A matter of age
In 1977 we had been living in Orlando for less than two years. We had moved from Cleveland and seen a great city begin its slow slide out of greatness. We were active Zionists, frequent visitors to Israel and personal friends of one of the founders of the State, Menachem Begin, who at the time was head of the Herut political party. What the Brits would call a “back bencher,” Begin was in the minority party.
However, we awoke one morning in 1977 to the news that Begin had been elected prime minister of Israel and was forming a coalition, which would become Likud, the party that now has Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. The U.S. government was stunned, as were we.
We immediately called the Begin home to say mazel tov and to wish him the best. Rachel told him “Remember, Menachem, I told you when we met nine years ago that one day …” and so it came to pass.
Over the years we met the Begins at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, in New York when they visited on official business and once even at our home in Cleveland. Perhaps the most dramatic time was in 1978 when the Begins were at Camp David for that grueling negotiation with Anwar Sadat overseen by President Jimmy Carter.
Aliza Begin, Menachem’s wife, called us from Camp David to report that A, she was bored and B, it seemed Carter wanted to discuss Scripture with the prime minister more than the nitty gritty of a peace accord. The next time we picked up the phone a bunch of weird clicks convinced us that the phone was bugged. And continued to be that way for about 90 days.
The next time we were together, I asked the prime minister about his discussions with the president and his view of the man. “What!” He exclaimed. “He doesn’t even read a newspaper. The man has no overall view of the world.” Well, yeah, it was an opinion. But look at the former president’s latest statement.
He claims that Israel intends to make every citizen of Israel a Jew before they are eligible to live there. Why and where did he come up with this ridiculous idea? Could it be because Israel, as it has been since before Netanyahu, since before Begin—even before Ben Gurion—is the Jewish Homeland, home of the Jews? This has nothing to do with citizenship and it has never been so. The Jewish Nation is perhaps the most inclusive nation on earth outside the United States. Arabs are citizens of the Jewish State. People, regardless of religion or ethnic background, born in the Jewish State are citizens. They are not all Jews. Not all Jewish.
Do you know that if your grandfather and father were not born in Malaysia you cannot be a citizen of that country? Say your grandfather and grandmother emigrated from China. They gave birth to your mother who married a Chinese born in Malaysia of Chinese parents. You cannot become a citizen even though you are second generation Malay. No so in Israel.
Carter is not and never has been a friend to Israel. Sadat wanted the Sinai out of the talks. He got it. Begin wanted a peace treaty with Egypt. After Camp David, Sadat came to Jerusalem and a treaty was signed. It has been a cold peace, but outside of a few brush ups, and none with the Egyptian army, it has been a peace.
Carter and Begin met again in Georgia years later. Begin told us it was pleasant and he kept it that way. But Carter is getting old now. Yes, he builds houses with Habitat for Humanity. But Begin said “the man does not even read a newspaper.” If he does today, he either is reading the wrong one or misreading what he sees.
Perhaps it is age. But to state that everyone who lives in Israel must be a Jew? We make it really tough for anyone to become a Jew. Moving to Israel alone won’t do it. To become a Baptist like Carter I dunno. Maybe it’s easier.
Look, in the long run, it does not look like Obama is going to go down in history as a great friend of the Jewish State. Bush 41 and his Secretary of State Jim Baker were certainly no friends of Israel. Reagan was a lot more interested in Gorbochav than he was in Israel and the Palestinians. Bill Clinton did his damnedest to get Yassir Arafat to sign a deal where Netanyahu damn near gave away the store and Arafat lost another opportunity.
Two State Solution? Not with Gaza in the hands of Hamas. Not with the kind of pre-conditions Abbas wants. What is needed is serious, dedicated people and an open forum. Senile homebuilders like Jimmy Carter are not helping with their misreading of news stories.