbing regularity by the paper’s former Jerusalem bureau chief Deborah Sontag. (Given her stylish creativity with bothersome things like facts and details, Sontag happens to be much better suited to her current incarnation as a feature writer for the Times’s Sunday magazine.)

Memories of Sontag came flooding back last week as the Monitor beheld a particularly jarring assault on historical truth committed by Times reporter David Sanger in the middle of an analysis piece on the Bush-Sharon-Abbas summit in Jordan.

Referring to Sharon’s refusal to publicly commit to freezing the growth of Jewish settlements (as opposed to his agreeing to abandon some ‘unauthorized outposts’), Sanger wrote: “The prime minister, of course, helped create many of those settlements as Likud minister in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, when Bush was a junior at Yale.”

Mon Dieu! Where to begin with this towering monument of Times-style inaccuracy? First of all, Sharon was not a “Likud minister in the aftermath of the Six Day War.” For one thing, there was no Likud until 1973; for another, Sharon was not a minister of any kind during those years; he was named head of the Southern Command in 1969 and didn’t leave the IDF until 1973. (Later that year, after helping Menachem Begin form the center-right Likud coalition, Sharon was recalled to service for the Yom Kippur War and led Israeli forces across the Suez Canal).

Though he was elected to the Knesset in December 1973, Sharon resigned after just one year of relatively undistinguished service and shortly thereafter took a gig as a special adviser to (Labor) prime minister Yitzhak Rabin from June 1975 to March 1976.

Contrary to the scenario spun by Sanger, it wasn’t until 1977 – a full decade after the Six Day War - that Sharon had anything at all to do with the building of settlements. That opportunity arose when Begin, having been elected prime minister in May of ’77, appointed Sharon minister of agriculture in charge of settlements.

Oh, and in case anyone feels inclined to give Sanger the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that perhaps he operates with a rather elastic understanding of the word “aftermath” (after all, we are, one could conceivably argue, still living in the “aftermath” of the Civil War, 138 years after the Union and the Confederacy laid down their arms), please go back to what Sanger wrote and note that he ends his sentence with: “when Bush was a junior at Yale.”

By his placing Bush at Yale in the context of his claim about Sharon, it’s clear that Sanger was referring to the more-or-less immediate ‘aftermath of the Six Day War’ – for the simple reason that Bush received his bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1968. (Or maybe Sanger is confusing Yale with Harvard, since Bush received a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 1975. But of course that still wouldn’t explain how the publication formerly known as the Paper of Record permits such factually-challenged reporting to grace its pages.)

Speaking of Sharon, the Monitor never ceases to be amazed at the bewilderment expressed by the prime minister’s more devoted fans, both here and in Israel, whenever he reveals himself to be something of a political chameleon.

As has been pointed out by writers as ideologically diverse as Barry Chamish and Chemi Shalev, Sharon was talking about territorial compromise - and more – a long, long time ago.In 1977, Sharon formed a political party he called ‘Shlomzion’ which held out the idea of an independent Palestinian state; Sharon even tried to get the super-dove Yossi Sarid (who went on to head the ultra-left Meretz party) to join Shlomzion.

Sharon disbanded Shlomzion after the party won just two seats and he was asked to join the new Begin government. As mentioned above, Begin gave him the Agriculture portfolio – and in the blink of an eye the man who just months earlier had considered himself a good match with Yossi Sarid became a born-again hawk and ardent advocate for settlements.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Two Minutes Over Baghdad: The Day Israel Saved The World

Wednesday, January 30th, 2002

Originally posted September 18, 2002

Shortly after 5:30 p.m. on June 7, 1981, Israel saved the world from the threat of nuclear blackmail. In less than two minutes’ time, Israeli jets laid waste an atomic reactor on the outskirts of Baghdad, and so deprived a brutish dictator the potential for mass destruction.

The world was outraged.

Voices that had been silent for years, while Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein courted the feckless nations of the West in his quest for nuclear bombs, were suddenly raised in a chorus of indignation.

“We don’t think [Israel's] action serves the cause of peace in the area,” sniffed French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson, whose country had supplied Hussein the ill-fated reactor.

“Provocative, ill-timed and internationally illegal,” sobbed U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield.

“Armed attack in such circumstances cannot be justified; it represents a grave breach of international law,” scolded the usually sensible British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher,.

“Israel’s sneak attack…was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression,” snarled a New York Times editorial written by editorial page editor Max Frankel.

“[The attack] did severe damage to the hope in which Israel’s true security must lie: the hope of realistic relations with all its neighbors,” sermonized New York Times paleoliberal columnist Anthony Lewis.

“[Israel has] vastly compounded the difficulties of procuring a peaceful settlement of the confrontations in the Middle East,” sniped Time magazine.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it should be noted, expressed complete sympathy and solidarity with Iraq, and in fact helped push through a United Nations resolution condemning Israel for the attack on their good neighbor.

Innocent souls unschooled in the machinations of diplomatic flimflam were no doubt mystified by all the uproar.

After all, isn’t the act of separating a ruthless tyrant from a state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal a good thing?

Wasn’t Saddam Hussein, at the very time of the Israeli attack, a year into his bloody invasion of Iran?

And hadn’t Hussein worked long and hard to earn the nickname ‘Butcher of Baghdad’?

Certainly there was more than a touch of disingenuousness in the response to the destruction of the reactor - several countries had ties of their own to the Iraqi nuclear program, while some world leaders expressed approval of the Israeli action privately even as they denounced it publicly.

But how to explain the outcry from nations that had no stake in the success of Hussein’s nuclear development; nations that for the most part were located well beyond the bounds of Middle East double-talk?

And how to account for the negative reaction on the part of individuals and organizations usually given to shrill warnings about the dangers of nuclear proliferation?

The answer, it should be fairly obvious, lay with the source of the attack on the Iraqi reactor: Israel. More specifically still, the Israel of Menachem Begin.

From Underdog To Colossus

For years after its establishment, Israel enjoyed the support of the Western world’s opinion-making elites. The democracies, stuck in what appeared to be a no-win cold war with the Soviet Union, admired Israel’s fighting spirit, while socialist governments in non-Communist Europe felt a kinship with Israel’s ruling Labor party.

This widespread affinity for Israel crested with the 1967 Six-Day War. The media in the U.S. and Europe virtually celebrated Israel’s lightning victory, huge demonstrations on behalf of Israel were held in just about every Western capital and major city, and public figures from mayors to movie stars rushed to leap aboard the pro-Israel bandwagon.

But as Israel would find in the years to come, popular opinion is indeed as fickle a phenomenon as the cynics say it is. Israelis would also learn, rather quickly, that the media giveth and the media taketh away.

The portrayal of Israel in newsprint and on television, so positive in the years leading up to the Six-Day War, became increasingly negative thereafter. To many journalists, Israel was no longer an underdog deserving of support, but rather a military Colossus refusing to make peace with the weaker states in its neighborhood.

America’s prestige media (The New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek and the three television networks) had, by the late 1960′s, joined other elements of the nation’s liberal establishment in appropriating a good deal of the language and attitudes of the countercultural New Left.

As they grew increasingly opposed to America’s role in Vietnam, liberals were fast losing faith in all the old certainties. Any nation or movement claiming victimization at the hands of the U.S. or the West (and Israel was considered very much a part of the West) was almost guaranteed to win a place in liberal hearts.

It was hardly surprising, then, that by the mid-1970′s the media’s stock descriptions of Israel were ‘militaristic’ and ‘intransigent.’ The ‘plight of the Palestinians’ (another stock phrase of the era) was in; Israel was definitely out. Even the frequent terrorist operations mounted by the PLO and its offshoots did little to win back media support for Israel; the atrocities almost invariably were blamed on Israel’s so-called callous handling of the ‘Palestinian problem.’

Despite the media’s antagonism, however, polls continued to show that most Americans refused to be swayed and still favored Israel, by sizable margins, over its Arab enemies.

And, of course, Israel retained the near-unanimous support of American Jews and the various influential Jewish organizations.

Then came Begin.

By 1977 Israel had been under the governance of the Labor party for 29 years, going back to the founding of the state in 1948. But a series of scandals involving key Labor officials, coupled with a general sense that the country was adrift and rudderless, caused many Israelis to forgo traditional political attachments and turn to the opposition Likud bloc for answers.

Even with all that as backdrop, however, the election that May of Menachem Begin as prime minister set off shockwaves, both within Israel and around the world.

The quintessential outsider in Israeli politics since his days as head of the underground Irgun in the 1940′s, Begin was a man reviled by the Labor-friendly Israeli media. And it wasn?t just Begin’s right-wing ideology that had made him a pariah in Israel’s proper circles; his formal dress and courtly demeanor set him apart from the brash and decidedly informal image cultivated by Israeli leaders of his generation.

Most of all, though, it was Begin’s rhetoric – his unabashed references to Jewish history and his unembarrassed affirmations of Jewish destiny – that not only discomfited his political opponents in Israel, but downright frightened Hadassah ladies at lunch in the U.S.

The reaction of the American and European media to Begin’s ascension was one of initial disbelief followed by unremitting hostility.

Not even the 1979 peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt bought better press for Begin, who throughout the negotiations was derided as the ‘intransigent’ (that word again) stumbling block in the way of Anwar Sadat’s noble quest for peace.

Iraq Looks For Nukes

While the media were preoccupied with the threat to peace posed by Menachem Begin, one of Israel’s most militant antagonists was determinedly going about the business of building a nuclear bomb factory. For Saddam Hussein, procurement of an arsenal that could mean the destruction of Israel was a goal of the highest priority.

Iraq had never been reticent in displaying its animosity toward the Jewish state. When the Arab League organized an ‘Inter-Arab Command’ in the months before Israel’s birth, an Iraqi general was placed in charge, and at the conclusion of the first Arab-Israeli war, Iraq refused to sign an armistice - in stark contrast to the Arab front-line states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

More recently, nine Jews were hanged in Baghdad in 1969 on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel.

Iraq’s interest in nuclear technology dated back to 1959, when the Soviet Union, looking to expand its influence in the region, agreed to provide Baghdad with a reactor, enriched uranium and a team of scientists and engineers. After several delays – the Iraqis accused the Russians of dragging their feet – the reactor finally went operational in 1968.

Though the Soviets upgraded the reactor’s output (from two to five megawatts) three years later, to their credit they steadfastly refused to supply the Iraqis with any material that could have been used in the manufacture of nuclear bombs.

Iraq in the early 1970′s had come under the de facto control of Saddam Hussein, though officially Hussein was second in command to General Ahmed Hassan-al-Bakr. Described by those who knew him as ‘power hungry to the point of insanity,’ Hussein destroyed his political enemies, in the process raising the practice of torture to an art form. His stated goal was to take up the mantle of the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser as undisputed leader of the Arab world.

Possession of nuclear weapons was central to Hussein’s ambitions. But since the Soviets had unequivocally rejected the Iraqis’ requests on that score, the search was on for a country that might be more willing to deal. Fortunately for Hussein, his rap sheet of bloodshed and crazed megalomania meant nothing to the French, who loved to make new friends, particularly ones swimming in oil.

France Loves Saddam

Ironically, France had been Israel’s primary arms suppliers in the 1950′s and 60′s, but on the eve of the Six-Day War the French president, Charles de Gaulle, warned Israel against launching a preemptive strike. When Israel chose to ignore his advice, an insulted de Gaulle cut off all arms shipments.

Relations between Israel and France would grow even more strained under de Gaulle’s successors, Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d?Estang.

The mid-1970′s were notable for a flurry of diplomatic activity among French and Iraqi officials. In 1974 France’s foreign minister, Michel Jobert, went to Baghdad and pledged any assistance Iraq might need to build up its technological infrastructure.

“I am happy,” Jobert said in a toast to his Iraqi hosts, “?that your great country will now have the means to restore its past glory.”

Not to be outdone by Jobert’s groveling, the French prime minister, Jaques Chirac, paid a call on Saddam Hussein the following year and proclaimed the Iraqi dictator a ‘great statesman whose qualities will lead his people toward progress and national prosperity.’

It wasn’t long after Chirac’s visit that France agreed to build an Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq - strictly for ‘research’ purposes, both sides claimed.

‘Research’ was the last thing on Hussein’s agenda, and the Iraqi leader let it be known that he was in the market for a ‘hot cell’ - a piece of equipment that would enable Iraq to develop weapons-grade plutonium. The government of Italy proved eager to sell Iraq its badly-needed hot cell, and at that stage only the blind or the French could fail to see what Hussein had in mind.

All the while Israel had been keeping a wary eye on Iraq’s nuclear ambitions. When Begin took office in 1977, he stepped up behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent Iraq from becoming a nuclear threat. The U.S. was Begin’s best hope, but the administration of President Jimmy Carter, for all its talk of wishing to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, was less than energetic in pursuing the matter.

As Israel’s diplomatic efforts foundered, pressure of a different sort was brought to bear on the Iraqis. In April 1979, just days before the French were scheduled to ship the nearly completed reactor to Iraq, saboteurs infiltrated a warehouse near the port of Toulon and attempted to blow up the reactor’s core. Damage, however, was relatively minimal.

Fourteen months later, the head of Iraq’s nuclear program was killed in his Paris hotel room.

Israeli agents were believed to be responsible for both incidents.

Sabotage and assassination notwithstanding, work continued as planned on the Osirak reactor. By the autumn of 1980, Menachem Begin had concluded that Israel would have to take direct military action. As his military strategists set to work on a plan to take out the reactor, Begin kept up the diplomatic entreaties, all to no avail. The French insisted that Iraq’s intentions were of a purely peaceful nature.

Time To Act

In early 1981, the only question remaining for Begin was when to launch the attack on the reactor. Several times the operation was postponed when members of Begin’s cabinet voiced their concerns over how the U.S. would react to the attack.

For his part, Begin expected a sharp reaction from Washington, perhaps even a U.S. vote to condemn Israel in the U.N. But, he thought, it would all be so much window-dressing. Ronald Reagan was the American president, not Jimmy Carter, and Begin regarded Reagan and his secretary of state, Alexander Haig, as warm friends of Israel.

It was now the spring of 1981, and as he braced himself for the final decision to strike at Iraq, Begin faced yet another obstacle. He had informed Labor party leader Shimon Peres of the plan to bomb the reactor, and Peres, predictably, was vigorously opposed to the idea. So Begin knew the operation would bring strong reaction not only from the outside world, but from within Israel as well.

Clouding the situation even further, Israelis would be heading to the polls in just a few weeks. Begin, up for reelection, was locked in an extremely tight race with Peres and feared he would be accused of staging the raid as an election ploy. But he had an even greater fear - one that convinced him of the need to act before the election and a possible Peres victory.

“He really believed that Peres would never have the guts to order the raid,” said a Begin aide. “And Begin couldn?t bear the thought of Israel living in terror of an Iraqi bomb.”

There would be no more postponements. In the early afternoon hours of Sunday, June 7 – the eve of the festival of Shavuot – Israeli pilots went through one last rehearsal.

A little after 4 p.m., the planes took off from an airbase in southern Israel. The flying armada consisted of eight F-16 fighter jets, each carrying two 2,000-pound bombs; six F-14′s forming a protective escort; and several F-15′s with oversize tanks to provide mid-air refueling.

Begin summoned his cabinet to his home in Jerusalem. “Welcome, my friends,” he greeted the assembled group. “At this very moment our planes are approaching Baghdad.”

About an hour and a half later, Begin received the message he’d been anxiously awaiting. The operation was a total success and the planes were on their way home.

“Baruch Hashem (Praise G-d),” Begin exclaimed. “What wonderful boys we have.”

Begin?s boys had flown undetected through hundreds of miles of Arab air space and dropped 16 tons of TNT, crushing the reactor?s dome and flattening the main building.

“The precision of the bombing,” marveled a French technician who viewed the wreckage, “was stupefying.”

Tell Anybody You Meet

In Israel, news of the raid set off an atmosphere of euphoria not felt since the 1976 Entebbe rescue. As expected, the Labor opposition was highly critical of the operation and its timing, but the criticism was quickly toned down once Peres and his colleagues realized how out of sync they seemed with the mood in the street.

The U.S. reacted much the way Begin thought it would. The Reagan administration voted to condemn Israel in the U.N., and a few F-16′s scheduled for shipment to Israel were held back a few weeks. At the same time, President Reagan called Begin to assure him of his continued support.

“Technically,” Reagan would write years later, “Israel had violated an agreement not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge….but I sympathized with Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Begin survived the international firestorm of criticism and went on to win reelection. His defense of the raid was blunt and emotional.

“The Iraqis were preparing atomic bombs to drop on the children of Israel,” he told a gathering of foreign correspondents in Jerusalem several days after the attack.

“Haven’t you heard of one-and-a-half million little Jewish children who were thrown into the gas chambers? Another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people.

“Never again, never again. Tell your friends, tell anybody you meet, we shall defend our people with all the means at our disposal.”

Many of Begin’s critics in Israel would admit to having second thoughts in the weeks and months following the raid.

“Up to this point in time, the fact is that I was not right,” conceded Labor’s Mordechai Gur.

“It was a triumph, no diplomatic harm was caused and Israeli deterrence was reinforced,” said Abba Eban

Moshe Dayan may have put it best: “Not one Arab would shed a tear were Israel to vanish off the face of the map….To me, the raid was a positive action. Iraq was producing nuclear weapons against Israel, and we were obliged to defend ourselves.”

One Man’s Courage

It took the rest of the world a little more time to come to grips with Saddam Hussein, but few illusions remained by the time Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990.

In 1981 the Soviet Union had characterized the attack on Saddam’s reactor as ‘an act of gangsterism’; nine years later the Soviet chief of staff called Israel’s action understandable.

In the fall of 1990, as an American-led coalition of nations prepared for war with Iraq, then-U.S. defense secretary Dick Cheney publicly thanked the Israelis for their action.

Sadly, any recounting of the destruction of the Iraqi reactor cannot end on an altogether happy note. Menachem Begin left office in 1983 a broken man, grieving over the death of his wife and haunted by the high number of casualties suffered by Israel in its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He lived the last years of his life as a recluse, suffering a range of bodily ailments and rarely venturing out in public.

And yet, the story of the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor is, more than anything else, the story of Begin’s moral and political courage.

It is the story of a man who, as prime minister, disappointed many of his most fervent supporters by never quite living up to their expectations; a man who, in the estimation of many Israelis, would say all the right things before backing down to the likes of a Jimmy Carter or an Anwar Sadat.

But history shall forever show that when the choice came down to saving Jewish lives or avoiding worldwide condemnation, Menachem Begin rained fire from the skies of Baghdad - without apology.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Two Minutes Over Baghdad: The Day Israel Saved The World

Wednesday, January 30th, 2002

Originally posted September 18, 2002

Shortly after 5:30 p.m. on June 7, 1981, Israel saved the world from the threat of nuclear blackmail. In less than two minutes’ time, Israeli jets laid waste an atomic reactor on the outskirts of Baghdad, and so deprived a brutish dictator the potential for mass destruction.

The world was outraged.

Voices that had been silent for years, while Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein courted the feckless nations of the West in his quest for nuclear bombs, were suddenly raised in a chorus of indignation.

“We don’t think [Israel's] action serves the cause of peace in the area,” sniffed French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson, whose country had supplied Hussein the ill-fated reactor.

“Provocative, ill-timed and internationally illegal,” sobbed U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield.

“Armed attack in such circumstances cannot be justified; it represents a grave breach of international law,” scolded the usually sensible British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher,.

“Israel’s sneak attack…was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression,” snarled a New York Times editorial written by editorial page editor Max Frankel.

“[The attack] did severe damage to the hope in which Israel’s true security must lie: the hope of realistic relations with all its neighbors,” sermonized New York Times paleoliberal columnist Anthony Lewis.

“[Israel has] vastly compounded the difficulties of procuring a peaceful settlement of the confrontations in the Middle East,” sniped Time magazine.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it should be noted, expressed complete sympathy and solidarity with Iraq, and in fact helped push through a United Nations resolution condemning Israel for the attack on their good neighbor.

Innocent souls unschooled in the machinations of diplomatic flimflam were no doubt mystified by all the uproar.

After all, isn’t the act of separating a ruthless tyrant from a state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal a good thing?

Wasn’t Saddam Hussein, at the very time of the Israeli attack, a year into his bloody invasion of Iran?

And hadn’t Hussein worked long and hard to earn the nickname ‘Butcher of Baghdad’?

Certainly there was more than a touch of disingenuousness in the response to the destruction of the reactor - several countries had ties of their own to the Iraqi nuclear program, while some world leaders expressed approval of the Israeli action privately even as they denounced it publicly.

But how to explain the outcry from nations that had no stake in the success of Hussein’s nuclear development; nations that for the most part were located well beyond the bounds of Middle East double-talk?

And how to account for the negative reaction on the part of individuals and organizations usually given to shrill warnings about the dangers of nuclear proliferation?

The answer, it should be fairly obvious, lay with the source of the attack on the Iraqi reactor: Israel. More specifically still, the Israel of Menachem Begin.

From Underdog To Colossus

For years after its establishment, Israel enjoyed the support of the Western world’s opinion-making elites. The democracies, stuck in what appeared to be a no-win cold war with the Soviet Union, admired Israel’s fighting spirit, while socialist governments in non-Communist Europe felt a kinship with Israel’s ruling Labor party.

This widespread affinity for Israel crested with the 1967 Six-Day War. The media in the U.S. and Europe virtually celebrated Israel’s lightning victory, huge demonstrations on behalf of Israel were held in just about every Western capital and major city, and public figures from mayors to movie stars rushed to leap aboard the pro-Israel bandwagon.

But as Israel would find in the years to come, popular opinion is indeed as fickle a phenomenon as the cynics say it is. Israelis would also learn, rather quickly, that the media giveth and the media taketh away.

The portrayal of Israel in newsprint and on television, so positive in the years leading up to the Six-Day War, became increasingly negative thereafter. To many journalists, Israel was no longer an underdog deserving of support, but rather a military Colossus refusing to make peace with the weaker states in its neighborhood.

America’s prestige media (The New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek and the three television networks) had, by the late 1960′s, joined other elements of the nation’s liberal establishment in appropriating a good deal of the language and attitudes of the countercultural New Left.

As they grew increasingly opposed to America’s role in Vietnam, liberals were fast losing faith in all the old certainties. Any nation or movement claiming victimization at the hands of the U.S. or the West (and Israel was considered very much a part of the West) was almost guaranteed to win a place in liberal hearts.

It was hardly surprising, then, that by the mid-1970′s the media’s stock descriptions of Israel were ‘militaristic’ and ‘intransigent.’ The ‘plight of the Palestinians’ (another stock phrase of the era) was in; Israel was definitely out. Even the frequent terrorist operations mounted by the PLO and its offshoots did little to win back media support for Israel; the atrocities almost invariably were blamed on Israel’s so-called callous handling of the ‘Palestinian problem.’

Despite the media’s antagonism, however, polls continued to show that most Americans refused to be swayed and still favored Israel, by sizable margins, over its Arab enemies.

And, of course, Israel retained the near-unanimous support of American Jews and the various influential Jewish organizations.

Then came Begin.

By 1977 Israel had been under the governance of the Labor party for 29 years, going back to the founding of the state in 1948. But a series of scandals involving key Labor officials, coupled with a general sense that the country was adrift and rudderless, caused many Israelis to forgo traditional political attachments and turn to the opposition Likud bloc for answers.

Even with all that as backdrop, however, the election that May of Menachem Begin as prime minister set off shockwaves, both within Israel and around the world.

The quintessential outsider in Israeli politics since his days as head of the underground Irgun in the 1940′s, Begin was a man reviled by the Labor-friendly Israeli media. And it wasn?t just Begin’s right-wing ideology that had made him a pariah in Israel’s proper circles; his formal dress and courtly demeanor set him apart from the brash and decidedly informal image cultivated by Israeli leaders of his generation.

Most of all, though, it was Begin’s rhetoric – his unabashed references to Jewish history and his unembarrassed affirmations of Jewish destiny – that not only discomfited his political opponents in Israel, but downright frightened Hadassah ladies at lunch in the U.S.

The reaction of the American and European media to Begin’s ascension was one of initial disbelief followed by unremitting hostility.

Not even the 1979 peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt bought better press for Begin, who throughout the negotiations was derided as the ‘intransigent’ (that word again) stumbling block in the way of Anwar Sadat’s noble quest for peace.

Iraq Looks For Nukes

While the media were preoccupied with the threat to peace posed by Menachem Begin, one of Israel’s most militant antagonists was determinedly going about the business of building a nuclear bomb factory. For Saddam Hussein, procurement of an arsenal that could mean the destruction of Israel was a goal of the highest priority.

Iraq had never been reticent in displaying its animosity toward the Jewish state. When the Arab League organized an ‘Inter-Arab Command’ in the months before Israel’s birth, an Iraqi general was placed in charge, and at the conclusion of the first Arab-Israeli war, Iraq refused to sign an armistice - in stark contrast to the Arab front-line states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

More recently, nine Jews were hanged in Baghdad in 1969 on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel.

Iraq’s interest in nuclear technology dated back to 1959, when the Soviet Union, looking to expand its influence in the region, agreed to provide Baghdad with a reactor, enriched uranium and a team of scientists and engineers. After several delays – the Iraqis accused the Russians of dragging their feet – the reactor finally went operational in 1968.

Though the Soviets upgraded the reactor’s output (from two to five megawatts) three years later, to their credit they steadfastly refused to supply the Iraqis with any material that could have been used in the manufacture of nuclear bombs.

Iraq in the early 1970′s had come under the de facto control of Saddam Hussein, though officially Hussein was second in command to General Ahmed Hassan-al-Bakr. Described by those who knew him as ‘power hungry to the point of insanity,’ Hussein destroyed his political enemies, in the process raising the practice of torture to an art form. His stated goal was to take up the mantle of the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser as undisputed leader of the Arab world.

Possession of nuclear weapons was central to Hussein’s ambitions. But since the Soviets had unequivocally rejected the Iraqis’ requests on that score, the search was on for a country that might be more willing to deal. Fortunately for Hussein, his rap sheet of bloodshed and crazed megalomania meant nothing to the French, who loved to make new friends, particularly ones swimming in oil.

France Loves Saddam

Ironically, France had been Israel’s primary arms suppliers in the 1950′s and 60′s, but on the eve of the Six-Day War the French president, Charles de Gaulle, warned Israel against launching a preemptive strike. When Israel chose to ignore his advice, an insulted de Gaulle cut off all arms shipments.

Relations between Israel and France would grow even more strained under de Gaulle’s successors, Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d?Estang.

The mid-1970′s were notable for a flurry of diplomatic activity among French and Iraqi officials. In 1974 France’s foreign minister, Michel Jobert, went to Baghdad and pledged any assistance Iraq might need to build up its technological infrastructure.

“I am happy,” Jobert said in a toast to his Iraqi hosts, “?that your great country will now have the means to restore its past glory.”

Not to be outdone by Jobert’s groveling, the French prime minister, Jaques Chirac, paid a call on Saddam Hussein the following year and proclaimed the Iraqi dictator a ‘great statesman whose qualities will lead his people toward progress and national prosperity.’

It wasn’t long after Chirac’s visit that France agreed to build an Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq - strictly for ‘research’ purposes, both sides claimed.

‘Research’ was the last thing on Hussein’s agenda, and the Iraqi leader let it be known that he was in the market for a ‘hot cell’ - a piece of equipment that would enable Iraq to develop weapons-grade plutonium. The government of Italy proved eager to sell Iraq its badly-needed hot cell, and at that stage only the blind or the French could fail to see what Hussein had in mind.

All the while Israel had been keeping a wary eye on Iraq’s nuclear ambitions. When Begin took office in 1977, he stepped up behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent Iraq from becoming a nuclear threat. The U.S. was Begin’s best hope, but the administration of President Jimmy Carter, for all its talk of wishing to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, was less than energetic in pursuing the matter.

As Israel’s diplomatic efforts foundered, pressure of a different sort was brought to bear on the Iraqis. In April 1979, just days before the French were scheduled to ship the nearly completed reactor to Iraq, saboteurs infiltrated a warehouse near the port of Toulon and attempted to blow up the reactor’s core. Damage, however, was relatively minimal.

Fourteen months later, the head of Iraq’s nuclear program was killed in his Paris hotel room.

Israeli agents were believed to be responsible for both incidents.

Sabotage and assassination notwithstanding, work continued as planned on the Osirak reactor. By the autumn of 1980, Menachem Begin had concluded that Israel would have to take direct military action. As his military strategists set to work on a plan to take out the reactor, Begin kept up the diplomatic entreaties, all to no avail. The French insisted that Iraq’s intentions were of a purely peaceful nature.

Time To Act

In early 1981, the only question remaining for Begin was when to launch the attack on the reactor. Several times the operation was postponed when members of Begin’s cabinet voiced their concerns over how the U.S. would react to the attack.

For his part, Begin expected a sharp reaction from Washington, perhaps even a U.S. vote to condemn Israel in the U.N. But, he thought, it would all be so much window-dressing. Ronald Reagan was the American president, not Jimmy Carter, and Begin regarded Reagan and his secretary of state, Alexander Haig, as warm friends of Israel.

It was now the spring of 1981, and as he braced himself for the final decision to strike at Iraq, Begin faced yet another obstacle. He had informed Labor party leader Shimon Peres of the plan to bomb the reactor, and Peres, predictably, was vigorously opposed to the idea. So Begin knew the operation would bring strong reaction not only from the outside world, but from within Israel as well.

Clouding the situation even further, Israelis would be heading to the polls in just a few weeks. Begin, up for reelection, was locked in an extremely tight race with Peres and feared he would be accused of staging the raid as an election ploy. But he had an even greater fear - one that convinced him of the need to act before the election and a possible Peres victory.

“He really believed that Peres would never have the guts to order the raid,” said a Begin aide. “And Begin couldn?t bear the thought of Israel living in terror of an Iraqi bomb.”

There would be no more postponements. In the early afternoon hours of Sunday, June 7 – the eve of the festival of Shavuot – Israeli pilots went through one last rehearsal.

A little after 4 p.m., the planes took off from an airbase in southern Israel. The flying armada consisted of eight F-16 fighter jets, each carrying two 2,000-pound bombs; six F-14′s forming a protective escort; and several F-15′s with oversize tanks to provide mid-air refueling.

Begin summoned his cabinet to his home in Jerusalem. “Welcome, my friends,” he greeted the assembled group. “At this very moment our planes are approaching Baghdad.”

About an hour and a half later, Begin received the message he’d been anxiously awaiting. The operation was a total success and the planes were on their way home.

“Baruch Hashem (Praise G-d),” Begin exclaimed. “What wonderful boys we have.”

Begin?s boys had flown undetected through hundreds of miles of Arab air space and dropped 16 tons of TNT, crushing the reactor?s dome and flattening the main building.

“The precision of the bombing,” marveled a French technician who viewed the wreckage, “was stupefying.”

Tell Anybody You Meet

In Israel, news of the raid set off an atmosphere of euphoria not felt since the 1976 Entebbe rescue. As expected, the Labor opposition was highly critical of the operation and its timing, but the criticism was quickly toned down once Peres and his colleagues realized how out of sync they seemed with the mood in the street.

The U.S. reacted much the way Begin thought it would. The Reagan administration voted to condemn Israel in the U.N., and a few F-16′s scheduled for shipment to Israel were held back a few weeks. At the same time, President Reagan called Begin to assure him of his continued support.

“Technically,” Reagan would write years later, “Israel had violated an agreement not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge….but I sympathized with Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Begin survived the international firestorm of criticism and went on to win reelection. His defense of the raid was blunt and emotional.

“The Iraqis were preparing atomic bombs to drop on the children of Israel,” he told a gathering of foreign correspondents in Jerusalem several days after the attack.

“Haven’t you heard of one-and-a-half million little Jewish children who were thrown into the gas chambers? Another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people.

“Never again, never again. Tell your friends, tell anybody you meet, we shall defend our people with all the means at our disposal.”

Many of Begin’s critics in Israel would admit to having second thoughts in the weeks and months following the raid.

“Up to this point in time, the fact is that I was not right,” conceded Labor’s Mordechai Gur.

“It was a triumph, no diplomatic harm was caused and Israeli deterrence was reinforced,” said Abba Eban

Moshe Dayan may have put it best: “Not one Arab would shed a tear were Israel to vanish off the face of the map….To me, the raid was a positive action. Iraq was producing nuclear weapons against Israel, and we were obliged to defend ourselves.”

One Man’s Courage

It took the rest of the world a little more time to come to grips with Saddam Hussein, but few illusions remained by the time Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990.

In 1981 the Soviet Union had characterized the attack on Saddam’s reactor as ‘an act of gangsterism’; nine years later the Soviet chief of staff called Israel’s action understandable.

In the fall of 1990, as an American-led coalition of nations prepared for war with Iraq, then-U.S. defense secretary Dick Cheney publicly thanked the Israelis for their action.

Sadly, any recounting of the destruction of the Iraqi reactor cannot end on an altogether happy note. Menachem Begin left office in 1983 a broken man, grieving over the death of his wife and haunted by the high number of casualties suffered by Israel in its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He lived the last years of his life as a recluse, suffering a range of bodily ailments and rarely venturing out in public.

And yet, the story of the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor is, more than anything else, the story of Begin’s moral and political courage.

It is the story of a man who, as prime minister, disappointed many of his most fervent supporters by never quite living up to their expectations; a man who, in the estimation of many Israelis, would say all the right things before backing down to the likes of a Jimmy Carter or an Anwar Sadat.

But history shall forever show that when the choice came down to saving Jewish lives or avoiding worldwide condemnation, Menachem Begin rained fire from the skies of Baghdad - without apology.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Caveat Emptor

Friday, June 22nd, 2001
There’s a new book out that, due to its subject matter, is certain to attract the interest of many a Monitor reader. Be warned, however, that the book in question – “Irreconcilable Differences” The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair with Israel? – is a truly awful piece of work, hardly worth the time and effort of anyone who doesn’t get paid to review such a wretched endeavor.  Not, mind you, that the Monitor fails to recognize the need for a book that takes an intelligent, comprehensive and objective look at the evolving relationship between Israel and American Jews. Unfortunately, “intelligent, comprehensive and objective” is not the type of book that Steven T. Rosenthal, an associate professor of history at the University of Hartford, has written.What he’s given us instead is a tendentious, sloppy, error-filled volume that fast-forwards through a century’s worth of history, with particular emphasis on the years 1977-2000. That he does it all in just 197 pages should in itself serve as something of a red flag; a topic this rich and complex would seem to require more than a Cliff’s Notes level of treatment.

Where to begin with this mess? You want mistakes? Rosenthal makes plenty of them, leaving one to wonder whether any knowledgeable person at Brandeis University Press actually read the manuscript before its publication.

What is there to say about a history professor who repeatedly misspells the names of Nahum Goldmann – a central figure in Zionist history – and Elie Wiesel – surely one of the most famous Jews alive today – throughout his book?

And what is one to think of a history professor who throughout his text botches the name of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations? It certainly is a mouthful of a name, but the organization it belongs to does, after all, play a seminal role in the story Rosenthal purports to tell.Or how about a history professor who in one part of his book incorrectly places the signing of the Oslo accords in October 1993, while in another part correctly places it in September of that year? A history professor who has the historic mass expulsion of Palestinians from Jordan into Lebanon taking place in 1971, when in fact it occurred in 1970?Beyond his carelessness with facts, Rosenthal makes some claims that are questionable at best, as when he describes Menachem Begin as having been “personally Orthodox.” (Begin did have an abiding appreciation for Jewish customs and culture, but to call him “Orthodox” is such a stretch that it almost constitutes an assault on truth.)

Rosenthal’s lack of objectivity is one more factor that renders this book an exercise in futility. It’s one thing to present so slanted a version of history if one is writing a polemic on behalf of one position or another, but this book is billed as a “full-scale examination of the nature and development of the American Jewish response to Israel.”Just how unsubtle is Rosenthal’s subjectivity? Let’s see: he simplistically describes Vladimir Jabotinsky as someone who “emphasized the importance of power over morality”; he decries what he calls Israel’s “troubling growth of racism embodied in Menachem Begin’s reference to Palestinians as “beasts with two legs” (never mind that Begin was in fact referring to PLO terrorists); and he swooningly describes the first intifada as perhaps “the most important event in the past twenty-five years of Israeli history….that the rioters could not be intimidated was unprecedented. Troops sent to put them down faced stones and rocks thrown by otherwise unarmed teenagers, who refused to disperse and bared their chests, daring the soldiers to shoot them.”And so goes the tone of this one-sided tract masquerading as straight history. But then, if straight history were what this book’s publishers really wanted, Rosenthal was never suited to the task. As he recently admitted to an interviewer at Salon.com, “in an Israeli context, I would be in the “Peace Now” camp.” Now he tells us.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/caveat-emptor-3/2001/06/22/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: