The events at hand demonstrate Israel’s strong democracy. The rule of law, stability and order control our society. Israel has and will always remain a strong and vibrant democracy in the Middle East.
Address by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom to the
International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians
Jerusalem, 9 January 2006
Lord Janner of Braunstone, Chair of ICJP,
Members of the ICJP Steering Committee,
Members of Knesset,
Honorable Jewish Parliamentarians,
These are dramatic and turbulent times in Israel’s political situation.
I am sure that you all join me in hope and prayer for the speedy recovery of Prime Minister Sharon. Despite the political differences between the different Israeli parties, all have come forward in expression of love and care for Sharon in this difficult period in his life. He has been a father figure for many, and has influenced the history of Israel since his youth. This is a time for unity. We have received thousands of letters of support and good wishes, and we all wish him a full and speedy recovery.
As we hope and pray for Sharon, we at the same time, pending a full recovery of Prime Minister Sharon, have ensured the smooth transition of leadership, and prepare for the general elections to be held in March.
The events at hand demonstrate Israel’s strong democracy. The rule of law, stability and order control our society, and we are proud of that. In our neighborhood, democracy is not to be taken for granted. Israel has known difficult situations, and has proven time and time again that its democracy withstands difficulties. Israel has and will always remain a strong and vibrant democracy in the Middle East.
It is my great pleasure to welcome such a distinguished gathering of Jewish legislators from more than 28 states around the world, here in Jerusalem. Your participation sends out a most important message of Jewish unity, of international support for the State of Israel and of global cooperation. We attribute great importance to your being here, and we thank you for joining us.
Your role as legislators and politicians is a most important one. As Jewish legislators, your mission is even greater. The mission of legislation may seem sometimes boring. It very often also goes without the recognition it deserves. Yet, as legislators, you are pioneers and leaders. You have the ability to influence the future of your country and the world. As Jewish legislators you are also the front line in preserving Jewish interests and fighting anti-Semitism.
There are significant challenges which face us as politicians, legislators and as leaders. I would like to address two circles of challenges: challenges facing us as a global community and challenges which face us as Jews. As a global community, we would like to spread peace in the region, and understanding amongst all nations. But, we are challenged by the forces of extremism.
It is not different religions or different ethnic groups that bring about confrontation. There is no reason for confrontation between Judaism and Islam. The battle today is between extremists and moderates. Moderate Jews, Moslems and Christians stand together in the fight against the extreme fundamentalism. The terror hits out in Cairo, Amman, New York, Bali and Tel Aviv equally.
The extremists are also the central obstacle to peace in our region. The extremists have penetrated the Palestinian Authority and thus have blocked peace. Anarchy has spread, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations act freely and even el-Qaeda has recently taken an active part in aggression against Israel, in Gaza and from Lebanon. Now the extreme factions even seek political legitimacy and recognition. There is no place for compromise with those that call for the destruction of our world.
To meet this challenge, we must act in two ways.
First, we must fight the extremism till it is defeated. The entire international community must unite in this mission. We must actively dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism, disarm and arrest the armed militias and block the global channels of finance of terrorism. The international community should take a strong stand against states that tolerate, sponsor and support terrorism. Syria, Iran and other countries offer support to such groups of devastation, and it is time to call these states to reckoning. Such states should not be part of the “family of nations”.
Political legitimacy and recognition of armed terrorist groups will only be counter-productive. In the case of the Hizbullah in Lebanon, we have seen clearly that their integration in the political process does not bring about moderation. Quite the opposite. It has only empowered them more. As the Hamas in the PA wishes to follow the model of the Hizbullah in Lebanon, we must warn of the danger. Such developments will endanger the PA itself and the chances of returning to a genuine peace process.
In this context, the entire international community must also recognize the danger posed by a nuclear Iran. The extreme words of the President of Iran, calling for the destruction of the State of Israel, should serve as a wake up call for us all. The Iran portfolio should be immediately transferred to the Security Council of the United Nations, and sanctions should be imposed. We are running out of time. Even today, we have heard that Iran has announced his intentions to renew the enrichment of unranium and research and development. The international community must be determined in meeting these threats. It is not Israel’s problem, but the entire international community’s problem. We cannot allow Iran to have the ability to threaten the world.
In meeting this challenge, weakening the extremists and isolating them is not enough. As we fight the extremists we must at the same time empower the moderates and build bridges of understanding.
Judaism brought the message of brotherhood and peace unto all mankind. Following the biblical statement that all people were created in the image of God, Judaism teaches us: “Be of the followers of Aharon: love peace, seek peace, love all human-kind and bring them closer to this way of life.” We must build bridges of cooperation and understanding with the moderate Muslim world.
When I came in to office as Foreign Minister three years ago, I set the expanding of Israel’s relations with Europe and the Arab and Moslem world as first priority. In the past two years, we have witnessed a gradual process of improvement in our relations. Moslem countries that refused to meet with us since the breakout of the Palestinian violence, met with us. Countries that met only in dark rooms behind closed doors, agreed to expose our relations. Egypt and Jordan have returned their ambassadors to Israel and accepted upon themselves active positive roles in bringing peace to our region. We have maintained and enhanced our relations with the Moslem country of Mauritania.
During the United Nations General Assembly, I met with more than ten colleagues from Arab and Moslem countries, including the Foreign Minister of Indonesia. Before the General Assembly, I met with the foreign Minister of Pakistan in Turkey. I have met with the Foreign Minister of Turkey ten times, the most recent meeting took place only last week in Israel. I paid an official visit to Morocco, and a historic visit to Tunisia. During that visit, I met with Senator Roger Bismuth in Tunisia, who we now have the pleasure of hosting here in Israel amongst us.
These are dramatic times and historic events. We have managed to cultivate these ties by stressing our common interests and values. We have built economic cooperation in many fields. Israel has increased its trade with the Arab world dramatically. For the first time there were demonstrations in Egypt, not against Israel, but in protest that they were not included in the Free Trade Agreements and QIZ with Israel. Israel has offered and delivered humanitarian assistance in different Arab and Moslem countries. Via Mashav projects, Israel has developed cooperation in fields of agriculture, health and education.
We do not kid ourselves. Our work is not over. Incitement and hatred in the Arab and Moslem world still exists. But, we do believe that there is hope. We can make a change. We need, as an international community, to continue this mission.
Finally, I would like to conclude with the challenges which face us as Jews. In the Jewish world, we suffer two inner dangers. The first being the danger of assimilation. The second being increased ignorance and lack of Jewish identity. These concerns must be addressed.
Jewish education is essential for our continued survival as a nation. Jewish education is costly, and not available to all. Efforts must be made to facilitate Jewish education for all. Sponsors should be mobilized and motivated, to do what is necessary, to build a proud and eager young generation. As also, the family environment is crucial. The young generation must witness personal commitment to Judaism in the home. Personal commitment to our rich heritage and traditions.
Another element which has proven to be effective in increasing Jewish identity is the link with the State of Israel. Statistics show clearly that visits to Israel, knowledge of Hebrew and contact with Israeli culture contribute significantly to Jewish Identity and involvement. Many young Jews have not even visited Israel once. I encourage you to do your utmost to increase Jewish education, motivate personal commitment and facilitate contact with Israel.
Lastly, we must mention the external threat of anti-Semitism, which unfortunately, still exists and is even on the rise. In the heart of Europe and elsewhere, we are once again witnissing attacks against Jewish youth and the desecration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. The modern-day anti-Semites, knowing that direct attacks on Jews are "politically incorrect" in western society, turn their hatred against the Jewish state instead. Thus, we have a modern anti-Israel manifestation of classic anti-Semitism.
The words of the president of Iran are a fine example. Calling for the destruction of Israel, he at the same time denies the Holocaust. In addition, a few days ago, he expressed his wish for the death of Sharon. It is unacceptable that such statements are tolerated by the international community.
We must confront this threat directly. Israel will stand together with the Jewish community in the fight against this type of hatred. Israel leads the world community in recognizing the anti-Semitism of the past and confronting that of the present. This year, a UN resolution initiated by Israel was passed by consensus in the General Assembly, establishing a global Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Please see Israel as your second home. Please see yourselves as ambassadors on behalf of Israel and the Jewish nation. If we stand together as one family and one nation, we will overcome the challenges which face us and create a better world.