May 5757 – Iyar 1997
On Israel’s forty-ninth Independence Day, I extend warm greetings from Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital, to the Jewish communities throughout the world.
Our Independence Day belongs not only to Israelis, but to all Jews. It celebrates the rebirth of the Jewish people, it pays tribute to a bond between a people and its land unparalleled in human history, and it gives us all a sense of unity and oneness, a feeling of responsibility for each other.
We must nurture this feeling, for on the fundamental issues we agree. First and foremost, we all want peace. From that moment 49 years ago, when David Ben Gurion read our declaration of independence in a modest museum building in Tel Aviv, our hand has been stretched out in peace to our neighbors. In fact, the Zionist commitment to peace dates back to the time Herzl first conceived the idea of a Jewish state a century ago.
Today, there are few sacrifices and concessions Israel is unwilling to make to achieve peace. But there is a fundamental requirement all Israelis feel must be satisfied: security.
This should have been self evident. The very definition of peace includes the absence of violence and war. Terrorism and threats of violence are incompatible with the peace process.
Yet there are many in the world community who expect Israel to withdraw from areas that are the cradle of Jewish civilization, to relinquish control over strategic assets, and to leave itself vulnerable to attack despite the absence of any credible assurance of security. This will not do. To treat the matter of security lightly is to abdicate our responsibilities as a government. Only if Israelis and Jews everywhere remain united in demanding that security be an integral, indispensable component of the peace process, can we achieve real peace for ourselves and for all the peoples of the region.
I know that for many of you the faith in Jewish unity has been shaken by the proposed conversion law which recently passed a first reading in the Knesset.
Although the bill intends to do no more than turn current practice in Israel into law, and although it ensures continued recognition by Israel of Reform and Conservative conversions performed abroad, I understand the anxiety and anguish it has caused. Any hint of legally sanctioned inequality among Jews due to religious affiliation is intolerable.
I want to assure you that I shall do everything in my power to reach a solution to this painful problem. The struggle against assimilation and alienation is far too crucial to be deflected by internal bickering over the legitimacy of conversions to Judaism. Our energies will be far better spent if we focus on Jewish education and the inculcation of Jewish values and traditions in our young.
I believe we must never view the bond between Israel and the Diaspora as anything less than vital, nor can we afford to let anything loosen this bond. It is what gives the Jewish people strength in the present and confidence in the future. But as we mark 100 years of modern Zionism and enter Israel’s 50th year we must not lose sight of the purpose of Zionism: the ingathering of the Jewish people in the Jewish state.
With Israel’s economy developing at an extraordinary pace and with its standard of living approaching that of the most advanced nations, there is every reason for Jews everywhere to consider Aliyah. Our goal is to have a majority of the Jewish people living in Israel by the time we celebrate the State’s 60th anniversary.
I believe we can achieve this goal and every other goal we set for ourselves if we remember that regardless of differences of opinions, beliefs and affiliations we are one people, united forever by faith, history and a shared destiny.