When Ben Gurion said no to JFK
The current battle between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama is not unprecedented
THE CLASH began in 1960, when the outgoing Eisenhower administration sought an explanation for the mysterious construction near Dimona. It was told that this top-secret activity in the middle of the desert was a harmless textile plant, and no, it could not come and visit. Classified spy photos were then published on the front page of The New York Times (yes, the CIA spied on the Jewish state, with or without forged passports). Read the whole thing
When president Kennedy took office in 1961, the disagreement became a full-blown crisis. Like Obama, Kennedy was not inherently hostile (unlike Jimmy Carter), but he did not have a special sympathy for the Jewish people. His advisers urged continuous pressure, assuming that Israel would have no choice but to accept US demands. Every high-level meeting or communication repeated the demand for inspection of Dimona. One form of pressure was to deny Ben-Gurion an invitation to the White House – his May 1961 meeting with Kennedy was a low-key affair at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, and was dominated by this issue.
In some ways, Israel was far weaker than is the case today. Before 1967, the IDF was not seen as a formidable power, and the economy depended on massive aid from Diaspora Jewry. If the US government were to impose tax restrictions, the costs would have been very high. Ben-Gurion avoided saying no by dancing around them for two years.
Finally, Kennedy had enough, and in a personal letter dated May 18, 1963, the president warned that unless American inspectors were allowed into Dimona (meaning the end of any military activities), Israel would find itself totally isolated. Rather than answering, Ben-Gurion abruptly resigned. Kennedy’s repeated emphasis on America’s “deep commitment to the security of Israel” was all well and good, but, as seen after Egypt’s sudden expulsion of UN peacekeepers in 1967, Israel could not depend on anyone – even the US.