Two days after the Israeli raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, Menachem Begin called the Rev. Jerry Falwell (collect, I hope) to ask him to explain to the American public the reasons for the raid. He said it was defensive. He said the time for the raid had been carefully chosen, but he did not say why he chose to communicate to the American people through someone who is an anathema to American liberals.
He didn't have to. The two are religious primitives. They both look to the Scriptures to justify Israeli policies, indeed for justification for the state's very existence. To Begin, the Jews are special people and to Falwell they are the same -- "chosen." That a religious Jew and a fundamentalist Protestant could agree on such a matter might seem wonderful. It isn't. It is similar to examples of the anti-Semite and his victim, the Jew, seeing eye to eye: the Jew is special.
I do not mean by this that Falwell is an anti-Semite. What he is, though, is someone who subscribes to the theory that Jews are special. They are, in this view, special not because of their history or their culture or their religion, but because of an almost inherent specialness. To a religious man like Falwell, this specialness is based on the Bible: "We believe that God very clearly promised Abraham a blessing for those who bless Israel and a curse for those who curse Israel. aI take that as literally as I take John 3:16 in the New Testament." So says Jerry Falwell.
Menachem Begin's view is remarkably similar. He, too, is always turning to the Bible to justify Israeli policy. The West Bank to him is the old Biblical territories of Judea and Samaria, part of the old Israel and therefore, he thinks, part of the new Israel. That more than a thousand years has elapsed seems to mean nothing to him -- and to him it really does mean nothing. He is talking, after all, of God's covenant with Israel and in that context a thousand years is a tick on the clock.
There is something profoundly sad about all this. It is sad because the Begin-Falwell axis is just the latest indication that under Begin Israel is in danger of losing its liberal constituency and becoming the darling of the right wing in America and right wing regimes abroad. Life is complex and it is always hard to say how things begin, but the fact remains that Israel maintains close relationships with two of this planet's most repressive right-wing regimes -- South Africa and Argentina -- selling them both arms and, in the case of South Africa, nuclear expertise.
There are reasons for this, some of them having to do with the choices left by an almost knee-jerk antipathy towards Israel. But the fact remains that the very state that likes to think of itself as speaking for world Jewry sells arms to the torturers of Jacobo Timerman and the oppressors of black people. This is an ugly little corner Israel has found itself in -- an ugly corner with ugly friends.
And now in this country, the spokensman for Israel has become the Rev. Mr. Falwell. It is he who gets the call from Menachem Begin and as far as the Israeli Embassy here knew, it just might be the only call to an American private citizen that Begin has made. Begin must think of Falwell as his trump card, his leverage with the Reagan administration. He apparently thinks that the American New Right is, not counting the American-Jewish community, Israel's best friend in this country.
Maybe he is right. And maybe he thinks that he has no choice -- that once again he has to do what is best for Israel. This is the justification for selling arms to Argentina (and before that to Nicaragua) and for helping the South Africans play around with atomic bombs. But the end result is an Israel that loses its moral bearings, which stands for nothing more than mere survival and survival at any cost and by any means.
In the end, this isolates Israel. In this country, its new-found friends in the Christian New Right speak for people who have long been hostile to American Jews, American liberalism and American pluralism and who support Israel for all the wrong reasons. Abroad, the picture is similar. In short order, Menachem Begin will learn that he has driven away Israel's true friends, leaving him with only his new ones. And with friends like that, who needs enemies.