Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Peretz Trusts His Memory - Which Failed Him

Marty Peretz, now a blogger at and the former editor of The New Republic, has commented in his blog on the Begin vs. Biden confrontation.

He has written:

Biden's Good Enough for Me

John dispensing all kinds of insidious bits of gossip, not at this point about Barack Obama but about Joe Biden...There's a quote from an angry Menahem Begin but only a vague allusion to what Biden is said to have said to the Israeli prime minister. The entire story comes from another story by the former editor of Ma'ariv, an Israeli newspaper, in another Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post. in 1992. Where, for God's sakes, is a citation from the official records of the committee hearings?

The committee meetings, however, were supposed to have taken place not in 1992 but ten years earlier, in 1982, exactly 26 years ago. Is it likely that a nasty exchange between the prime minister of Israel and a distinguished Democratic senator would not have been noticed? By anyone, by me, for example? Biden is alleged to have threatened to cut economic aid to Israel if the building of West Bank settlements was not curtailed...

Mr. Peretz has suggested, or implied, that the exchange between Senator Biden and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, as retold in John Podhoretz's Commentary blog, based on Moshe Zak's retelling, never took place. Peretz writes: "Is it likely that a nasty exchange between the prime minister of Israel and a distinguished Democratic senator would not have been noticed? By anyone, by me, for example? "

Well, Peretz is wrong.

If Marty would refer to the official documents record of Israel's Foreign Ministry (here) he can read there how Begin recounted in a public press conference the following:

After that 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. Sometimes, just as all the wars of the world have shown, sometimes there are casualties among the civilian population as well. But it is forbidden to aspire to this. This is a yardstick of human civilization, not to hurt civilians. We did not want to hurt civilians under any circumstances. Behold, the Minister of Defense is standing here, our Chief of Staff, army officers -they will all testify before you that the first question that we Cabinet ministers asked in regard to any plan is: Where are the civilians? And we never approved a plan knowing that civilians would be hurt directly or on purpose. Unintentionally, that can happen. It must not be denied.

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. The argument went approximately thus. True an argument I would call... "a-lively discussion" (said in English - ed.); I have no immediate translation now for this English expression that is used in Washington. But I am sure that this argument as well was very helpful.

True, Biden is not mentioned by name but in addition to that report by Mr. Begin, both the New York Times and TIME Magazine mentioned Sen. Biden specifically by name:

New York Times, June 23, 1982:

At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, however, both Mr. Begin and several senators were said by participants at the meeting to have been bristling with anger….The bitterest exchange was said to have been between Mr. Begin and Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, who told the Israeli leader that he was not critical of the Lebanon operation but felt that Israel had to halt the policy of establishing new Jewish settlements in the West Bank….

After the meeting, Mr. Begin said: ”I enjoyed the session very much. I believe in liberty, that free men should freely discuss problems and if they have differences of opinion they should voice them in sincerity.”

”I said it was a lively discussion,” he said. ”If you want to use other adjectives. …” He paused, then said, ”Lively is enough.”

New York Times, June 24, 1982:

Reporting on his meetings with the members of Congress, Mr. Begin said one of the senators had threatened to cut off aid if Israel continued creating settlements in the West Bank. The senator is reported to have been Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware,

Mr. Begin cited the incident to give voice to a feeling that is held in his entourage - that Israel has rendered military service to the United States in battle-testing American arms.

”Sir, do not threaten us with cutting aid,” Mr. Begin said, in recounting his reply. ”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.”

Will Peretz announce a public mea culpa?

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