ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF
ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF: ISRAEL NEWS
PM Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Conference on Joint Strategic Dialogue between the Government of Israel and World Jewish Communities
Source: PMO, 11-7-13
יום חמישי ד’ כסלו תשע”ד
Photo by GPO
Thank you, my good friend, Natan Sharansky. You speak of leaders? You’re a leader – a leader of the Jewish people. And there is a fire that burns inside you and that flame spreads, and I think it’s consumed everyone here and it has made that partnership between us, I think, has made the launching of this program natural, real and ultimately successful. But we need every one of you, and so many who are not here to support it – and you do. I include among that you, Duvdev, my good friend: you’re committed to this, as is my Director General, Harel Locker, who spoke to you about spirit. We need – how do you say this? Kemach and Torah.
[Recording cut off]
Dvir Kahana and Alan Hoffman again. We have here our new ambassador – Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. He was instrumental in launching this. And many of the representatives of the government ministries who are charged with our side of this, and you representing so many Jewish communities throughout the world.
I understand, Moritzia, that you speak about our collective genius. We’re definitely sure about the collective – we’ll have to live up to the other part of that. But the Jewish people have shown a remarkable genius in many fields, and the most important one is to continue the thread of our existence through thousands of years, through extraordinary challenges, maintaining our identity; not always able to secure our existence. We’ve lost tragically not only in the last century. But we’ve been able to rise up, reestablish our national life in our ancestral homeland, build a state, build an army, build an economy, build technology, build culture.
And now we’re charged with the task of securing the Jewish future, which to me always means, first and foremost, the Jewish state, but the Jewish state for the Jewish people – all of the Jewish people. Now there are two challenges, great challenges that face the Jewish state and the Jewish people. And we have to address and meet both challenges.
The first one is the challenge posed by Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. Israel understands that there are proposals on the table in Geneva today that would ease the pressure on Iran, ease the pressure on Iran for concessions that are not concessions at all. This proposal would allow Iran to retain the capabilities to make nuclear weapons. Israel totally opposes these proposals. I believe that adopting them would be a mistake of historic proportions. They must be rejected outright. The sanctions regime has brought the Iranian economy to the edge of the abyss and the P5+1 can compel Iran to fully dismantle its nuclear weapons program. This means ending all enrichment and stopping all work on the heavy water plutonium reactor. Anything less will make a peaceful solution less likely. And Israel always reserves the right to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.
This is one of the central lessons we have learned in our history when we were powerless to defend ourselves, by ourselves and against any threat. We don’t forget our history. We use it to chart our path to the future. And we have done so with remarkable success. Every time you come to Israel, I’m sure that you see the tremendous development that takes place, the rise of our economic prowess, the tremendous initiative and enterprise that you see in this country. Can you imagine? A Jewish state with Jewish businesses? You’re not laughing. This was a different state. I mean, we had a tremendous investment in infrastructure and in state-building, but we didn’t have the tremendous genius – I use that word genius – of our people come to full fruition until we opened up our economy and now Israel is widely recognized as a global power in technology. We contribute to medicine; we contribute to communication; we contribute to anything from genetic research to food, unusual foods, crop yields, irrigation. We have cows that produce – well, which country has cows that produce the most milk per cow? Well, you think it’s France or Holland? No, it’s Israel. Number one country in recycling by far of water? Israel. And so on and so on and so on. It’s endless.
But we always recognize that what we have to do in developing our country and defending our country is not only for us. We’re a link in the chain of generations of Jews who have dreamt about resuscitating the Jewish collective life by reestablishing our sovereignty in the Land of Israel but also by ingathering the exiles and by creating a human bridge to Jewish communities around the world. And I feel that deeply. I am aware of our history. I think I’m intimately familiar with it. And I know that what has kept the thread of our life through the generations was the ability of successive generations of Jews to maintain our culture, our history, our values, our identity.
The Jewish were unique in this because we were one of the few if not the only broadly literate people in antiquity, and we were literate when nobody else was, in ancient times and throughout the Middle Ages. This is a remarkable thing in the age of knowledge. Today we’re in a century of knowledge. The Jews were for centuries in centuries of knowledge. Fathers taught their sons to read and write. That was part of our inherent faith and traditions. And this created a potent power and a potent tradition. Reading, writing, arguing – truth wasn’t fixed, narrow. It evolved through discourse, through debate. Our whole Talmudic system was based on this idea of this expanding fruit of knowledge.
But throughout that, we carried our traditions forward. And this is what made our success possible. This is what made the dream of returning to Zion and reestablishing the Jewish people possible.
I think that this collective identity is under threat today. It’s under threat because we live in an age of fragmentation, fragmentation and in many ways – ridud [Hebrew]? My English! Ron, help me out. Shallowness? We’re not that deep in this modern age. Knowledge is theoretically available to all, but it doesn’t mean that all sees it. It’s there but it can be paper thin. Even though it’s instantly available, even though there are libraries today that are unimaginable and you can get them at your fingertips. You can get any piece of information. That is not knowledge and that is not identity. That is information; it’s available but it doesn’t necessarily form the foundation of identity, of culture and of conviction. It can have the opposite effect. That is unstoppable, mind you. We’re investing in fast fiber; we’re investing in digital education; we’re investing in all those things that are part of the modern world. But we have to invest in something else. We have to use these instruments, but also create a firm base of identity and conviction. That’s a big challenge. It’s not easy.
I’ve always thought that we have to use the instruments of tomorrow today to shape tomorrow. And therefore I thought it’s particularly important to embrace this initiative and work together to get this partnership with the Jewish world to secure the Jewish future. It’s something that you have been involved in. You’ve been thinking about it. You’ve been talking about programs. You’ve been talking about spirit. And you’ve been talking about the flour. We’ll put more flour. Did you tell them, Harel? Yeah, more flour. But you’ve got to get some flour too. I mean this is, in all things, this is a joint cooperative action.
And I think that’s what underlies my belief in how we succeed. We work together. And I always thought that. In my first term… this is my third term as Prime Minister. I want you to know [applause]… Well, I’m not that old, you know? But I want you to know that when I was considerably younger and you reminded me, Natan, how we met with Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman. I thought at that time already that Israel was no longer crawling, already walking and in some ways already beginning, well at least to trot if not to run. And I thought that we were able to begin to put back to the Jewish world. We’d been the recipient of aid and I thought that the proportion of aid as part of our GDP was shrinking anyway, but that the larger resource and the more important resource was not the assistance we were getting from the Diaspora, but the assistance that we could give to the Diaspora to maintain our common identity. And therefore we put some flour in this and Taglit was the first program and I think we dealt with it in ’97, as you say. It changed; it pivoted the idea that basically Israel was the recipient, the Diaspora were the donors and that was it. That changed economically in many ways, but it was a cultural change in which we said, no, we’re going for a partnership to strengthen Jewish identity. How? By getting young people to come here.
That developed into Masa, which I later had the opportunity to assist, both as Finance Minister and of course as Prime Minister, and other programs like Hefzibah. But now what we’re dealing with is broadening it, broadening this to a variety of programs that will create a critical mass of understanding and knowledge and identity and conviction to carry us through our journey and to the next few decades. And I think it’s very exciting and very important.
I don’t say that we don’t have immediate problems; we do. I’ve always adopted the policy from my first term as Prime Minister of partnership. I always viewed the Prime Minister of Israel, a post that I occupy with great reverence, to my responsibilities for all Jews. I thought that we have to make sure that we work as much together and avoid the pitfalls that could break us apart.
One of these issues that we’ve dealt with lately; actually in the last government we began to address it with Avichai Mandelblit. Avichai, stand up so they see you. I charged him with this now, but we began on the question of the Kotel, making sure that it’s the Kotel for all the Jewish people. I began that project and Avichai took it with Natan. I asked Natan and the new Cabinet Secretary, who by the way was a JAG, is that what it is? JAG? What is that? Judge Advocate General.
But he comes at it not with a legalistic mind, but with a very warm Jewish mind, heart, which is what I think has guided Natan with the proposal that you presented to me which I adopt with enthusiasm. I think it serves to illustrate a point: we are trying to solve problems, not for you but with you. We’re not standing there on a hilltop – it happens to be a hill – but you’re standing there with us. And I encourage this partnership, this exchange, this dialogue, this process. And I find it expressed in this process. I want to expand it to something that will give us the critical core of partnership for the Jewish people, between the Jewish people and the Jewish state, for the coming generations.
We’re about to celebrate Chanukah and Chanukah was both a physical and a moral struggle. We were nearly overwhelmed and perhaps it was at that point that the thread of Jewish existence, which had been around for about 1,500 years, could have been snapped. It could have been snapped not only by the physical submission of the Jews to a foreign power, but the cultural submission of the Jews to the Hellenistic culture that could have erased our traditions and severed our future. And this was resisted mightily by a few people who inflamed, if you will, the rest and produced what appears to be a miraculous victory against one of the greatest forces of the day – the Seleucid Empire was a great force at the time. We emerged victorious there but we also emerged victorious in securing the Jewish traditions and the Jewish faith, and without that victory, I’m not sure that the Jewish people would be here more than 2,000 years later.
Well, we’re faced with equal challenges today. We’re armed with our knowledge of the past and our hope for the future with the examples of the Maccabees and with our sense of being responsible for each other. Kol Israel arevim ze l’ze. That’s exactly how I feel. I know that’s exactly how you feel and that’s the most important thing to make sure that we have a secure, common future for the Jewish people.
Thank you very much.