Address by PM Netanyahu at Knesset Session in honor of the President of Brazil


(Photo: Reuters)

Honorable President da Silva and Mrs. da Silva, welcome to Israel and welcome to united Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, the eternal city and the city of the Bible. The Knesset and People of Israel extend a warm welcome to you.

Mr. President of Brazil,

You are the elected leader of a famed country, whose color, vitality and many achievements have earned it the admiration of the entire world.

The very essence of the word ‘Brazil’ is enchanting. It conjures up a rich and captivating culture, a joy of living which is portrayed through music, dance, carnivals and football. I must reveal a state secret to you – among the citizens of Israel, there are those who have yellow shirts in their cupboards – far more than you can imagine.  I don’t want to cause a diplomatic incident by telling you who I support as we take part in the same international matches, but I will come back to Brazilian football at the end of my speech.

Mr. President,

I visited your country during the 1980’s and I was deeply impressed by its vast potential. Two decades have passed since then and the entire world sees how this potential has been realized. Under your leadership, Brazil has made enormous strides in establishing itself as a rising world power. I am convinced that Brazil has no less than a glowing future.

I wish to see Israel become a regional economic superpower and a world technological superpower that adheres to its values and lives in peace with its neighbors. In spite of the difficulties, I believe that Israel is on its way to achieving this. I believe that cooperation between Israel and Brazil will help both our countries realize their visions.

Israel and Brazil’s respective developments in the fields of economics, technology, culture and many other fields provide fertile ground for cooperation between our two countries.

The free trade agreement between Israel and Brazil, within the framework of the Mercosur agreement, and the mutual trade amounting to one and a half billion dollars per year are the first manifestations of this cooperation. I believe that in several years time we will look back and be amazed that it was only one and a half billion dollars per year. I anticipate that our discussions will enable us to take steps to increase this number.

Mr. President,

The State of Israel will never forget the historic role played by Oswaldo Aranha, the Brazilian politician who was the President of the UN in November 1947, more than 62 years ago. The topic on the agenda was the resolution relating to the establishment of a Jewish state. The Jewish people, who lost six million of its sons and daughters in the Holocaust, were waiting for redemption – for the establishment of an independent Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The Brazilian politician Aranha defeated the UN Assembly when he made the historic decision that our people will never forget.

I know that you are well aware of the great change that occurred to our people. Two months ago you visited the Kahal Tzur Yisrael Synagogue, the first synagogue to be built on the American continent. This synagogue was established almost 400 years ago in the city of Recife, the capital of the State of Pernambuco, the state in which you were born.

Mr. President, you asked to hold the ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day in this synagogue. Remembrance Day is not only intended to commemorate the memory of the Holocaust but also to raise awareness of the dangers facing mankind from extremist states and regimes, both in the past and in the present.

Precisely because of this, Mr. President, I appeal to you in the hope that Brazil will join the ever-growing international front opposed to a nuclear-armed Iran.

I believe that the Iranian regime represents diametrically-opposed values to those represented by the Brazilian culture and people. They are motivated by tyranny and cruelty. You represent openness and tolerance. They oppress women and minorities. You advocate freedom and equality. They worship death. You celebrate life. The Iranian regime denies the Holocaust, calls for the destruction of Israel, develops nuclear weapons and supports terrorist organizations.

Today, Iran is the greatest threat to stability and peace in the Middle East. I believe that Brazil’s unique position enables it to take part in a wider and stronger coalition consisting of many countries that aim to restrain the serious danger that Iran’s nuclear armament presents to regional and world peace.

Honorable President da Silva,

The State of Israel will continue to work to advance peace in our region, as we have done during the past year. From day one of the establishment of our government, we have repeatedly called for negotiations with the Palestinians. We have taken several steps, both in word and deed, to advance peace. 

In my speech at Bar-Ilan University, I called upon the Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace and security, with the Palestinians living in a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the State of Israel. We worked to advance peace by removing hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints to ease movement for the Palestinians. We facilitated Palestinian economic development and announced an unprecedented step: a ten-month moratorium on new construction in Judea and Samaria.

Regrettably, while we have taken all these steps, the Palestinian Authority placed preconditions for talks, waged a campaign to undermine Israel’s legitimacy and regrettably failed to rein in expressions of incitement against Israel in their official media.

We all know a simple rule. The only way to achieve a peace agreement is begin negotiating a peace agreement. We are prepared to begin negotiations for peace at any time, including right now. I am not saying this only in relation to the Palestinians but also in regards to our other neighbors – to the Syrians and others. We desire peace.

I hope that the Palestinians will not once again place preconditions on talks – preconditions that have never been placed on any Israeli government and which would be unacceptable to any Israeli government.

No government of Israel for the last 40 years has agreed to place restrictions on building in Jerusalem – not Levi Eshkol, not Golda Meir, not Menachem Begin, not Shimon Peres, not Yitzhak Shamir, not Yitzhak Rabin, not Ariel Sharon, not Ehud Barak, not Ehud Olmert. During that time, all these governments have built in the suburbs of Jerusalem – in Gilo, in Ramot, in Neve Yaakov, in Ramat Eshkol, in French Hill, in Pisgat Zeev, in Ramat Shlomo and elsewhere. The establishment of these Jewish suburbs did not harm the Arabs of East Jerusalem in any shape or form and did not come at their expense.

Today, nearly half of Jerusalem’s Jewish population lives in these suburbs. None of these places are far away, they are all a few minutes travel from here. They are all within six kilometers of the Israeli Knesset.

Regardless of whatever political differences there may be in this house regarding the final-status agreement, the ultimate borders of Israel, everyone agrees that all of these neighborhoods will remain part of Israel in any final peace settlement.

We will continue to keep Jerusalem an open city accessible to all religions – a city where Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims live in together and have freedom of religion and access to religious sites.

Mr. President,

You, your wife and your entourage are dear, honored and desired guests in Jerusalem and in the State of Israel. Your visit is important for strengthening the friendship between our peoples and the cooperation and common interests between our two countries.

Mr. President, I also appreciate that we think alike on a very important topic.

During one of my most recent meetings with the leader of a certain European country – I won’t say which country so as to avoid causing a diplomatic incident – an argument took place: Who is the greatest footballer of all times? He said Maradona. I said Pele! He insisted that it was Maradona. I didn’t give in and said Pele!

I told him that Pele represents the best of Brazilian football, the Brazilian spirit. He flies over the pitch. He handles the ball skillfully and with an amazing art, ease and elegance. He said Maradona. We agreed to disagree.

I am sure that like me, you share the wish that one day this will be the worst disagreement between leaders in the region. When that day comes, when we can sit together with our neighbors, to develop the region, to develop our children’s future, to develop a buzzing, overflowing economy, with the help of countries and superpowers such as Brazil, I am sure that then we will know that we also achieved the long-awaited peace with Brazil’s help.

Welcome to Jerusalem, Mr. President.