No matter what happens at home, all will be quiet on the embassy front.
Those seem to be the unwritten orders to every diplomat whose country has been catapulted into crisis or sudden change.
And so it is with Israel.
At 6 a.m. Sunday Victor Harel, press counselor at the Israeli embassy, was awakened at his Maryland home by a phone call informing him that the prime minister of his country had announced he would resign.
Though he was surprised, there wasn't much time to dwell on it. Four hours later, Harel was accompanying Israeli Ambassador Meir Rosenne to an interview with David Brinkley on Brinkley's Sunday morning show.
Thus began the typical embassy routine--rounds of interviews and statements that all will function normally. In fact, it seemingly becomes the task of the embassy to assure that.
At the Israeli embassy yesterday afternoon Harel, 38, turned off his radio connection into the embassy's short-wave radio, which picks up Israeli news stations. The final word on whether Prime Minister Menachem Begin would truly hold to the resignation he announced Sunday was still not in, and Harel sighed gently as he settled back in his chair, fingering his silver letter opener. He regularly listens to the Israeli news. Nothing unusual, he insisted. "On the hour we listen to the radio," Harel said, "because we know that in Israel there is always news."
The requests for interviews come constantly. At 6:45 yesterday morning, Ambassador Rosenne was in the embassy's television studio preparing for a long-distance interview with the "Today" show. ABC's "Nightline" also had inquired about an interview.
The telephone calls come constantly, too--from the Jewish community, from journalists, from "friends of Israel." If any enemies of Israel or any cranks call, Harel wouldn't know. All his calls are screened.
The security--as usual--was tight and comprehensive at the Israeli Embassy. At the entrance to the sleek, modern building, near UDC's Van Ness campus, a uniformed guard meets you in the outer lobby. Once you are buzzed in from the lobby, you pass through a thick door into another tiny room, where a staff member behind a glass window asks, "Are you carrying any weapons? Mace? A gun? A knife?" Nothing unusual here--visitors are often asked these questions.
"We are trying to explain," said Harel, "the legal and constitutional aspects: If Begin resigns, what will happen next?"
Ask Harel if he knows Begin and he will point proudly to a picture on his wall showing his last meeting with the prime minister--in July of 1982, he sat in a living room at the Watergate with Begin and the president of Costa Rica. Harel, who speaks fluent Spanish and was previously stationed in Mexico, served as translator.
But ask him to shed light on Begin's announcement to resign and Harel reveals little. "He was, of course, in much pain since the passing away of his wife," he said, "but if he is going to resign, I don't really know the reason."
Nor does he reveal any hint of loyalty or disloyalty to Begin: "That's not the way it works in Israel," he said. "We develop our loyalty to the country of Israel and every elected government serves the best."
Said another Israeli embassy official, "I don't see people walking around worrying about the future of their jobs."
Whatever personal feelings are there, Harel will not divulge them. "Frankly, we are proud of being civil servants," he said. "Most of us have served under other governments . . . We represent the elected government of Israel and only the electorate can decide what that should be. We are proud of our democratic system in Israel . . ."
That was a theme which recurred in comments from spokesmen for Jewish organizations yesterday.
An official of the American Israel Public Affairs Commission (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, declined to comment on the Begin announcement, saying, "It's an internal affair and democracy at work."
"I'm happy to say that, again, we're reminded about the basic democratic process of that country," said Hyman Bookbinder, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee. "Nobody worries if the government will topple or if there will be assassinations."
In this country, said Bookbinder, "among Jews and non-Jews, you have a spectrum of reactions. If you were an ardent supporter of Begin, you're experiencing some pain and apprehension about what will happen and what continuity there will be. If you've been dubious about some of his policies, you see opportunity for change. But it would be wrong to assume there will be significant changes in Israel. Begin's policies are accepted by more Israelis than Begin himself is--the need for security, not dealing with the PLO . . . These are supported by the majority of Israelis."