WASHINGTON, D.C. — After thanking Congress for passing legislation requiring the United States to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin presented an award to one of the move's loudest critics — President Clinton.
Rabin presented the United Jewish Appeal's Isaiah Award to Clinton for his efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. The presentation was made at the concluding gathering of 200 of the UJA's biggest donors, who earlier in the day had pledged a total of $32 million.
The Capitol Hill gathering, which also featured Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert and a rousing rendition of "Hatikva," was largely ceremonial, but was well-attended by dozens of members of Congress as well as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk.
But the four-hour stretch — from the time Rabin took the stage earlier in the day to kick off the U.S. celebration of Jerusalem 3000 at a Capitol Hill ceremony to his exit from the black-tie State Department reception for the UJA donors — was marked by a diplomatic blunder and protocol gaffes.
Unaware that the UJA evening reception in the elegant Ben Franklin room on the eighth floor of the State Department was black tie, Rabin arrived in a navy single-breasted suit with a light blue straight-collared shirt.
Realizing his fashion faux pas, Rabin asked a member of the White House advance team whether he could borrow his bow tie. Unfortunately for the prime minister, the aide had a genuine bow tie — one that has to be tied. A second aide rushed to the prime minister's rescue, offering the clip-on variety.
Rabin proceeded to a half-hour meeting with Clinton and then to the UJA reception, where he gave an emotional speech thanking "President Nixon."
Rabin quickly recovered from the blunder and presented the award to Clinton, to the rousing cheers of those gathered in the room.
Clinton, in brief remarks, praised Rabin for his "courageous leadership and vision" before moving on to his next reception.
But Rabin stayed to address the donors. The prime minister, who had recently criticized American Jews for not contributing enough money to the Jewish state, thanked the UJA donors, who were attending an International Leadership Reunion, for their contributions and urged them to serve as an example to their Jewish brethren.
"You should serve as a model, an example to many more in the Jewish community all over the world," Rabin told the donors who had gathered in Washington, D.C., for three days of meetings.