LOS ANGELES (Nov. 14)
It was to have been a triumphal reception for Premier Menachem Begin. More than 2,000 Jewish leaders, activists and guests crowded into the main ballroom of the Bonaventure Hotel last night to celebrate with the Premier the 50th anniversary General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations. But it was not to be.
Shortly before Begin was to address the Assembly, his wife, Aliza, died in Jerusalem. He immediately flew back to Israel. News of Mrs. Begin’s death spread like wildfire. At first there was incredulity and disbelief, someone was spreading a rumor, it just couldn’t be. Then as the news sank in, a pall descended over the audience. Some choked back tears at the news of this unexpected tragedy; others let go and cried.
President Reagan telephoned Begin in Los Angeles last night to express his deepest sympathy. A White House spokesman said Reagan’s planned meeting with Begin at the White House next Friday would be cancelled or re-scheduled.
The entire four-day Assembly which began last Wednesday had been geared emotionally and psychologically to Begin’s appearance and address, his first to a Jewish audience in the United States since the war in Lebanon. The mood of the delegates was to give Begin a rousing welcome, despite the differences many had with his policies, to show the face and the force of Jewish solidarity with the State of Israel.
MEDIA FED ON FALSE RUMORS
There had been rumors since the Assembly convened that some of the local Jewish community leaders and even some of the CJF leaders had not wanted Begin to come to the Assembly at this time. These rumors, as it turned out, were entirely unfounded. But it fed the morbid curiously of the general media covering the Assembly and helped spice their copy with so-called behind the scenes developments. The real story — the solidarity with the State of Israel,
Begin arrived here Friday afternoon and was greeted at the Los Angeles International Airport by Mayor Tom Bradley who gave Begin the keys to the city. The Premier, who was accompanied by his younger daughter Leah, Ambassador Moshe Arens, his chief of staff, Yehiel Kadishai, and his personal physician, Marvin Gottesman, stayed at the Century Plaza Hotel, some distance from the Bonaventure where Begin was to speak.
By midday yesterday, the Bonaventure was a virtual fortress as U.S. secret service, Israeli security, and hotel security personnel, along with city police, swarmed all over the area of the ballroom. For more than an hour, before people were allowed into the ballroom, members of the police bomb squad, with specially trained dogs, searched the area for any hidden weapons and explosives. Dinner guests, delegates and reporters had to go through security gates like those at airports.
Across the street from the hotel, several hundred pro-Palestinian old line left wingers, and anti-Khomeini demonstrators carried placards and chanted slogans denouncing Israel and Begin. They continued their uproar even after police informed them that Begin would not be at the hotel The demonstrators were kept behind a solid line of oil drums and a phalanx of mounted police. Meanwhile, as people began to filter into the ballroom, a group of Flamenco costumed troubadors serenaded diners in a pool-side restaurant on the floor below with Spanish folk songs and a lusty rendition in Hebrew of “Sholom Aleichem.”
ARENS DELIVERS ADDRESS
Before the official Assembly banquet proceeding began, the audience stood up for a minute of silence as the news of Mrs. Begin’s death was announced from the podium. Arens, who received standing ovations at the beginning and conclusion of his address, recounted some of “the scars we in Israel bear from the terrorists coming out of Lebanon” before Israel launched its “Peace for Galilee” operation. He said that Israel’s operation had smashed the PLO infrastructure, thereby striking a blow for peace in the region. Nevertheless, Arens observed, Israel was “criticized, vilified, columnied and judged” by the nations of the world and “we were subjected to snap judgments” by the media and its audiences. Much of what the media related about Israel’s operation in Lebanon turned out to be baseless, he said.
Arens was critical of “those who counsel us to make concessions.” He declared that “the wages of weakness in the Middle East is destruction.” The achievements of the war in Lebanon, he pointed out, included peace for northern Israel. “Children are going to school, men and women are going to work and the shelters are empty for the first time, and that’s how it’s going to be,” he said to a round of applause.
PREDICT SUCCESS FOR PEACE PROCESS
The Ambassador also recounted other achievements of the war in Lebanon and each achievement was greeted with a round of applause. He noted that Lebanon is now rising from seven years of warfare and occupation and that a new page is turning “in the tragic history of that country. Hopefully, Lebanon will join the world democratic community and also be at peace with Israel.” Furthermore, the Soviet effort to penetrate the Mideast inexorably has been thwarted and its presumed superiority in military weapons was bested by the Israeli Defense Force, Arens noted. In addition, he said, Israel’s operation in Lebanon is now also perceived by the U.S. as having aided the U.S. in the Mideast.
Arens asserted that despite the strained relations between the U.S. and Israel in recent weeks, the bonds of friendship between the two countries have been strengthened. Israel, he said, would like to live in harmony with the U.S. “but we are realistic and know there are disagreements” including differences over U.S. arms to Arab states and demands on Israel for “territorial concessions.” But the Ambassador expressed optimism that peace is achievable and that, as a result of the destruction of the PLO’s infrastructure there will be Palestinians and Jordan who will eventually enter into the peace process.