The Israeli Embassy opened its doors last night to more than 1,000 guests in commemoration of its 35th year of independence, a day dominated by the sadness of yet another Mideast terrorist bombing.
"It's sad, it's sickening," said Egyptian Ambassador Ashraf Ghorbal of yesterday's bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed at least 32 people.
"We need to move fast and positively before there is any more killing. We cannot get into recriminations and name-calling anymore. The Mideast can't afford it. We have seen what Egypt and Israel have done. Why can't we just widen it?"
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Charles Percy (R-Ill.) said that although the bombing killed at least six Americans, U.S. troops will remain in Beirut. "Our policy won't change one iota," said Percy. "I disagree with my colleague Sen. Barry Goldwater R-Ariz. who called for withdrawal of American troops . . . We will not deviate from our commitment to bring peace to that territory."
Divided into two separate receptions that lasted from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., the anniversary party overflowed with representatives from Washington's Jewish community, who stood around buffet tables crowded with kosher snacks of corned beef, turkey and the ever-present cocktail meatball.
At a time when U.S.-Israeli relations are less than perfect, the highest-ranking administration official present appeared to be Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler. She declined comment on any aspect of the Mideast situation saying, "It's not my field."
But notables with as divergent perspectives as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Moral Majority leader the Rev. Jerry Falwell seemed to share a common distaste for the Reagan administration's decision not to sell F16 fighter planes to Israel until the Israelis move their troops out of Lebanon.
"Our refusal at this moment to sell the jets to Israel is a mistake," said Falwell. "I feel Israel is our only true friend in the Mideast . . ."
Not even the Reagan administration's decision Sunday to allow Israel to buy American-designed components for its new Lavi fighter-bomber was seen as major step forward.
"I don't think we're going to get anywhere tampering with this arms deal and that arms deal," said Kennedy. "We need to set up a process, and Camp David is that process. We need to get back to the Camp David accords."
"This whole things with the F16s is just silly," said Rep. Mark Siljander (R-Mich.). "It's the wrong way to pressure Israel. It's playing games. We all know that eventually the jets are going to be sold . . . This is not the way to do it."
In the 12 months since its last Independence Day celebration, Israel's image has suffered in America because of the country's invasion of Lebanon and the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps, which forced the resignation of Ariel Sharon as defense minister.
Last year at this time, the country was celebrating Egypt's withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.
"All the polls show that support for Israel is stronger here than it was before the war," said Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Embassy's minister of affairs, who has been acting as ambassador until the arrival of Meir Rosenne, now the Israeli envoy in France.
"There is no question we have had a hard time," said Netanyahu. "Of course, Israel is free. But freedom doesn't mean that you don't fight for that freedom. It means the opposite. You have to fight for it. We have had to fight to maintain our freedom for 35 years."