Sharon: "The primary means to guarantee Jewish continuity is through Jewish-Zionist education for our younger generation. This is of crucial importance in Jewish communities around the world, as well as in Israel."
(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Office)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I came today from Jerusalem, the eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. It has been a long time since my last visit to New York, and it is a privilege to be here again and meet with you at such a crucial time for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
I am honored to stand here and feel the strong bond between Israel and the rest of the Jewish world. We share a history, and we share a future as well.
In 1948, the new State of Israel was forced to stand its ground against the armies of the combined Arab world. The survival of Israel was not at all certain. We had no choice but to fight for our lives. It seemed as if we stood alone.
But we were not all alone. I had the merit to participate in the War of Independence, and I still remember how I felt when I learned that volunteers from Jewish communities around the world were coming to help us. They risked, and sometimes lost, their lives in our War of Independence. Then these volunteers were known as Machal.
They were few, but their solidarity made a great moral contribution. They reassured us that our fight was the fight of Jews everywhere. That we were fighting for our sisters and brothers across the sea, as much as for our long-gone grandparents, and our grandchildren yet to be born. They reassured us that the entire Jewish world was an interconnected whole.
In the past, the Jewish people was united by persecution and insecurity. But the reality of today is different than that of yesterday. Today, the world Jewish community is stronger than it has ever been. Today we have confidence. Today we have security and strength. Today we have Israel.
In its short existence Israel has reached tremendous achievements. We have brought millions of Jewish immigrants from five continents, who speak 82 languages, and they were all absorbed in Israel. We have research and academic institutions that are among the best in the world, and agriculture which is envied everywhere.
We have more engineers per capita than any other country, more start-up companies than anywhere else, apart from Silicon Valley. We are a part of the exclusive group of countries that have launched satellites into space.
Never again will we be defenseless victims. Never again will Jews anywhere be left to the mercy of a hostile world.
Despite the spread of anti-Semitism, a phenomenon which we must fight in principle, the lives of Jews in the Diaspora today are not in danger — but their lives as Jews are. Most individual Jews do not have to worry about their survival. The Jewish communities, however, do.
Intermarriage and a weakening connection to Judaism threaten its numbers. Assimilation is now a greater danger than it has ever been.
The struggle against this phenomenon, the need to secure the future of the Jewish people, is the greatest challenge we are facing today. We must address this challenge together, so that our proud heritage will be maintained for generations to come.
The primary means to guarantee Jewish continuity is through Jewish-Zionist education for our younger generation. This is of crucial importance in Jewish communities around the world, as well as in Israel.
Enhancing Jewish-Zionist education around the world, in addition to general education, is the role of the Jewish communities, but it is also the responsibility of the State of Israel. I always say that being Jewish is the most important thing for me. I am a Jew. That is the most important thing for me. I believe that it is our responsibility to ensure the future of the Jewish people in 30 years, 300 years, and with God’s help, 3,000 years. We are no longer in 1948; we have the ability to assist, and we must do so.
We know that a visit to Israel has the most powerful effect on strengthening Jewish identity among youngsters. Ask any Jewish youngster who participated in the wonderful "birthright israel" program, and you will understand the impact that the Israeli experience had on their Jewish identity. You will also be surprised to learn how strong an impact a meeting with birthright participants has on Israeli youth.
This is what motivated us to initiate the new Massa (Journey) program, together with the Jewish Agency. This program is designed to encourage Jewish youth in the world to spend up to a year in Israel, and to give them the opportunity to do so.
Their experiences in Israel will be with them for the rest of their lives. They will remain connected and committed to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
For some of them, this will lead to aliya. They will realize that Israel is the place where they should live their lives and raise their children, that it is the only place in the world where Jews can prosper as an independent people.
And you — their parents, grandparents, and leaders — must encourage this. Even if, in the meantime, you yourselves choose to support Israel from abroad (but don’t wait too long), it is your responsibility to promote aliya among the youth of your community. You have to support programs and initiatives toward aliya from North America, such as Nefesh B’Nefesh and others.
The very essence of Zionism is aliya. It is the primary goal of my government. We set a target to bring another million Jews to Israel during the next 15 years. It is the best way to ensure the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. And I would like you to know that we always needed you, but now we need you there more than ever.
The future of the Jewish people depends also on Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic State. In this spirit we initiated the Disengagement Plan. This plan will improve our security and offer a chance to start a political process with the Palestinians. It will guarantee a Jewish majority in the State of Israel. It is thanks to this plan that we can make certain that important parts of the cradle of the Jewish heritage will remain part of Israel forever.
As part of the plan, President Bush and I exchanged letters. The president’s letter, endorsed by both Houses of Congress, clarified the United States’ position on several critical issues for our future: Israel’ right to defend itself by itself against any threat, and to have secure and defensible borders; the major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria will remain part of Israel under any permanent agreement; there will be no return to the 1967 borders; and there will be no entry of Palestinian refugees into Israel.
We also agreed that the Roadmap will be the only political plan toward an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel is a peace-seeking country. I said in the past and I say it also today: I am willing to make painful compromises for genuine, durable, real peace. I think that the entire world can now see how hard such compromises are. There is one thing on which we will not make any compromises, not now and not in the future, and that is our security.
I made it very clear to the friendly leadership of this country: I made it very clear that Israel will never make any compromises with terror, and when it comes to the lives of our citizens, there is not going to be any compromise, not now and not in the future. Never.
As I said, I made it clear to the leadership, friendly leadership, maybe the most friendly leadership that we ever had here. And I made it clear to the heads of European countries, and I made it clear to the Russian president who visited Israel recently, to the Turkish prime minister, and I made it very clear to the Palestinians themselves: When it comes to the security of Israel’s citizens, there are not going to be any compromises, not now and not in the future. Never.
I believe that the day will come when we will sign a peace agreement with all our neighbors. But the day that I wait for more is the day when there is real peace — not between the countries and leaders, but between the peoples. Unfortunately, our Arab neighbors still do not recognize the Jewish people’s birthright to an independent state in our homeland, the Land of Israel. Such recognition can only come through comprehensive change in their education system. It will be the most significant step toward real peace in our region, if that happens. I’m really sorry to say that, until now, we haven’t seen any signs that it is coming, but let us hope that it will one day.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The decision about the disengagement was a very hard decision for me. I know the settlers in Gaza well. As a farmer, I followed with appreciation their agricultural achievements. As a soldier, I followed with admiration their bravery.
The coming period will be one of the most difficult periods which the State of Israel has known since its establishment. But I am confident that, just as the Jewish people overcame difficult challenges in the past, we will emerge from this experience strong and united. And that is important for us.
Those difficult days of 1948, when volunteers arrived to help us at our most vulnerable time, are behind us. But we have many new challenges before us, and again we need the assistance of the Jewish communities in the United States and around the world. We do not need volunteers to fight military battles, but we do need a willingness to stand with us and to fully support us.
You should know you will always have a home in Israel, and I have no doubt that Israel will always have a home in your hearts.