Behind the Headlines Israel Immersed in Watergate Hearings

In this weekend’s Haaretz magazine, the paper’s cartoonist, “Zeev” devotes an entire page to a reproduction to the famous sculpture of ancient Greece, the Laocoon group. Instead of Laocoon flanked by his two sons, the central figure in Zeev’s drawing is a harrassed looking President Nixon, and the two figures flanking him are – of course – H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. They are struggling not with the coiling, snaking, mythical serpent – but with spools and spools of recording tape.

They are thoroughly enmeshed in the tape, struggling to tear it apart and break out. Sam Ervin Jr. is at bottom right, headphones on, waiting to plug in and hear the recordings. At bottom left is an obviously worried Dr. Henry Kissinger, holding a spool labelled “international relations” and apparently wondering whether this can get a good hearing.

The work is merely entitled “Laoconixon”. There is no caption, for a caption is unnecessary. All Israeli newspaper readers – and most Israelis are avid newspaper readers – are thoroughly familiar with the twists and turns of the Water-gate affair. It is rarely off the front pages, and the new revelations daily lead off the radio news bulletins.

Israel television has for some reason – perhaps cost – been sparing in its screening of videotape of the actual hearings, but Jordan TV has shown it plentifully and most Israelis can pick up Jordan as well as Israel.

This deep and widespread consciousness of Watergate has manifested itself in many ways. That indefatigable Knesseter Uri Avneri nowadays applies the terms “Israel’s Watergate” to any aspect of the governments record he happens to be criticizing. Thus the allegation that a civil servant, Abraham Aharonson, ran a private detective agency and acted as Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir’s political sleuth when he should have been working for the Education Ministry was dubbed “Israel’s Watergate”. And, nearer the mark this time, the allegation that a newspaper reporter’s telephone had been tapped by the Shin Bet was another “Israeli Watergate” for Avneri.

INFLUENCE ON ISRAELI EXPOSURES

The gradual but relentless exposure of Watergate by the Washington Post has had a marked influence on Israel’s leading daily, Haaretz. Already last year Haaretz ventured into the field of investigative reporting with a fine series on organized crime in Israel. After Watergate broke, the paper’s top political correspondent, Dan Margalit, teamed up with one of its Knesset reporters, Matti Golan, to embark on an Evans-Novak or Jack Andersontype column named, “The Government In Action”.

Apart from the Aharonson episode which Golan apparently picked up in the Knesset lobbies. and some vain efforts to discredit the “Sapir Fund”, the two have not yet had much to show for their investigations. Nevertheless, this style of snoopy journalism will doubtless spread to other papers, and will in time have its effect on governmental behavior, which is all to the good. These are interesting phenomena, but they do not indicate a hard look on the part of Israeli public opinion, in the light of Watergate, at the governmental system in this country. And the reasons are clear enough.

First, most Israelis believe that since the country is in a virtual state of war the government ought to have large powers to act in the interests of national security. Thus, when the irate newsman whose phone had been tapped wrote a series of articles decrying the fact there was no law to control official tapping – he raised hardly a ripple.

Opposition Knesseters who took up the issue elicited the laconic agreement of the justice minister that there ought to be a law, but there was by no means the kind of groundswell of public protest which could force the government to legislate. To the extent that Watergate reflects the dangers of too excessive executive power. Israeli public opinion is not drawing a parallel.

ISRAEL MIGHT BE BETRAYED

Secondly, while the Knesset is modelled on the British Parliament rather than the U.S. Congress, it is – because of the facts of Israeli political life – only a pale shadow of Westminster as the public’s watchdog of the administration. With one party having held power for 25 years and the other 13 squabbling and jousting but never uniting to topple the government, the Knesset is necessarily limited in its ability to control the Cabinet.

To the extent, then, that Watergate represents a clash between the President and Congress and perhaps a realignment of their relative strengths, again there is no real parallel in Israel.

All this does not mean, however, that Israelis government and people – are not profoundly worried by Watergate. They are.

First, on a very simplistic level, they know that they have a proven friend in Nixon and they would hate to see him go. True enough, Nixon has indicated that he would accede to Israel’s latest arms requests – and those requests would cover supplies into 1977 and could hardly be turned back by another president – but there is political support to think of as well as military. Would another president use the veto at the U.N. Security Council as readily as Nixon at Israel’s behest?

And perhaps as dangerous as an unfamiliar successor to an ousted Nixon is a drastically weakened Nixon remaining in office. Battered by Watergate, he might be unable to stand up to the Russians, or to the Arabs and their oil threats, or to his own oil lobby at home. Or conversely, he might seek to pull off some spectacular Mideast peace settlement – at Israel’s expense – to boost his position. These scenarios naturally suggest themselves to Israeli thinking as a result of Watergate. But to see how they develop, Israel can only wait and hope.

Vital research on the role of viruses in the induction of cancer will be facilitated by a $230,000, three-year grant received by Prof. Ernest Winocour of the Weizmann Institute’s Genetics Department from the National Cancer Institute, which forms part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. It was announced by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovoth. Prof. Winocour emigrated to Israel from England in 1949.

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