PM NETANYAHU'S SPEECH TO COUNCIL OF JEWISH FEDERATIONS

(Communicated by the Prime Minister's Media Advisor) The following is the speech given by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the General Assembly of the American Council of Jewish Federations yesterday (Sunday), 16.11.97, in Indianapolis:
"My fellow Jews, my friends, these are uneasy times in the Middle East. The winds of aggression and brazen defiance of civilized norms are stirring again in the Persian Gulf. Saddam Hussein is at it again. At this time, I call on all of you, as I call on all the citizens of Israel, to stand behind President Bill Clinton. He is not only the leader of the free world, he is one of Israel's best friends. At this moment, when he is facing down Saddam Hussein, President Clinton deserves to know that all those who cherish peace and freedom support him. He deserves to know that we as Jews, Americans and Israelis alike, stand united behind him. We hope that the crisis ends without confrontation, and we trust President Clinton to steer it through with coolness of judgment and strength of conviction in the justice of our common stance.

Preserving Jewish Unity

We too are facing a crisis of our own inside our Jewish world. I have been invited to appear here as the Prime Minister of Israel. But I would like to express myself also as a fellow Jew, as an Israeli who has spent some years in America, as a friend who is deeply and acutely aware of your bewilderment and pain. I want to state at the outset as emphatically as I can: no one, nobody, can deprive a Jew of his Jewishness. No power on earth can rob any Jew of his or her identity. There can be no such thing as a second-class Jew. Every Jew is a legitimate Jew. Period. We are all equal before God. The membership in our faith and people is not the exclusive domain of anyone. We are all brothers and sisters, all members of one Jewish people, all practitioners of the Jewish faith. My friends, This is not the first crisis in our history, and I am sure it is not the last. It is also by no means the worst crisis. But this does not ease the pain it inflicts, the anxiety it promotes, and the alienation it causes. We cannot, we must not allow this crisis to become a disaster. We cannot, we must not allow it to pull us apart. Our sages tell us that fraternal hatred caused the destruction of the Temple. We will betray the trust of all Jews if we let mutual resentment and hostility overwhelm us again. In this case too, we must unite behind those things that truly bind us to one another: Surely, all these things can help us overcome the controversy over the question of Rabbinic conversions in Israel. You will hear a detailed discussion of the issue when Finance Minister Ya'acov Ne'eman, who heads the commission on the conversion law, will appear here tomorrow. I don't want to go into the details of this controversy. All sides have agreed to a suspension of three months to allow Minister Ne'eman to work out a solution. I don't envy him. In many ways this controversy reminds me of the story about two litigants who came to a Rabbi. After hearing the first, the Rabbi says: "You are absolutely right". After hearing the second litigant the Rabbi again says: "You are absolutely right." "How can they both be right, if they totally contradict each other?" asks the Rabbi's wife. "You know something," says the Rabbi, "You too are absolutely right."

I do not believe that this issue can be resolved through litigation or legislation. We would rather have neither. What we need is an agreement among the religious leaders of all the parties involved. It is not going to be easy. The controversy about Jewish identity has been with us, in various guises, for two millennia. Much of the time it was dormant, and often it was swept under the rug. But in its present form it is both debilitating and dangerous. Finding a solution is a formidable task. It has never been attempted by an Israeli government. And it will take perseverance and patience, and a tremendous reservoir of goodwill to reach a solution. We have done something extraordinary. For the first time since the founding of the Jewish State 50 years ago, and since the founding of the Rabbinate in pre-state Palestine 80 years ago, we have brought representatives of all 3 streams of Judaism to sit together to achieve a historic agreement on religious life in Israel. My government has now established the first official dialogue with the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements, in Israel's history.

We are determined to reach a consensus between us. It will have to be a creative solution, allowing at once continuity and change, involvement and inclusion alongside stability and purposeful evolution. But it is important that you know that whatever the shape of this creative solution, there will be no change in the status of conversions performed outside Israel. Every Reform, Conservative and Orthodox conversion done in the U.S will continue to be recognized in the State of Israel. I will not allow this to change. We are going to be able to achieve a historic agreement inside Israel only with your help. And it is to seek your help that I have come here tonight. You are not a third party looking in. You are partners at the table, partners in the common cause of Jewish unity. I will be coming to you soon to seek your advice and counsel. I will be coming to you in a short time to seek your support for a historic solution that we will fashion together. We will have embarked on a path of conciliation for the Jewish People at the close of the 20th century, at the eve of the 21st. let us stop looking at each other as enemies. Let those who would divide us go elsewhere. We are lifelong friends, brothers and sisters, one family, one people. We can overcome this crisis, because we must overcome it, to secure the survival and unity of the Jewish People. We have a historic responsibility for future generations of Jews. Let us live up to that responsibility in kindred spirit of friendship and common purpose.

Combating Jewish assimilation

The unity of the Jewish People is the most precious asset we have. It is urgent and vital that we maintain it. But I want to remind you that unity between Israel and the Diaspora will have little meaning if there is no one left to unify. What has been happening in the past 50 years is deeply disturbing. After the Holocaust we numbered 12 million. Natural growth should have almost doubled this number in the half-century since then. But our number today is about the same. We have been ravaged by assimilation, and unless we stem this hemorrhage it will have devastating effects. We must support Jewish education in the Diaspora and bring Jewish youth to Israel to experience our nation in its homeland. We must impart Jewish values to our children. We must increase the teaching of Hebrew. We must assert the centrality of Israel in our life. We will need your help for their future absorption.

Economic advances

We have progressed so dramatically in the economic sphere that moving from the U.S to Israel no longer means a dramatic change in living standards. (Reverse immigration -- U.S to Israel) We have already surpassed the European average for individual income, and we are on the way to making Israel one of the most developed and prosperous nations in the world. I believe our achievements are impressive. We have reduced the tremendous national deficit. We have privatized to the tune of 9 billion shekels -- 30 times the amount privatized in the past. We are promoting competition and private enterprise in communications, public transportation and every possible sphere. This year we have witnessed unprecedented growth in foreign investment -- a total of $3 billion -- more than in any year since the establishment of the state.

These investments are a measure of the confidence we enjoy in the international business community. Israel has brilliant minds in technology and science, the kind of intellectual treasures which enable the people of the book to be also the people of the disc and of software, telecommunications and lasers.

Rabin assassination

I know you must wonder: Why, if the picture I paint is so rosy, is the national mood reputed to be so low? One reason for our feeling of unease has to do with the terrible event we commemorated only last week: the murder of our prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin. Only one individual committed this heinous crime, but the entire nation shuddered to the depths of its soul and cried out in anguish. As Americans know all too well, the assassination of a leader in a democracy is a national trauma which takes a long time to heal. The shock and emotional upheaval are still shared by the entire nation. We still ask ourselves how such a thing could happen to us, the Jewish People. We hope that the wound will heal, that we will learn the necessary lessons and extend a hand to each other. I extend my hand, now and always. No issue, no controversy, no conflict can be allowed to destroy the basic unity of our people.

Peace

Our hand is extended also to our Arab neighbors.

In the election campaign last year, I promised to bring peace with security. None of us expected to be able to achieve this overnight or even over a year. What we meant was that we would not sign agreements which would not bring us security.

Peace without security is meaningless, just as security without peace is barren and sterile.

If our experience in the Middle East has taught us one thing, it is that peace cannot be achieved unless we see things as they are. This is often difficult. It is far more tempting to receive praise from all over by conceding more and more, by withdrawing more and more and giving more and more without receiving any security in return. But we know that taking the easy route invites disaster. It has never brought peace and it will never bring peace. That is why the days of unilateral concessions by Israel are over.

This is the realistic approach, but it has its price. We are accused of shattering the dream of peace, of destroying the hope for peace. But the opposite is true. Only a realistic approach, only sober policies unclouded by illusions will bring peace. I am convinced we can achieve peace and that we will achieve it if there is good will on the other side. I am convinced that only this government is capable of uniting the people of Israel behind a permanent peace settlement with the Palestinians and a peace treaty with Syria.

The realism I am talking about includes our recognition of the fact of the Palestinian entity. We accept this fact, and we have a clear, coherent and realistic plan to live in peace with the Palestinian entity. For many of us this has meant substantial adjustment of expectations. What is missing is that the Palestinian Authority also recognize reality.

The Palestinians must understand that there is no alternative to an all-out war against terrorism. They must disabuse themselves once and for all of the delusion that they can destroy Israel - in stages, or through an alliance with such regimes as Saddam Hussein's or Iran.

The Shape of Peace

I have not drawn any precise maps to define what we have in mind for an agreement with the Palestinians. But I know that I represent a broad national consensus when I declare that the Jordan Valley must be Israel's strategic border; that Israel will not give up control of airspace and water sources; that it must keep strategic zones it considers vital; that it will not allow a Palestinian army equipped with heavy weapons or non-conventional arms to form west of the Jordan; and, above all, that Jerusalem will stay the undivided capital of Israel forever.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem is the embodiment of our aspiration to revive our life in our ancient land. There has never been such an association between a people and a city as that between the Jewish people and Jerusalem. It is the rock of ages, and it is our rock! It has never been the capital of another people. It will never be the capital of another people. It will remain one city forever, a free city open to all faiths, united under Israel, indivisible under God.

Call to the Palestinians

Israel will not compromise on Jerusalem and it will guard its security, but it is ready to go far for peace. No nation wants peace more than we do. I call on the Palestinians to accept our outstretched hand. I beseech them not to repeat the mistakes of the past, not to miss yet again an historic opportunity.

I say to the Palestinians: This is the first time in your history that you have within reach the ability to lead a national life in dignity and honor. This is the first time that you have unfettered self-rule. The first time you can freely and safely run your lives and develop your culture, tradition, economy and policies.

Do not miss this opportunity. Join us in making peace, in creating conditions that will enable our peoples to coexist in peace in that tiny piece of land between the Jordan and the sea. And join us now in moving toward a permanent resolution of the conflict. A permanent settlement is a synonym for peace. If you truly want peace and reconciliation, you will not place obstacles on the path to negotiations on the permanent settlement.

Our hand is extended in peace. Accept it, and you will bring untold benefits to both our peoples who pray and yearn for the completion of the long-for peace between us.

In the 100 years of political Zionism, the 80 years since the Balfour Declaration and the 50 years of the existence of the State, we have faced tremendous challenges which dwarf what we face today. There were times when the entire Jewish future was in doubt, times when a real threat of destruction hung over our heads, and times when religious polarization and internal rifts endangered our very existence

But we have managed to overcome all these obstacles. In just a few generations, we have realized a 2000 year-old dream. We have established a state, gathered in the exiles, integrated 100 communities into one nation, developed a society, revived an ancient language, created a vigorous civilization and built a vibrant economy. We achieved all of this while struggling under the ever present threat of destruction.

Let us never forget that the State of Israel is one of the most amazing success stories of the 20th Century. And I am convinced that this is only the beginning. And let us remember too, that there are times when the ebb and flow of political life, the inexorable oscillation from crisis to resolution that accompanies our daily journey, can often obscure the larger historic truth.

The larger historical truth of our time is that we are marching on the right path, overcoming challenges before us, defending our rights in the international arena, achieving important advances in all fields. From a defenseless people over 50 years ago, we have restored our capacity for self-defense and our capacity to shape our destiny.

Peace, security and prosperity are within our reach.

As a nation we are 50 years old. In the life of a state, it is an age of budding maturity; it is an age when our nation's vigor is at its peak. This vigor will enable us to achieve all our objectives, but only if we can first achieve unity among ourselves. Divided, we are an endangered species. United, we are invincible.

On the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel, we mark the triumph of a great people. Together, we have overcome the direst adversity in our history; of any people's history. We have struggled against the greatest odds, and succeeded. We have faced the greatest challenges, and met them. We have achieved greatness in the past. We will achieve greatness now and in the future.

We have and we always will.

Join me, not next year in Jerusalem, but this year in Jerusalem, as we go forward, a united people, strong in faith, prosperous in spirit, at peace with our neighbors, at peace with ourselves.


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