On Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 10, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an address to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.
In his talk, Netanyahu addressed a broad range of issues, but stressed most importantly of all the strong relationships between Israel and the United States, and, concomitantly, the need for unity within the Jewish community:
“No matter what disagreements there have been within the Jewish community, maintaining the unity of our people is of paramount importance. There is only one Jewish people. There is only one Jewish state. And now, more than ever, we must work together to unite the Jewish people and secure the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said.
The Israeli prime minister wowed the audience with a series of spectacular facts about the Jewish State, talking about it being the “global epicenter of innovation” in the areas of water technology, agritech, medicine, science and in the cyber field.
He reminded them of the incredible leadership Israel has provided to the world in terms of recycling water and water technologies. Israel’s continued and dramatic economic growth and its growing trade, especially in the new markets of India and China.
He then discussed the major challenge to Israel’s existence, which is security, and how that creates its major financial challenge, which is paying for its defense. He thanked the American people for the support it provides Israel. Netanyahu pointed out that he had a “wonderful discussion” on Monday with President Obama about securing that assistance for the coming decade.
Being particularly mindful of his audience, the Prime Minister spent a great deal of time talking about Israel’s values and its “intense, robust democracy.” He talked about Israel’s pluralism, its egalitarianism, its growing and thriving Christian population and its proud and strong LGBT community.
Netanyahu reminded the JFNA audience of the Arab members in Israel’s knesset and on its Supreme Court, and he mentioned the field hospital Israel built on its border with Syria which was set up specifically to treat thousands of wounded Syrians, at Israel’s expense. And he talked about Israel’s immediate humanitarian missions to provide assistance in disasters throughout the world.
After briefly touching upon the dangers currently surrounding the Jewish State, he returned to his theme of optimism about Israel and its future. He talked about the alliance between Israel and America and the growth of the Birthright program. He stressed the support given to Israel by the U.S. and the assistance Israel provides to the U.S., especially in terms of intelligence.
The vast majority of members of the JFNA audience are members of the Reform and Conservative movements, and the Israeli Prime Minister spoke about new efforts to involve and provide comfort to those movements in Israel.
The Prime Minister spent the last third of his talk addressing the issue of anti-Semitism and how it relates to Israel.
My dear friends,
The unity of the Jewish people is important at all times, but especially at this time. It’s especially important when the assault on the Jews is not confined to the Middle East, because as Michael said correctly there is a wave of anti-Semitism that is raging across Europe, but it goes beyond there to other continents as well.
I want to say something about anti-Semitism. My father was a great historian and a student of this phenomenon. It has ancient roots. It goes back roughly to Hellenistic times, five hundred years before the birth of the Christian era. It has a long tradition and old traditions die hard. Sometimes they don’t die. For centuries the world believed the worst things about Jews – and these lies were believed not just by the ignorant masses; they were believed as well by the educated elites. They said about us that we were poisoners of wells, spreaders of plagues, killers of children. Now the lies that were once leveled at the Jewish people are now leveled at the Jewish state. They say that Israel harvests organs, spreads AIDS and executes innocent children.
Once, the Jewish people couldn’t even raise its collective voice to fight against these lies, these slanders. Today, we have a voice. Today we have a voice. And we must ensure that our voice is heard loud and clear. We must speak out against the slander of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Now, whether it’s the Prime Minister of Israel speaking at the United Nations or Jewish students speaking at a college campus, we can and must fight lies and the only way you fight lies is telling the truth. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We have everything to be proud of. Stand up proudly. Speak the truth about Israel. Be proud as Jews.
The truth is Israel is a great country, a deeply moral country. Of course, like all countries, Israel is not a perfect country. But Israel is constantly judged by many in the international community according to a standard of perfection that is applied to no other country and that no country could possibly meet.
There is a name for holding the Jews to a different standard than other people. You know what it’s called. It begins with an “a” and it ends with an “m”. We recognize it for what it is. You cannot, you cannot hold the Jewish state to what I call the triple standard. One standard is for the dictatorships – you don’t expect much of them. The second standard is for the democracies. And the third standard – it’s not even a double standard, it’s the triple standard. There’s a special defined standard for the democracy called Israel. No way, no double standards, no triple standards. Treat Israel fairly. Treat Israel decently.
Now I have a friend whom you may know. His name is Alan Dershowitz. And he gave what I think is a very good test. He said this in the Oxford Student Union. By the way, he said he was the only one who won an Oxford Student Union debate on Israel. He gives a great fight. So here’s what our friend Alan Dershowitz, a great exponent of the truth, said. He said name a single country in the history of the world faced with threats comparable to those faced by Israel that has a better record of human rights, complies more rigorously with the rule of law and does more to minimize civilian casualties. He asked that and the answer was: There is no other country. Israel stands at the top of the list.
And I think we have to speak the truth about peace as well. The truth is that the reason that we don’t have peace yet with the Palestinians is not because of the settlements or a territorial dispute, the territories that that were won in our defensive war of 1967. Israelis and Palestinians had a conflict for half a century – almost 50 years – before Israel captured any of those territories or built even a single one of those settlements. And afterwards, we left part of that territory – Gaza. Left it to the very last centimeter or inch. Stripped out the settlements, went to the ’67 boundaries, uprooted all the people who were there, disinterred people from their graves. What did we get? Peace? We got rockets.
The truth is that the reason that there isn’t peace between Israelis and Palestinians is the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any boundary. That’s the truth. If you recognize the problem, you’ll be able to get to its solution.
And here’s another simple truth: The truth is that Israel seeks peace. The truth is that I seek peace. And when Israel, the people of Israel, the governments of Israel, met Arab leaders who wanted peace equally, like Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein, Israel made peace. We could do so when you meet an Arab leader who essentially says we’re burying the past. We’re seizing the future. We have no more demands of the Jewish state.
And when Israel will face a Palestinian leadership that seeks peace, that is willing to bury the past, that will make no more demands on the State of Israel – not get a state next to Israel in order to displace Israel, not get a state next to Israel in order to flood the adjoining State of Israel with millions of Palestinian descendants; when we meet a leader who actually is willing to recognize finally the Jewish state, we will have peace and that is the first requirement, the most essential requirement.
I remain committed to a vision of two states for two peoples where a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state, and Israel will continue to work for peace in the hope that what is not achievable today might be achievable tomorrow. Netanyahu then took a quick historical tour through the nearly seven decades of Israel’s existence. He ended his lengthy talk with gratitude.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus