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Not Exactly Elevating the Debate

Rehavam Zeevi, probably the most extreme member of an Israeli government that has never been famous for its moderation, charges that President Bush is an anti-Semite or, as he later amended the allegation, “very close to it.” What is the basis for this insulting characterization? Well, the President of the United States has asked Congress to delay, for four months, taking action on Israel’s request for $10 billion in immigrant housing loan guarantees. That has aroused the fury of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and prompted an all-out effort by Israel’s supporters to lobby Congress.

This is all that has been needed for one Israeli official to conclude that Bush’s action can be explained only by vicious personal bias. Bush wants to do something the government of Israel opposes. It therefore follows that Bush is an enemy of Israel. And being an enemy of Israel, in Zeevi’s mind, Bush must also be hostile to all Jews, everywhere.

As always when such offensive comments are made, the source must be considered. Zeevi is one of two Knesset members of Moledet, a party infamous for its loathsome proposal that all Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank should be uprooted and banished. What is this man doing in the government of a country that likes to describe itself as the Middle East’s only democracy? He was invited in by Shamir earlier this year, as minister without portfolio, solely for the purpose of strengthening the government’s political base by nailing down a few more right-wing votes.

Shamir’s courtship of Moledet provoked considerable disgust and anger in Israel. Unfortunately, Zeevi’s statement--made in a closed Cabinet meeting and then deliberately leaked by one of his aides--seems to have elicited neither anger nor a rebuke from Shamir. The closest the government came to dissociating itself from Zeevi’s view was a comment from Defense Minister Moshe Arens that Zeevi “does not reflect major opinion within the Israeli government or . . . Israel itself.” Though welcome, that response is likely to be regarded by many as something less than a stinging repudiation.

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Zeevi’s allegation comes at a tense and delicate period in America’s usually close relationship with Israel. At a time when calm and quiet diplomacy are most needed, it has released more poison into the political atmosphere.


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