The Jewish people have some connection to this land, but we recognize that others live in it too. Part of the campaign against Israel is the attempt to distort not only modern history, but also ancient history.
It’s very good to see all of you, to welcome you in Jerusalem. It is a great city that has great significance for each of your countries and for Europe. I was recently in Athens and my friend George Papandreou took me to a nightly visit to the Acropolis. It was very moving, very moving.
I learned that 2500 years ago the Greeks took the ropes of the bridge across the Bosporus. They burnt the bridge after they won the war against the Persians. They took the ropes and put them in the Acropolis, in the Parthenon, as a testament to their values, the values that they safeguarded in the battle for freedom.
So there were two sources of freedom for Western civilization that grew out of these two places. One was in Athens and the other is in Jerusalem. And a few hundred years before that, when this man depicted here, King David, you see him with the harp – when he was here, there was a prophet who said that he committed a great sin. He took one of his commanders and sent him to the front in order to gain the commander’s wife. That’s probably Batsheva right behind him. And the prophet described how a rich man takes the poor man’s lamb. The poor man had only a little lamb, one little lamb. And the rich man took it and he said, "What should we do with this man?" And he said, "Well, he has to be punished." And the prophet stands before the king and he says, "You are that man."
This is inconceivable in ancient times, but what is more inconceivable is that people wrote this down in the Bible. The idea is that men are governed by laws, by moral laws, and not by men; that they have innate rights, innate freedoms. This was a revolutionary idea. Well, it came from this Acropolis here. If you visited the Temple Mount, that’s the other Acropolis.
Now people say, well, you don’t really have an attachment to this land. We are new interlopers. We are neo-crusaders. If I could I would invite each of you into my office. You would see a display of antiquities from the Department of Antiquities. It’s in a little stand like this. And from the place next to the Temple wall, the Western Wall, from around the time of the Jewish kings, they found a signet ring, a seal of a Jewish official from 2700 years ago, and it has a name on it in Hebrew. You know what that name is? Netanyahu. Now, that’s my last name. My first name, Benjamin, goes back a thousand years earlier to Benjamin the son of Jacob who with his brothers roamed these very hills.
So we have some connection to this land, but we recognize that others live in it too. We want to make peace with them but we have this basic millennial connection to this land. Part of the campaign against Israel is the attempt to distort not only modern history, but also ancient history. There was no Jewish Temple – did you hear that one? Well, I’d like to know where were those tables that Jesus overturned? Were they in Tibet? There’s an attempt to rewrite history – ancient and modern and to deprive the Jewish people of their connection to their ancestral homeland and this is why I so welcome the fact that you come here to Israel, to Jerusalem – perhaps next time to my office. You will not be spared.
Now the Jewish people did not have many friends in Israel in the long history that we had, so we appreciate our friends, but especially at times of uncertainty. And this is why I want to thank you, each of you, for proudly calling yourselves European Friends of Israel. I deeply appreciate your steadfast support, your friendship, your uprightness, your courage. It requires courage to stand against the stream. This is what true leaders are made out of. All of you are leaders – you wouldn’t be here without that.
As I’ve indicated, the connection between Israel and Europe is bases on shared values, deep values from which springs European civilization and also shared interests. In the Middle East, Israel is the only country on which you can say that both things are true – shared values and shared interest. In the most profound sense, in the deepest sense, we are you and you are us. We form part and parcel of the same civilization. We share a common heritage and we share a common future.
We were in the Speaker’s office just now, and there’s a picture of Herzl, the modern prophet, like a biblical prophet who appeared in the history of our people over a hundred years ago, and he spoke about the rebirth of the Jewish State, and he was asked, "once founded, once established, how long would the Jewish State survive?" And his response, I’m paraphrasing it, basically the ideas was, the Jewish State would survive as long as Western civilization survives. There are those who say today, and vice versa – because we face common challenges. And at a time of uncertainty, the bonds that bind us together are more important than ever, and we’re definitely living in times of uncertainty.
The sands between Pakistan and Gibraltar, they’re shifting. A few weeks ago, the ground moved in Tunisia, and then the earthquake hit Egypt, and we still don’t know how far and how deep, and where the tremors will reach, but I think one thing has been brought into very sharp relief by the events of the past few weeks. Israel is an island of stability in a very unstable region. Between the great swathe of earth west of India up to the Atlantic Ocean, going from North Africa through the Middle East, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, and all that vast land, Israel is the one true and certain place of stability.
Why? We are stable because we’re a vibrant democracy anchored in robust democratic values. Of course there is no contradiction between the Jewish nation-state and a democratic state. A Jewish nation-state that recognizes the fact that the Jewish people were scattered as a minority – never had a land of their own.
I was in China when I was Prime Minister the first time. There’s a first time and a second time. Jose Maria and my friends, it’s not a suggestion, I’m just telling you that this is not an impossible development. So I was in China, and I was speaking to the president of China, Jiang Zemin, and he said to me, I really admire the Jewish people. So I said, I really admire the Chinese people. And he said, well, the Jews and the Chinese are two of the oldest civilizations in the world. And I said, yes, and then I put my foot in my mouth, I said, yes, India, China and Israel are three of the oldest civilizations and he agreed.
And then I said, but you notice there’s a difference. He said, what’s the difference? I said, how many Chinese are there in the world? He said, I think about that time, about 1.2 billion and, how many Indians? He said, about 1 billion. And I said, how many Jews? He didn’t know. I said, there are about 13 million Jews in the world. And there was a stunned silence in the room. That’s a small suburb of Beijing. I said, that’s odd because we numbered about ten percent of the population of the Roman Empire, so by extrapolation we should have had about a quarter of a billion Jews today in the world. That’s clearly not the case so what happened, he asked me.
And I said a lot of things happened, but they boiled down to one basic thing. You, the Chinese kept China – you had Diaspora, but you kept China. The Indians kept India. They had Diasporas, but they kept their home base. And we Jews lost our homeland and were scattered to the far corners of the earth and we were subjected to a horrific campaign of persecution, pogroms, displacement, murder, until the last and worst pogrom, and the Holocaust that destroyed all the Jews on the soil of Europe and also the Jews of North Africa and beyond.
So for the last 2,000 years what we’ve been trying to do is get back to our ancestral homeland and reestablish a sovereign existence for our people so we can continue our national life with our heritage and our values of freedom, and this is an encapsulation of our history and we did come back. We did reestablish our sovereignty. We did establish a vibrant democratic state.
We are anchored in those values and because of those values of freedom, of choice, of pluralism; Israelis are innately sympathetic to the advance of genuine democratic reform in all countries. We feel a natural bond with countries where the rights of women, the rights of gays, the rights of minorities are respected – where people are governed by laws and not by men.
This is something we innately identify with and you innately identify with because these are things democratic societies that citizens in such societies consider to be their birthright, and they’re rightly precious to all of you – to everyone present in this room.
Now the 20th century saw a great part of humanity enter the modern age with an unprecedented expansion of political and economic liberty. But for many in the Middle East, the 20th century skipped them by. Now 21st century technology is reminding them of what they missed. We are sympathetic to all those who are working to reform their own societies and to bring them into the modern world.
Many of you come from Eastern and Central Europe. I remember what we felt in the great events of 1989. I remember the jubilation in Berlin and in the capitals of Eastern Europe. We all felt the promise of a new day. And that day has arrived. All of you have arrived. You’ve come here today to Israel from Poland, from the Czech Republic, from Hungary, from Romania, from the Baltic countries and many other countries. You are testament to the possibility of progress and liberty. There’s no one else who can better describe this promise than you.
Yet at the same time, history also argues for caution when it comes to revolutions. Even those revolutions started in the name of freedom. We know of many examples of anti-democratic forces that co-opted a people’s genuine desire for liberty and instead established brutal regimes that snuffed out liberty – just crushed all human rights into the dust. You’re familiar with one example, it happened in 1917. A few months of a Russian spring under Kerensky, then turned into a 70 year Bolshevik winter. And this happened again in our region in 1979. The Iranian people’s hope of a new democratic dawn, turned into the darkness of thirty years of brutal repression.
So while we all hope that every country succeeds in walking down the path of reform, history teaches us not to assume that any destination is inevitable. In the case of Egypt, there are many possible outcomes beyond the liberal, democratic models that we take for granted in our own countries.
First, Egyptians may choose to embrace the model of a secular reformist state with a prominent role for the military. There is a second possibility that the Islamists exploit the influence to gradually take the country into a reverse direction – not towards modernity and reform but backward. And there’s still a third possibility – that Egypt would go the way of Iran, where calls for progress would be silenced by a dark and violent despotism that subjugates its own people and threatens everyone else. You just have to remember the brutal crackdown in Iran 18 months ago. In Tehran, there was no dialogue, no reform, no restraint, nothing. In the squares of Cairo, with all the turbulence and some tragedy, Egyptians read papers on the tanks of their soldiers. In the squares of Tehran, Iranians were gunned down systematically and left choking on the sidewalks on their blood.
I don’t know what will happen in Egypt. But from Israel’s perspective, our interest is clear. Our interest is to maintain the peace that we have enjoyed for three decades. That peace has brought quiet to our southern border and it served the strategic interests of both countries, and brought stability to the region, in fact to the entire Middle East.
We expect the international community to be equally clear that it expects any Egyptian government to maintain the peace. The peace with Jordan is also critically important to us. Since 1970, we’ve enjoyed a de facto peace on our eastern frontier with the Kingdom of Jordan. Both the late King Hussein and King Abdullah have been genuine partners for peace. And that peace has also served the strategic interests of both countries and increased stability in the region. Some of us are old enough to remember what it was like before we had that peace.
I joined the army in 1967. And I remember as a young soldier crossing into Jordan many times in battle, in firefights. And I remember fighting along the banks of the Suez Canel. I remember fighting in the Suez Canal and in one of those firefights, I was actually about to drown in the Suez Canal with a forty pound ammunition pack on my back and with my last gasp of breath, I went to the surface, put my hand up and somebody on a semi-punctured zodiac commando boat of ours reached his hand and put me on the boat. People are still trying to figure out whom that soldier was who was foolish enough to reach down into the water to save me. We remember what it was like. We remember when our friends died in battle. We remember when we had a multi-front war. We remember the pain, the anguish, of grief, ours and that of our Arab neighbors. We remember.
And so we bless the fact that for over 30 years on the Egyptian front and close to 40 years on the Jordanian front, we’ve had peace. There’s a new generation in Israel and in Egypt and in Jordan that has grown up without war. So a new generation of Israelis and Egyptians and Jordanians who grew up without war. So we have to do everything in our power to preserve this blessing for future generations as well.
And we want to expand the peace; we want to expand it with our other neighbors, specifically with the Palestinians. We want to forge a lasting peace. We have to maintain the present peace treaties and create new ones. These are big challenges.
I’ve been saying in the Knesset just about every week that in our pursuit of peace, we have to ensure that there are rock-solid security arrangements, both to protect the peace, to reflect the reality on the ground today, but also to reflect the fact that that reality can change tomorrow. We need a peace anchored in iron-clad security arrangements both to bolster the peace itself, but also to protect our security if the peace unravels, and the peace can be unraveled from without. We left Lebanon – Iran walked in with Hizbullah. We left Gaza – Iran walked in with Hamas. It could be unraveled from without. It could be unraveled from within.
Our commitment, our goal is the maintenance and the expansion of peace. But as we think about the dramatic events that are taking place in Egypt, let’s not lose sight of an even greater earthquake, greater than everything that I described, that could rock our region and rock the world and rock each of your countries and Europe if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons.
Here’s what Iran is doing today. It’s in Afghanistan; it’s in Iraq; it’s in the Yemen; it’s pretty much taken over Lebanon; it’s taken over Gaza; it’s in the Horn of Africa; it’s even sending its tentacles to the Western Hemisphere, penetrating Latin America. This is what Iran is doing today without nuclear weapons. Imagine what they will do tomorrow with nuclear weapons. Iran already has missiles that reach well beyond Israel. They’re not developing these long-range missiles for us; they can reach us. They’re developing it for you, to reach you. With each passing day, those missiles bring more of Europe into range. And I have some bad news for you: Jose Maria, you’re in the caliphate. They talk about a new caliphate. There’s anyone here from Romania? Borderline. Sweden? You’re out of it for now.
They say they can’t possibly mean this, it cannot be that in the 21st century people speak of caliphates, of new-found empires, of an ideology that is suited not for the 21st century but for the 9th century. I urge you not to underestimate this threat to our common civilization. It’s hard for people to understand, especially for Westerners. It’s hard for them to understand fanaticism – especially if sometimes it wears a suit and a tie, or a suit without a tie. It’s very hard to understand that. But it’s there.
You ask yourself, for example, what was the Taliban thinking when they enabled the dispatch of al-Qaida to bomb New York and Washington. What were they thinking? Were they thinking that the United States would not send an army to bring down their regime? Could they have been that crazy, or that stupid? They weren’t stupid. They were totally irrational.
Today there’s a competition between the militant Sunnis and the militant Shiites. The militant Shiites have a state. That state is developing nuclear weapons, with unbridled ambitions for power and dominance. They see the United States as the great Satan, we’re the little Satan, and you’re somewhere in between. You’re a middle-sized Satan. That’s how they view us. And there’s no room in the world, in their world, for us and for our societies.
I believe that the greatest threat facing the world today is the possibility that a militant Islamic regime will meet up with nuclear weapons, or that nuclear weapons will meet up with a militant Islamic regime. The first is called Iran, the second is called Pakistan. Given the events that are unfolding in our region, there are other possibilities as well. This cannot be allowed to happen.
The good news is that nothing is inevitable. We have the power to protect our common civilization, to roll back the forces of radicalism and to advance a secure peace. One of the keys to defeating this fanaticism is to be able to distinguish friends from enemies. In this battle between the 21st century and the 9th century, between freedom and despotism, between progress and primitivism, Europe and Israel stand squarely on the same side.
This is something each and every one of you understands. And that is why I am so happy to see you here in Jerusalem, and why I welcome this initiative of the European Friends of Israel. Because the European Friends of Israel are the European friends of Europe. They are the European friends of our common civilization, our common roots, our common values, our common aspirations for the future.If we stand together; if we solidify this partnership we have the strength, the will and the determination to protect and secure our common future.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you very much.