U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk, still seething at a two-week-old slur, ran into his accuser Thursday and fixed him with a glare. According to Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party member of Israel's legislature, this is what happened next:
"The last time someone called me a Jew boy," Indyk said, harking back to school days in Australia, "I was 15 years old and he got a punch in the face."
A right-wing legislator, Rehavam Zeevi, had indeed called Indyk a yehudon -- Hebrew invective translated variously as "Jew boy," "yid," or "kike" -- at a parliamentary caucus late last month. He looked up from his seat at a memorial service for the late Yitzhak Rabin and glared back at Indyk. "Try me," Zeevi replied. Then, taunting Indyk, he added distinctly: "yehudon, yehudon."
Zeevi, a retired general who is chief of the ultranationalist Moledet (Homeland) party, apparently meant to say that Indyk, the first Jewish U.S. ambassador here, betrayed his coreligionists by pressuring the Israeli government for concessions in peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Zeevi's political platform, the most extreme of any party in the parliament, calls for expulsion of Arabs from the West Bank to make room for Jews.
Sneh, who witnessed the exchange, said Indyk looked agitated. It crossed his mind, Sneh said, that the two men might come to blows at the ceremony, just two seats away from Israel's chief rabbi, and yards from Leah Rabin, the slain prime minister's widow.
"I'm not a psychologist," Sneh said, "but it seems to me the ambassador used the utmost of his self-restraint not to do it."
"You are a disgrace to the state of Israel," Indyk replied to Zeevi.
"And you," Zeevi shot back in English, "are a son of a bitch."
At the urging of fellow legislator Binyamin Ben Eliezer and Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Zeevi approached Indyk at the end of the ceremony and muttered, "I apologize." Indyk looked at him, said, "Fine," and walked away.
Zeevi had refused to apologize two weeks ago after sharp criticism from the Anti-Defamation League and from Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh. Indyk could have ignored Zeevi's presence but he told friends he did not think he should let the incident pass.
"I'm not interested in getting into the details," Indyk said in a telephone interview tonight, "but what's important here is that a member of the Knesset, leader of a political party, is attacking with an antisemitic slur the representative of the United States in Israel."