Veterans Day, November 11, 1980. It was the day of the Centennial Dinner celebration at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Zeev Jabotinsky. And what a celebration it was!
First a little background.
Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky (1880-1940) was a towering figure in the history of Zionism. He was a Zionist activist, orator and writer who founded both the Betar Movement (a Revisionist Zionist youth movement) and the Jewish Legion of the British army during World War I. Fascinated by Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, he was elected as a delegate to the 6th Zionist Congress.
As a young disciple of Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin, who received a law degree from the University of Warsaw but never practiced law, rose rapidly within the Betar ranks becoming the active head of Betar’s Polish branch in 1937. In 1942, Begin joined the Irgun (a Zionist paramilitary organization that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948). He assumed the organization’s leadership in 1944.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was present in New York to honor his heroic mentor. He was welcomed by an enthusiastic audience composed of leaders from every segment of life within the American Jewish community, including a number of well-known non-Jewish political figures, among them some of the President-Elect’s top aides.
More than 2,000 people jammed the Ballroom and an additional audience filled the Starlight Roof of the Waldorf-Astoria.
The evening offered an impressive procession: the presentation of colors by the U.S. Military Academy, West Point; the Veterans of the Jewish Legion; American Veterans of Israel and the Honor Guard of Betar. Large portraits of Jabotinsky and of Herzl flanked the stage.
The highlight of the evening, of course, was the address by Prime Minister Begin, who gave a studious and detailed record of Jabotinsky’s life work. “Without him,” he declared, “without his vision, his suffering, his faith, and his fight, the State of Israel would not have come into being. Our generation and all the generations to come, owe a debt of gratitude to him who led us and them from bondage to liberty.”
To David Horowitz and his wife, Nan, the Jabotinsky Centennial held a special meaning. Both of them, Nan even before they were married over 30 years ago, had been active on the American scene eliciting support for the underground Irgun fighters. They were fully aware of the hectic struggle Jabotinsky and later his successor, Begin, endured in order to gain recognition for Jewry’s liberation.
An obviously moved David Horowitz remarked, “I have attended many vital functions through the past several decades. None could in any way be compared with this fabulous gala event. It has been both spell-binding and thrilling from the beginning to the end.”
It was here that David Horowitz would be awarded the coveted Jabotinsky Centennial Award Metal and Citation, presented personally by Prime Minister Begin at a special awards ceremony held in the Prime Minister’s Waldorf-Astoria suite.
As 1981 dawned, we watched as a one-time movie star and president of the Screen Actor’s Guild became our 40th President. Former California Governor, Ronald Reagan was sworn in on January 20, 1981.
The New Year brought another very special achievement to the career of David Horowitz.
For the first time in UN history, a correspondent representing Jewish media was elected president of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), consisting of correspondents from all over the globe. Following a three-day election campaign, David Horowitz, editor of the World Union Press and the United Israel Bulletin and who also writes for the Jewish Press, won the election over two formidable opponents.
Little known details behind the historic election add a measure of special significance.
Horowitz was opposed for the presidency by an Arab woman, Raghida Dergham, a Lebanese correspondent for Al Nahar and Eugene Forson of the Ghana News Agency. Horowitz tallied 57 votes, Ms. Dergham 37, and Forson 35.
The election was noteworthy, not only because a correspondent representing Jewish media and formerly representing Israeli newspapers and avowedly a strong partisan of Israel, won, the first to do so, but that he defeated an Arab and a Third World candidate to boot.
Fellow correspondent Richard Yaffe cryptically added, “It might be the first time that the Arab-Third World-Soviet bloc cartel has not prevailed. It’s nice to know that’s one area, at least, at the UN that has remained democratic-the UNCA ballot box.”
Upon assuming his new prestigious role, Horowitz stated, “It is not so much a victory for me but for all Jews around the globe, that in this house of contention, even Arabs and members of the Third World voted in favor of a Jew.”
Having served as Secretary of the Association since 1971, Horowitz was a former president of the Foreign Press Association of New York.
David received numerous letters and notes congratulating him on becoming president of UNCA. Among the many well-wishers were Baron Rudiger von-Wechmat, President of the UN General Assembly and Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim.
On March 30, 1981, only 69 days into the new administration, President Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest outside a Washington, D.C. hotel by John Hinckley, Jr. Two police officers and Press Secretary James Brady were also wounded. Reagan recovered and was released from the hospital on April 11, becoming the first serving U.S. President to survive being shot in an assassination attempt.
David Horowitz had been instrumental in exposing former Nazi war criminals living in the U.S., such as Romanian bishop Valerian Trifa and Hungarian Fenrec Korah. He was recognized for his efforts when The Committee to Bring Nazi War Criminals to Justice in the United States awarded him the Zehor (Remember) Award on March 31, 1981. Recognized for his dedication to justice and respect for truth, it read: “Your courage gives courage to others.”
On June 7, 1981, a surprise Israeli air strike, known as “Operation Opera,” effectively destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction 10 miles southeast of Baghdad.
In a well-planned and rehearsed operation, the attack squadron of eight F-16A planes left Etzion Airbase, flying unchallenged into Jordanian and Saudi airspace. To avoid detection, the Israeli pilots conversed in Saudi-accented Arabic while in Jordanian airspace and told Jordanian air controllers that they were a Saudi patrol that had gone off course. While flying over Saudi Arabia, they pretended to be Jordanians, using Jordanian radio signals and formations.
The attack lasted less than two minutes, completely destroying the Osirak reactor complex. According to Ze’ev Raz, the leader of the attack force, the Israeli pilots radioed each other and recited the biblical verse Joshua 10:12 as they were returning to the base.
The attack was universally criticized and the U.S. voted for a Security Council resolution condemning Israel. American and coalition forces however, might have faced a nuclear-armed Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and again during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, had Israel not destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981.
On October 6, 1981, Anwar Sadat sat in a reviewing stand in Cairo, a commanding figure in gold-braided hat, starched dress uniform and green sash. As the Egyptian President watched an extravagant military parade celebrating his 1973 surprise attack on Israel, a junior lieutenant in crisp khakis stepped from a truck and walked toward him. Sadat rose, expecting a salute.
Instead the young officer tossed a grenade and a band of accomplices scrambled from the truck and opened fire. Sadat fell mortally wounded, leaving the Middle East facing a dangerous political void and the world without one of the few leaders whose bold imagination and personal courage seemed to have made a difference to history.
Throughout the long process of pursuing peace, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, himself, viewed as a grizzled hardliner, became close. Close enough to exchange personal notes about family events such as the birth of a grandson or Jihan Sadat receiving her master’s degree. They addressed extremely difficult political issues, shared moments of humor and developed an enormous measure of mutual respect, one for the other.
In 1978 Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin were both awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In Jerusalem, Begin’s sorrow at Sadat’s death “went beyond matters of state” said an Israeli policymaker. “Begin mourned the death personally.” When official word of the assassination reached Jerusalem, Begin immediately instructed his staff to organize a trip to Cairo to attend Sadat’s funeral on Saturday. The decision was more complicated than it seemed. As a religious Jew, Begin could neither fly nor ride on the Jewish Sabbath. Thus he was forced to fly to Cairo a day early and spend the night, multiplying the security risks. He wanted to demonstrate his respect, both for Sadat and for his successor.
Anwar Sadat was buried in a muted ceremony under tight security in the Unknown Soldier memorial in Cairo, across the street from the stand where he was assassinated. New President Hosni Mubarak led the funeral procession, taking the hand of Sadat’s son, Gamal.
Sadat’s body was entombed under a black marble tombstone inscribed with the simple epitaph: “President Mohammed Anwar Sadat, hero of war and peace. He lived for peace and he was martyred for his principles.”
Not far away lay the Giza Plateau, where stood the timeless pyramids and the great Sphinx. The Sphinx, sitting as if guarding the tombs of past Pharaohs, with a weathered face and an empty stare, like one who had already seen too much.
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 sixth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.