Opinion

Netanyahu, stay true to Begin’s legacy

Today, Israel again finds its sovereignty threatened, not by its enemies but by its allies.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin delivering a speech at the White House in July 1977. Credit: Sa'ar Ya'acov/GPO.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin delivering a speech at the White House in July 1977. Credit: Sa'ar Ya'acov/GPO.
Guy Goldstein
Guy Goldstein is a sales and marketing consultant by day and a passionate Zionist by night.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has finally secured an invitation to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden. While the press announcements at the end of their recent long overdue phone call sound positive, there are no concrete signs of a reduction in tensions with the White House. Thus far, Biden has continued to pressure Netanyahu into changing internal policy decisions. 

To those familiar with Israel’s history, this reminds us of a lesson worth remembering.

In 1982, Menachem Begin was Israel’s prime minister. He had already won a Nobel Prize for the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty and been condemned by the international community for Israel’s unilateral attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor. In other words, Begin had a bit of a reputation.

Begin was very familiar with unrestrained Jew-hatred. His experience turned him into a staunch Zionist, influenced by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism. Begin’s commitment to the sovereignty and security of Israel was the foundation of his diplomacy and foreign policy.

Also in 1982, an ambitious Democratic senator from Delaware was looking to make a name for himself on the American political landscape. 

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. had a seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, and he and Begin were destined to go head-to-head. 

Biden suggested using American aid as leverage to dictate Israeli domestic and foreign policy. This set the stage for Begin’s unequivocal response:

“Don’t threaten us with cutting off your aid. It will not work. I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history. Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and ovens. Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country. We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it. We will stand by our principles. We will defend them. And, when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid.”

The confrontation marked a turning point in U.S.-Israel relations, with the ideological divide between Begin and Biden defining the ongoing struggle between national autonomy and international influence that would come to define Israel’s political challenges for the next 50 years.

Today, Israel again finds its autonomy, sovereignty and even territorial integrity threatened, not by its enemies but by its allies. 

Once again, Joe Biden, not as a young senator but as the president of the United States, seeks to utilize U.S. support for Israel to extract substantial concessions from Israel’s leaders.

In the past, under the government led by Yair Lapid, the Biden administration managed to exert pressure on Israel that forced it to cede billions of dollars in natural resources to Lebanon, a state that remains at war with Israel.

In the early days of Netanyahu’s latest administration, the U.S. established the Sharm el-Sheikh security summit, including the Palestinian Authority in a regional security discussion with the Abraham Accords countries. Consequently, the Biden administration urged the Israeli government to soften its security measures against Palestinians. Despite being contrary to the coalition’s election promises, the security concessions were made, resulting in a wave of terror in which dozens of Israelis lost their lives.

Currently, the Biden administration is pressuring the Israeli government on its own domestic policy. The administration started with making demands about the nature of the current coalition and its ministers. Following this, the administration made veiled threats about potential changes in the U.S.-Israel relationship if the government passes controversial judicial reforms. Finally, crossing diplomatic boundaries, the White House issued a statement urging Israel’s government to “respect the right to protest,” implying it had not been doing so for the past 29 weeks.

During the Obama administration’s term in office, Netanyahu proved capable of standing up to U.S. pressure. Today, with Biden seeking to interfere with Israel’s sovereignty once more, Begin’s unwavering commitment to that sovereignty should guide Netanyahu’s response. As an ardent Zionist, the prime minister must adhere to Begin’s legacy.

Indeed, Begin’s steadfast defense of Israeli sovereignty is more than a lesson from history. It is a mandate for Netanyahu and anyone who deems themselves worthy of leading Israel. It demands a firm commitment to national sovereignty, assertive diplomacy and a resolute stance against international pressure.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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