Livni: We face a regime that denies and mocks the Holocaust while seeking the weapons to perpetrate one. Iran’s words and actions are not only a direct threat to Israel, but they are no less a threat to the values that the international community as a whole claims to hold dear.

 FM Livni addresses General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities


(Peter Halmagyi)

(The following is a transcription of the text of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities in Los Angeles on November 12, 2006.)

H.E. Tzipi Livni
Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
State of Israel

Thank you Galia [Maor, Israel’s GA Chair] for your warm introduction. 

Dear Friends,

I am here today as a Jew and as an Israeli, in that order.

Many miles separate Los Angeles from Jerusalem, but the ties that bind us cannot, and should not, be broken by distance, because we are one people.

We are one people, but we cannot take the bond between us for granted. I believe that Jewish identity is a choice and a responsibility as much as it is an inheritance. Our Jewishness is more than a fact, it is a profound feeling that must be created, nurtured, and sustained.

I know that all of us are here because our Jewish identity is precious to us – it shapes who we are and who we want to be. 

Too often our relationship is defined only in terms of common dangers. We do indeed face common dangers, but our bond goes far beyond that.

Our bond is built on shared history and shared fate – on a rich tapestry of tradition, values, and culture, and on a mutual responsibility not just to protect our Jewish identity, but to make it flourish in our generation and in generations to come. 

As an Israeli, I have to ask myself whether we are not in danger of creating a new Israeli identity that feels removed from its Jewish heritage, and a result, from the Jewish Diaspora. I am sure, too, that you ask yourselves whether there is a risk that Jewish identity in the Diaspora is evolving in such a way that the deep connection to Israel may, in time, no longer be one of its central pillars.

I believe strongly that we share a responsibility to prevent a rift developing between Israeli identity and Jewish identity. Together, we need to ensure that Jewish children throughout the Diaspora see Israel as their home, just as the Jewish children of Israel must see you as their family.

At the same time, the collective mission of the Jewish people cannot be limited to focusing on our own predicament.

Our unique history and talents as a people oblige us to work also for the betterment of the world as a whole, to stand against the suffering of others, of the kind we see in Darfur, and to continue to make exceptional contributions to the societies in which we live.

Dear Friends,

The principles that shape the identity of the Jewish people have also shaped the collective identity and national story of the State of Israel – a story of courage and rebirth greater than any Hollywood scriptwriter could have imagined. 

From its establishment, two core values have formed and driven our national character. The first – that Israel, with Jerusalem at its heart, is the national homeland of the Jewish people – it is both the spiritual and cultural heartbeat of our ancient people, and their refuge from persecution. 

The second – that Israel is a democracy; that the values of justice, peace and humanity – first expressed by the prophets of Israel – are an integral part of our nation’s sense of mission.

The decisions we take as a state, those that I make as foreign minister and member of the Israeli government, are guided by these core principles and values on which our society is based. They must take account not only of the interests of Israel, but also the interests of the Jewish people as a whole. 

Together, in upholding these values, we face challenges on three different fronts: as a people defending our basic right to a national homeland; as Jews against the dark hatred of anti-Semitism; and as members of the free world against the forces of global terrorism.

In each case, what is at stake is not just our physical security or existence, but our very right to a Jewish national identity and a place our people can call home. 

These three fronts have come together in the case of Iran.

We face a regime that denies and mocks the Holocaust while seeking the weapons to perpetrate one. Iran’s words and actions are not only a direct threat to Israel, but they are no less a threat to the values that the international community as a whole claims to hold dear.

If these values mean anything – if the promise of "never again" is more important than the price of oil – then the time for international indifference and hesitation in the face of the Iranian threat has long passed.  

Last summer, we experienced a confrontation between Israel and Iran. Though the war took place in Lebanon, it was the case of a rogue state, Iran, and its proxy, the Hizbullah, abusing a weak state, Lebanon, to advance a radical and hate-filled agenda.

For Israel, the war revealed significant shortcomings that we must correct, but it also created opportunities that we can build upon.

Our decision to halt the military operation and give a chance to the international community and Resolution 1701 was not an easy one.

The history of our people and our state has, unfortunately, taught us to question whether we can rely on others.

I am not naïve – I live after all in the Middle East. But I believed at the time and I believe now, that Resolution 1701, if properly implemented, can create a genuine opportunity for positive developments.

The rules of the game in Lebanon have changed – Hizbullah, surprised by the reaction, has suffered a setback, the Lebanese Army has deployed to the South, an arms embargo has been decided upon in the prevention of rearmament.  

In addition, a multinational force with a robust mandate has been deployed to Lebanon. The role of this force is not to defend Israel – we have our own army to do that, the IDF.

Resolution 1701 can help Lebanon become a normal, responsible state that asserts sovereignty over its territory, exercises monopoly over the use of force, and respects the rights of its neighbors.

These are elements that a military campaign, as successful as it may be, cannot attain alone.

The mission, clearly, has not yet been completed. 

Our soldiers – our sons – two held by Hizbullah and one by Hamas – Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev, and Gilad Shalit, still remain in captivity.

Those who kidnapped them see in our desire to do everything possible to bring them home a sign of our weakness. They are wrong. It is testimony to our strength.

In this effort, your voice is important. I urge you to speak up on their behalf and help ensure that this issue stays on the international agenda and conscience. We cannot and we will not rest until our boys are free.

During the war in Lebanon we learned again of the courage of our soldiers, the resilience of our civilians, and the strength of our economy.

We also saw you, once again, our Jewish brothers and sisters, in action – organizing rallies, coming on solidarity missions, contributing with extraordinary generosity and thoughtfulness – with unconditional kindness – in so many ways: university scholarships for students called up for army duty, air conditioners for bomb shelters, camps for the children of the North and so much more.

I cannot tell you how much these efforts meant to us. I cannot express in words how important it is for us to know that we are not alone.

Dear Friends,

Through the war we began to see a realignment of interests in the Middle East. This is becoming less a conflict between peoples and more a conflict about values.

It is a conflict between moderates and extremists; between those who fight terrorism and those who give refuge to terrorists; between those who are tolerant of differences, and totalitarians who seek to eradicate all that is different.

No peace process in history has ever succeeded without each side recognizing the legitimacy of the other. This is the essence of the vision of peace that must unite Israelis, moderate Palestinians, and moderates throughout our region. It embraces the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security that represents the basis of any acceptable and viable peace.

There is no place in this vision for terrorism. There is no justification in demanding the right to self-determination, while rejecting that same right for others. Each people must be willing to give up part of their dream to make room for the dreams of others.

Israel has made its choice. I have always believed that the Jewish people has an historic right to all of Eretz Yisrael.  But I also believe that I speak for not only the current government in Israel, and not only the Kadima Party, but for the wide Israeli public when I say that it is our national goal to keep Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. 

For both elements to live together, and not in contradiction, and to assure our security, we have to give up part of Eretz Yisrael.

Israel – its government and its people – are deeply committed to such a peace. Stagnation is not in our interest and it is not our policy. It is for this reason that we embarked on the painful process of disengagement, hoping to create an opportunity for peace, though sadly we received terrorism in return.

It is for this reason that we are ready now, as we have been ready in the past – as we worked with Egypt and with Jordan – to reach out and engage with all those who share this vision and these values, including Chairman Abbas and the moderates in the Arab world, in order to turn the dream of peace into reality.

Groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah, and their state sponsors, have a very different vision for our region. They seek to turn a resolvable political dispute into an endless religious confrontation. They are a threat to Israel and a tragedy for their people. To stand against them is to stand for peace. To appease them is to betray those among our neighbors who seek a dignified and lasting settlement.

To succeed in our efforts, all peoples of our region must have the courage to see that we, Israelis and Arabs alike, face a common challenge. This is not a zero-sum game. It is in our common interest, and we all have to take responsibility for our region’s destiny. 

Dear Friends,

We are profoundly grateful that we have the support and friendship of the people and the government of the United States in facing these challenges. In the elections that have just taken place in the United States, we have seen democracy in action, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the newly elected and the returning members of Congress mazal tov.   

As you all know, the special relationship between Israel and the United States crosses party lines. It goes beyond a strategic alliance of interests and is based on a genuine and unshakeable alliance of values.

Our partnership with the United States is natural, but it is also critical in the face of the many difficult tests before us and the many difficult decisions to be taken.

Not every decision has or will be popular and many meet with international criticism – very often this reflects double standards and a biased attitude.  

I know this is a source of frustration for many of you who care deeply about Israel and its image in the world. I know, too, that it is our responsibility to provide those who wish to advocate for Israel with the tools to do so.

We live in a world in which perception can matter more than reality. I have met many world leaders who have told me frankly that their decisions are not always based on principle or on what they know, but on what their public perceives. 

This is a serious challenge that requires us to close the gap between the image of Israel and the reality of Israel.

In this spirit, I have launched an initiative at the Foreign Ministry on branding Israel. Working with a broad cross-section of Israeli society, as well as leaders in fields of public relations, education, tourism, and others, we want Israel to be seen not only in the shadow of conflict and terrorism, but also in the bright light of its vibrant culture and rich identity. 

Let me be clear. This is not about advertising or spin. It is not a substitute for our public diplomacy. It is not an effort to "sell" Israel but to reveal its true and diverse nature. We want every Israeli to identify with the resilience, spirituality, creativity, and vitality that is Israel. We are proud of the values and qualities that make us who we are and we want to be associated with them. 

We want the world to see what Warren Buffet saw when he purchased Iscar last spring: "Some Americans have come to the Middle East looking for oil,” he said. “We came to the Middle East looking for brains, and we stopped at Israel."

And today, I ask you to join me in helping the world see more of Israel than the image they see on their television screens.

Let your hometown come to know Israel’s Nobel Prize winners and performing artists. Get your federation to host an Israeli film festival or hi-tech fair. Help us widen the lens and let the world see who we really are.

In this, as in so many other things, you are our partners. We have a shared connection to the past, and a common objective for the future. We will stand with you in good times and in bad, just as you have stood with us.

We in Israel greatly appreciate your efforts, your friendship, and your support. However unaccustomed you are to hearing this from an Israeli, let me say the obvious, and let me say it out loud, in my name and in the name of the people of Israel:

Thank you.