Remembering David Horowitz (35): Talking Torah with the Prime Minister

In January 1980 David Horowitz, accompanied by his wife Nan, departed to Israel for a two-week sojourn. After a brief stay in Jerusalem, they traveled to Haifa where they were the guests of the veteran Israeli Jule Amster, heroic commander of the lower city of Haifa during the War of Independence. While in Haifa, the two had lunch with Abraham ben-Schachar, famous author and lecturer.

From Haifa, they traveled to the town of Beria, adjacent to historic Safad where they met with old friends Elizer and Esther Tritto and family. The Trittos, close friends of Horowitz for over 30 years, represent a group of Italian Catholic converts who immigrated from the South Italian town of San Nicandro over three decades ago.

Arriving at the northern town of Metulla the next day, Horowitz was driven by the Israeli Government Press Office guide, Samuel Becker to the border crossing where Israeli guards escorted them into Lebanon, their final destination.

Sam Becker had agreed to escort Horowitz into Lebanon to meet with Francis Rizk, spokesman for Major Saad Haddad, the founder and head of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) during the Lebanese Civil War. For years Haddad was closely collaborating and receiving arms and political support from Israel against Lebanese government forces, Hezbollah, and the Syrian army.

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (L) greets SLA Major Saad Haddad of Lebanon.

Francis Rizk reported that Major Haddad had lost total respect for the UN. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had failed to prevent infiltration of terrorists into the south and according to Rizk, the PLO had established over 40 bases of operation.
Haddad’s militia badly needed the UN and UNIFIL to take action against the terrorist infiltration. Haddad’s message, conveyed through Rizk, was that “had it not been for the support of Israel, we would have been exterminated. The Israelis understand our problem and we are grateful to them. The Jewish people are the only ones in the world who are standing with us.”

Unfortunately, the terrorist buildup continued, resulting in repeated attacks on the IDF and Israeli citizens in the north. The attacks and counter-attacks triggered a later invasion by the Israeli Defense Forces into southern Lebanon in 1982.

Full diplomatic relations were established on February 26, 1980 between Egypt and Israel with foreign embassies opening in Cairo and Tel Aviv.

Before returning to the United States, David and Nan experienced what would be the highlight of their visit to the Holy Land. The opportunity arose to spend “Motzei Shabbat” (the first evening after the Sabbath) in the home of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his wife Aliza, as their guests.
It had been the Begin’s custom for many years to invite friends for a late Sabbath afternoon tea at their home in Tel Aviv. Horowitz, having known Begin for years, had been blessed with several such visits in the past.

The Prime Minister, with an embrace, greeted them warmly before graciously passing around a tray with cookies to go with the tea. Two other invited couples seemed equally thrilled with this personal encounter with the Prime Minister and First Lady.

The Prime Minister who had just concluded the historic Peace Agreement with Egypt and had a Nobel Peace Prize (co-recipient with Anwar Sadat) to show for it spoke openly about his faith and heritage.

Prime Minister Begin revealed that following the weekly Motzei Shabbat teas, he experiences something that gives him the greatest joy. In the quietude of his home, he meets with several outstanding scholars and rabbis in a Bible session discussing the weekly Torah portion. Commenting on these sessions, Begin said that nothing else in the world gives him greater pleasure that the weekly Bible sessions. “They serve as a relaxing tonic, a welcome relief from the day-to-day political tensions which the office of Prime Minister imposes upon me,” he said.

As it was during his days with the Jewish underground, the Tanach (Bible), which he always carried with him, continues to serve as his guide and textbook.

Horowitz offered this explanation: “It is in this spirit, his devotion to Israel’s eternal Torah-heritage, that Providence prepared the road for him towards the highest office in the land.”

Disturbances in Iran had disrupted oil shipments to the West, which led to a 60 percent hike in oil prices and a steep rise in inflation. These problems led to an increased sense of vulnerability and fear that the Soviet Union might take advantage of the West’s distress. Such fears appeared vindicated in December 1979 when 80,000 Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.

As the Iranian hostage crisis lingered, President Carter faced growing domestic pressure to do something about the situation.

In April 1980, Carter authorized the U.S. military to proceed with a complex and daring plan to rescue the hostages. “Operation Eagle Claw” was supposed to send an elite rescue team into the embassy compound. However, a severe desert sandstorm on the day of the mission caused several helicopters to malfunction, including one that veered into a large transport plane during takeoff. Eight American servicemen were killed in the accident and “Operation Eagle Claw” was aborted.

The constant media coverage of the hostage crisis in the U.S. served as a demoralizing backdrop for the 1980 presidential race.

During the course of the summer, Horowitz received high tributes from several notable people for the publication of his recent series of articles titled: “The Jews Are Not Alone.”

Senator Frank Church of Idaho, chairman of the important Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and a long-time friend of Israel, called the Horowitz exposition, “brilliant and historical.” In a letter to Mr. George Caudill, who had sent the articles to him, Senator Church wrote: “Mr. Horowitz brilliantly details the origins and genealogy of the Jewish people and I was very impressed by his historical accounting. I am having copies of his articles forwarded to the B’nai Brith organization in Washington, perhaps for their own use in preparing overviews of the roots of Jewish civilization.”

Senator Donald W. Riegle, Jr. of Michigan also called the series “fascinating articles concerning the ancient Hebraic Republic and should, therefore, be pursued.”

A former Mormon, George Caudill, aware of the Mormon’s link to ancient Israel, had also sent Mormon President Ezra Taft Benson copies of the Horowitz articles. David later received a warm, personal letter from Benson thanking him and calling the exposition “fascinating and excellent material.” He also said he hoped to meet Horowitz in the future.

A military conflict broke out between Iraq and Iran in September. Open warfare began on September 22, 1980, when Iraqi armed forces invaded western Iran along the countries’ joint border. The roots of the war lay in a number of territorial and political disputes between the two nations.

It became a long and brutal eight-year confrontation with consequences that still resonate to this day.

On Tuesday, November 4, 1980, Republican and former California Governor Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Democrat President Jimmy Carter and Independent candidate John B. Anderson, to become our nation’s 40th President.

The election, coming one year and two days after the hostage crisis began, resulted in a landslide victory for Reagan. Americans had lost confidence in Carter, whose popularity had plunged to 20%, even lower than Nixon’s during the Watergate scandal. Many historians believe the hostage crisis cost Jimmy Carter a second term as president.

Carter spent his final weeks as president trying desperately to get the hostages freed before he left office. Using Algeria as an intermediary, he worked out a deal with the Iranian government. The U.S. would release about $12 billion in Iranian assets frozen in American banks and pledge not to interfere in Iran’s internal affairs and in turn, Iran would release the hostages.

The Iranians, however, refused to release the hostages while Carter was still president.

On January 21, 1981, 444 days after the crisis began and just hours after President Ronald Reagan delivered his inaugural address, the hostages were set free. The republic rejoiced.

As 1980 drew to a close, David Horowitz received a telegram from Eryk Spektor, General Chairman of the Jabotinsky Centennial Dinner to be held in New York on November 11. Horowitz learned that he was to receive the Jabotinsky Centennial Citation Award. Conferring the award would be none other than Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at a special reception to be held in Begin’s suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

David Horowitz (R) accepting Jabotinsky Award from Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

David Horowitz, who devoted a lifetime to the cause of Israel and Jewry, was one of several recipients from all phases of professional life to receive the award “in recognition of their distinguished service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

It had been quite a year for Horowitz. A year that began at the home of Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Tel Aviv would be concluding in the hotel suite of the Prime Minister in New York, receiving one of Israel’s most prestigious awards.

In the next episode, we take a closer look at the Jabotinsky Centennial and the gala event that David Horowitz called “unlike any celebratory function I’ve ever attended.”

Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.

This post is the thirty fifth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.

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