It is a source of great pride and inspiration to all of us in Israel, to see the American Jewish community so united – and so engaged – in its support for Israel. You serve as a crucial human bridge between our two countries.

Address by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom to the 2004 United Jewish Communities General Assembly
Cleveland, Ohio
14 November 2004

It is a great honor to be with you here this evening, and to bring you greetings from Jerusalem, the holy, united and eternal capital of the Jewish people. I also bring with me the warm personal greetings of Prime Minister Sharon, who asked me to represent him here this evening.

Last year in Jerusalem, the Prime Minister called on the GA delegates to be ambassadors for Israel. As the head of Israel’s diplomatic service, I am here tonight officially, to welcome you to our ranks!   

It is, of course, a great honor to salute the great work of the UJC and the Federations, and your tens of thousands of donors, activists and members. Through your commitment and mobilization – on behalf of Israel and on behalf of American and world Jewry – each and every one of you is making an historic and crucial contribution, to the realization of our dreams, and to our destiny as a people.

Here in Ohio, they say that every vote counts. Well, when it comes to Israel – every one of you counts. Your work counts. Your leadership counts. Your passion counts.
 
UJC-sponsored programs like Birthright have become flagships of modern Zionist activism – by giving the younger generation the opportunity to connect with their roots, to see Israel and to strengthen their identity as Jews. Your educational efforts for Israel awareness, and Jewish continuity, are helping us protect and promote, the unbroken chain of Jewish history, that has survived for over five thousand years.
 
Through these efforts you are not only making the Jewish people stronger, you are making Israel stronger too. And let us remember: A strong Israel is good for the Jewish community, just as a strong Jewish community is good for Israel.

You have chosen as your theme for this year’s GA the concept of "Imagine". I don’t think anyone could have chosen a more appropriate theme. The modern State of Israel is the ultimate "imagine". Israel is the triumph of an idea; it is the living, breathing, realization of the dream which has held our people together for two thousand years – "lehiyot am hofshi be’artzeinu" – to be a free people in our own land.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Never in our nation’s history have so many Jews been free in their own land, as today in the State of Israel. Decades of aliya from over 130 countries have allowed our small country to grow into an economic powerhouse of innovation and creativity. Our melting-pot society is producing a modern, Jewish culture full of richness, color and diversity. And every year anew, tens of thousands of Jews from around the world, come to play their part in this great endeavor. Each new immigrant, making us richer. Each new birth, making us stronger.

Of course we still face many challenges – and your involvement remains crucial to our ability to meet them – but the realization of the Zionist vision of our founding fathers is real, and it is wonderful to see.

In realizing this dream, Israel is not only a product of "imagine". It is also one of the world’s leading producers of "imagine" – offering freedom and opportunity to each and every one of its citizens, to realise their own unique human potential. Tonight, you will hear the stories of a group of young Israelis, who embody both the spirit of "imagine", and its practical fulfillment.

I, too – if I may say – am an example, of the unlimited potential, for individual and national fulfillment, that Israel provides to each of its citizens, and to each and every Jew, wherever they may be. I came to Israel as a young immigrant from Tunisia. From humble beginnings in the Negev town of Beersheva, my country has given me the opportunity to represent our people at the highest levels. I am one of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, to whom Israel has granted promise and protection, freedom and opportunity, and the possibility of living our own personal story, on the great stage of our nation’s history.

Friends,

It is a source of great pride and inspiration to all of us in Israel, to see the American Jewish community so united – and so engaged – in its support for Israel. You serve as a crucial human bridge between our two countries.

Israel and America are more than just allies. The human and communal bonds which bind us together, are stronger than any merely political partnership. America, like Israel, is a society of immigrants, built on the ideas and values of freedom, opportunity, tolerance and democracy. Ours is a union of ideas and priorities, and values and interests, which transcends partisan politics, and which goes deeper than any particular policy. This unity of ideas is reflected in the bipartisan support that Israel enjoys in this country, from administration to administration, in Congress, and across the entire political spectrum.

American Jewry has made a profound contribution to building this consensus. You – the leadership of American Jewry –  should be very proud.

You all, too, are both products and producers of "imagine". But America’s greatest strength, I believe, is its ability, and its willingness, to imagine – not only for its own citizens, but for the entire world.

America has always known that it is not enough to bring freedom and democracy to its own people. America understands that democracy and its freedoms must be protected everywhere, if they are to survive anywhere. For generations, it has been America’s strong and courageous leadership which has protected mankind from ideologies – from Nazism to communism to extremist Islamic fundamentalism – whose common essence is their tyrannical denial of basic freedoms.

Today, America continues to show the way:

  • It is leading the international battle against global terror.
  • It is leading the diplomatic battle against countries like Iran, who seek weapons of mass destruction.
  • And it is leading the battle to bring peace and democracy to the Middle East.

We must never under-estimate the crucial moral, and strategic, importance of this effort. The removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq has placed those countries – and the Middle East as a whole – on the path to democracy.

The time has come, for Israel no longer to be the only democracy in the Middle East.
 
Friends,

There was a time, when the problems of terror, Islamic fundamentalism and Iranian nuclear ambition, were seen only as Israel’s problems – not challenges which threatened the world as a whole. Today, however – as a result of America’s determined leadership – this is changing. The community of nations is more united than ever, in the battle against terrorism, and more united than ever, in opposition to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Iran has replaced Saddam Hussein as the world’s number one exporter of terror, hate and instability. Iran today agreed to suspend its nuclear enrichment program.  But we know their real intentions. The international community, under American leadership, must stand up to the threat of a nuclear Iran.

The growing international consensus against terror, has created renewed hope for peace in the Middle East. The understanding that once existed for Palestinian terror – as if it was somehow different from the terror of 9/11, or Madrid, or Beslan – is fading.

For decades, Israel and the Palestinians have lived under the shadow of this terror. Terror which has destroyed the lives of thousands of innocent people, and taken a huge toll on our society and our economy, and made peace impossible. In the last four years alone, over a thousand Israelis have been deliberately murdered, and many thousands more injured, in over twenty thousand separate terrorist attacks. The harrowing pictures and stories are burnt into our national memory, and into the heart of each and every one of us. The world now realizes that this terrorism – like terrorism anywhere – threatens freedom everywhere.

With the passing of Yasser Arafat, the potential for positive movement away from terror, is greater than ever before. For almost forty years, Yasser Arafat presided over the Palestinian campaign of terror against our citizens. His name is synonymous with the terrorist atrocities of Munich and Maalot, of the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium and the Park Hotel in Netanya.

For those who do not remember, it is worth recalling that it was Arafat who introduced plane hijacking to the world, who introduced suicide bombers and hostage taking. He was the godfather of global terror. Under his leadership, the Palestinians spent more energy fighting Israel on campuses, in the media and at the UN, than they did in fighting the terrorists in their own territory. Over recent years, the world came to understand that he was no partner for peace; that he was part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Yet many people today – caught up in the drama of his passing – seek to romanticize and glorify his life, to portray Arafat as a great leader, as a hero.

But dear friends, we should know: There is no glory, in the murder of innocent women and children. There is no heroism, in the willful resort to violence, when historic compromises for peace, are on the table.

If Arafat is to be remembered as an icon, he should be remembered for what he was – an icon of terror, and nothing more. Arafat may have sold dreams, but he delivered only nightmares.

Yet even as the wounds of these decades of terror remain open, we must look forward. We must continue to imagine.

President Bush said on Friday that he is ready to move forward, and so are we. Let me say it loud, and let me say it clear: The State of Israel has never abandoned its desire, to live in peace, with the Palestinian people. We continue to stretch out our hand in peace. Peace for Israel is a moral, strategic and economic imperative. It is in our prayers and in our dreams. It is what our people wants, and what our people needs.

Israel is not – nor will it be – involved in any way in the question of who runs the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians’ future is in their hands, not ours. But we will continue to stress our hope – and our demand – that whoever leads the Palestinians, will lead them away from terror, and towards a better future for us both.

This will not be easy for them or for the region. Only a few hours ago, some Palestinians tried to shoot their leaders – to intimidate them from challenging the terrorists. But we need a responsible Palestinian partner who is committed – in word and action – to fighting terror and incitement, as stipulated in the Roadmap. For their sake and ours – the Palestinians must now be guided by their leaders to build their own society, rather than seeking to destroy ours. 

Incitement to violence must be replaced by education for peace, and the infrastructure of terror must be dismantled. This is not only our demand. It is the demand of the United States and the entire international community. If such a partner emerges, we will be there.

We are ready to talk to any leadership – from Syria, or Lebanon or the Palestinians – who comes to the table without terror, and with the genuine intention, of finding mutually acceptable solutions to our differences.

Meanwhile, our Government remains committed to the Prime Minister’s Disengagement Plan, which has also now received the backing of the Knesset. This is a unilateral Israeli plan – backed by the United States and the international community – designed to improve security under conditions where the Palestinian side is doing nothing to stop terror. 

Israel will never compromise on the security of our citizens. We do not have the luxury to wait for others to bring that security. We must always take the initiative ourselves. This is what we have always done, and this is what we will continue to do. The preparations for the plan’s implementation in 2005 remain on track.

Israel has every interest that Gaza will be ruled in a responsible manner when redeployment takes place. If a new leadership on the Palestinian side acts to combat terror, then we will be able to consider coordinating aspects of the "day after" with them. But we can not afford to leave ourselves hostages to fortune.

The possibility, of change on the Palestinian side, is not enough. We need to see change on the ground, before we can get back to the negotiating table.

Dear Friends,

The history of Zionism is a lesson in the power of an idea, in the power of "imagine". But there is another, no less important, lesson to learn, from this wonderful transformation of Jewish life in the modern era. And that is, that ideas and beliefs, and aspirations, and dreams, need ordinary people to act on them, if they are to be translated into reality. From Herzl to Ben-Gurion to Begin and to Rabin, the history of modern Israel is filled with leaders, who were not only inspired by ideas, but who acted to implement them; leaders who were determined, to shape history, rather than letting history shape them.

This is our shared challenge, today, too:

  • We must act together to combat the new anti-Semitism which is taking root in Europe and the Arab world;
  • We must act together to stand up to the growing trend of anti-Israel hostility on campuses.
  • We must act together to help Israeli society deal with the many social challenges which still confront us – including drugs and poverty and social inequality.
  • We must act together to ensure continuity for our Jewish values and beliefs.
  • And we must act together to increase Aliya. We would like to see every Jew coming to Israel – and the sooner the better. If there was no diaspora – Israel today would have a population of 200 million.

The key to our success in this effort is our unity of purpose. Only if we continue to work together, can we be sure of our success.

Of course, like any democracy – let alone a Jewish one – we in Israel are blessed with many opinions, and many points of view. The same is of course true of the American Jewish community, and we both draw great strength from this pluralism. But we also draw great strength from the consensus we share over the right of Jews to live free of fear and persecution, wherever they may be. And we also draw great strength from our consensus, over our national right to live in peace in our historic homeland, the State of Israel, with Jerusalem as our united and eternal capital.

We both need to preserve this unity. When we speak in one voice, we are stronger.

As we celebrate together the wonderful achievements and the great promise of the State of Israel, my message to you tonight is: continue to imagine.

Continue to imagine Israel in your lives, and your lives in Israel.
Continue to imagine a world where we are all safe – as individuals, and as a nation.
Continue to imagine Israel at peace with its neighbors.
But don’t just stop there.

Continue also to translate your imagine, into reality.
Continue to build and to educate, to mobilize and to inspire.
Continue your efforts to preserve the chain of history which binds us together – to our past and to our future.
Continue to lead.

Our shared future as one, united, secure and independent, people, depends on it.