Last night, President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron and more than a thousand representatives and friends of U.S. labor were on hand as AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland received Israel's Golda Meir Leadership Award. The band played "Hail to the Chief" for the president, and "Mr. Wonderful" for Kirkland, but the evening's real theme was a hearfelt, if unsung, "Solidarity Forever" -- between the state of Israel, American labor, and the cause of human rights.

"I have to admit that the applause sounds better than it did a year ago," said Carter, flashing his famous grin as the audience rose to greet him.

"Golda Meir could get to the heart of a matter, and so can Lane Kirkland" Kirkland," the president said, praising the union president and American labor's "unswerving" support of Israel.

"He sees what is essential and what is not . . . what is negotiable and what cannot be negotiated," said Carter. That, he said, is something that many people in Western Europe and the Untied States "still do not see, and that is the profound significance of the issue of human rights."

The occasion was a dinner at the Washington Hilton hosted by the Israel Bonds Organization, which was formed in 1951 to sell securities issued by the Israeli government to aid the nation's economic development, and which has, according to one of its officials, Itzhack Ragar, sold more than $5 billion dollars' worth of securities since its inception, a good deal of which has come from American labor unions. The crowd included Sens. Alan Cranston and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Teamsters President Frank Fritzsimmons.

Labor did not disappoint the Israel Bonds Organization last night, either. "I would like to present our second million-dollar purchase," said John DeConcini, president of the American Bakery Confectionery Workers' International Union. He wasn't the only one, although not everyone made presentations from the microphone. The Bond Organization announced earlier that it had sold $13.5 million in Israel Bonds and other securities in connection with the dinner to honor Kirkland.

And are they a good investment? "Well," said Richard O'Hara, a labor lawyer seated at a table with his law partner, "they're tied to the prime rate. That's about three times better than U.S. bonds." He thought a moment. "They're tied to the fortunes of the Israeli government, and I'm sure that as long there's a United States, there'll be an Israel."

Kirkland echoed Carter's sentiments on American support for Israel, and condemned those whose efforts to seek peace in the Middle East are guided by what he called "the gods of oil and money."

Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, president of the Randolph Institute and the Black Americans to Support Israel Committee, sat with labor leaders and explained why he had come. "Israel is the only state in the Middle East that is a democracy. My own freedom is challenged if Israel is not permitted to be a democratic state," he said, raising and gathering his walking stick and gray gloves.

"It was Abraham the Jew who taught us there is one God, and all men are brothers."