JERUSALEM (Oct. 28)
The Cabinet issued an official statement in the name of Premier Menachem Begin today expressing “deep regret over MK Ezer Weizman’s interference in the U.S. democratic electoral process.”
Weizman, who is visiting the United States, was the guest of President Carter on the Presidential plane, Air Force One, on a campaign flight to Cleveland yesterday and has openly supported Carter’s bid for reelection. (Related story from Washington, P.3.)
The Cabinet’s statement, in effect a censure of the former Defense Minister, reflected outrage in Israeli political circles over what they regard as unseemly behavior by a Knesset member traveling abroad.
Weizman himself, in a Kol Israel Radio interview broadcast here today, expressed no regret for taking the plane ride or supporting Carter. He said he accompanied the President “because the President invited me.” When the interviewer observed that his public support of Carter’s reelection was “unprecedented” for on Israeli political figure, Weizman retorted that it was “always good to be the first.”
He said that Carter has been very helpful in the peace process from Israel’s viewpoint and that for Israelis who regard the peace process as a positive thing to deny Carter’s role would be “ungrateful.” Asked about the possible effects of his words and actions on Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, Weizman said he was sure Reagan would have appreciated the words if they had been said about him. “But I don’t know him” Reagan), Weizman said.
ACROSS-THE-BOARD NEGATIVE REACTIONS
Cabinet ministers, from hard-liners to moderates, were negative in their reactions to the conduct of their former colleague. References were made to Weizman’s purported “irresponsibility” and “impetuousness.” Likud hawk Moshe Arens, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, went on the radio today to blast Weizman’s performance as harmful to Israel.
“The sooner it is forgotten in the U.S. the better it will be,” Arens said. He said that as a Knesset member, Weizman is not free to act as he chooses because regardless of party or political views, any Knesset member traveling abroad represents Israel.
Before today’s Cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir was quoted as saying he was “astounded” by Weizman’s behavior. After the session, Finance Minister Yigal Hurwitz, a hard liner, told reporters that Weizman shouldn’t “stick his nose into the affairs of another country. Minister of Commerce and Industry Gideon Patt, a moderate, termed Weizman’s conduct “folly.”
The Cabinet’s statement observed that it was a “great precept” that the citizens of one democratic state must not interfere in the democratic processes of another such state. “Israel continues to uphold this precept. The citizens of the U.S. and they alone will elect their President as they see fit,” the Cabinet said. It also expressed gratification that “all Americans, regardless of party, support Israel and its security.”
ASSESS CONSEQUENCES OF WEIZMAN’S SUPPORT
Sources close to Begin speculated that Weizman’s pubic support for Carter might backfire in the U.S. if the voters resented a partisan stand by a foreign political figure. Those sources suggested that undecided voters might turn away from Carter as a result. Some Cabinet ministers said privately that Weizman’s prospects for a political comeback in Israel have been seriously damaged.
Weizman, who was an active participant in the September, 1978 Camp David conference and later in the negotiations for the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, resigned from the Cabinet last spring in a dispute with Begin over policy. He is rumored to be planning a political comeback as leaders of a center party that would oppose Likud in next year’s Knesset elections.