Tonight we’re all here to honor the Genesis Laureate of 2015, Michael Douglas. And this morning Sara and I and our son Yair had the pleasure of hosting, welcoming Michael, his wife Catherine and his two children, Dylan and Carys. What a beautiful family.
I was always impressed with Michael and Catherine because they’re great actors, which means they’re great artists. And to borrow a phrase, which I did, from one of your father’s movies – you too cast a giant shadow over your profession and set a standard for all actors to follow.
In fact on the way over here, Michael and I were talking and I asked him: You remember that movie? You remember that movie in the jungle? You remember those movies. How can you forget them? They’re unforgettable, because you and Catherine are unforgettable actors.
There are two other unforgettable people who loom large in our people’s story and they’re my two close friends, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky and the Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein.
You know, we always ask in Israel when we meet somebody, we say: So, what did you do in the army? Because it sort of tells you – I’m talking about politicians now – it sort of tells you what did you do before you started wearing masks, because politics always involves that to a certain extent.
Yuli and Natan before they came into politics, they were in prison in the Soviet Union. They fought for freedom. They came here and they deserve the prominence and respect that they have in Israel and around the world. I salute you both.
And I want to take this opportunity to thank Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Kahn for your dedication and for your commitment, for your generosity. And to you, Stan Polovets, the Chairman and CEO of the Genesis Prize. Thank you for everything you’re doing, Stan.
And thanks too to Len Blavatnik who participates in this project.
And thank you to all the members of the Selection and Prize Committee, thank you.
The Prime Minister’s Office, the Jewish Agency and the Genesis Prize Foundation have united around this important project, and if I had to summarize in one word what it is that we’re trying to foster, that word is pride – pride in the Jewish people, pride in the Jewish state. And there is much to be proud of, because the Jewish people are remarkable in so many ways. Not only because we brought the Book of Books, the idea of monotheism, the prophetic ideas of salvation and human rights and the equality of all people under God. But also because after about 1,500 years where we did all that in this land, we were dispersed to the far corners of the earth, which is not unique, it happened to many peoples, in fact it happened to a majority of the peoples in antiquity. They were dispersed, they were gone, they lost their identity and disappeared. This is actually the most common thing that happened to the peoples of the past.
The one thing that is unique about the Jewish people is that having been dispersed, they refused to disappear. And they kept saying year after year for two millennia, they kept saying: We’ll be back. It sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger. We’ll be back. We’ll be back in the Jerusalem, back in the land of Zion, back in the Land of Israel, and this seemed an impossible dream. But we did achieve it. That return and the ingathering of the exiles, and this dawns on you on special occasions and I was once a soldier and we marched through the Judean desert, we just covered the whole thing, and it was a hot day and you wait to get to the end point in the evening and the end point was foothills of Masada.
Now, it’s hard to have a sense of elation when your muscles are strained, your feet are sore, you’re covered with sweat, and yet I remember in that night looking up to that mountain where the last remnants of Jewish resistance were defeated by the Romans in 73 CE. That’s almost 2,000 years ago, and we were demolished. I was standing exhausted in this place where our people were supposed to be exhausted, finished, dead, dispersed, gone, and I was standing there, a soldier in the army of Israel, the army of the Jewish state, and I look at that mountain top and I think of the Roman commander Silva and I said, I actually said this: Silva, we’re back! We came back.
When we came back, we climbed so many mountains, we crossed so many deserts, and we created a country like no other. It’s a country that though beleaguered has created these amazing things – technology, you got your cell phone? You have Israel in your palm. So many applications, so many innovations. You drink a glass of water, not only in Israel but in many countries now, you’re drinking the product of Israeli technology and number one in recycling. I was in China with President Xi and they said: We want to have your dairy industry. They drink a lot of milk in China. And I said: Well, that’s a very good choice because you know which cow produces more milk per cow than any other cow? You think it’s a Dutch cow or French cow? No, it’s a Jewish cow. It’s a computerized cow. Every moo is computerized. And the same is true with water. Hundreds of millions around the world are enjoying the products of Israeli innovation. That’s the old problem that we’ve solved with the new techniques.
But there’s a new problem that we’re solving, and that’s the problem with cyber security. You need it. You can’t have the geometric growth of the internet economy without having cyber protection.
And the other day, as I told Michael this morning, in fact last week the Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, visited my office and he says: Israel is number one, number one digital powerhouse in the world. I said: Eric, aren’t you exaggerating a bit? He said: No, I’ll be precise. In absolute measures that I make, you’re number two after Silicone Valley, after Cambridge, MAS and after Cambridge, England. Sorry, before Cambridge MAS, before Cambridge England. Per capita you’re way off the charts, and what you’re doing now in Israel is setting a growth engine for the next 50 years. So Israel is all that, and medicine. A lot of the drugs that people use and the medical applications originate here. So it’s not merely doing good things for us. It’s doing good things for humanity.
Israel is an oasis of technology, of innovation. It’s an oasis of freedom, an oasis of freedom and liberty and life in a region that appears to be a sea of darkness and despotism.
Democracies are tested under fire. And we’ve been tested from day one. But we maintain our values, we’ve built here a rumbustious democracy. Jay, you come to the Knesset for one day, it’ll give you material for a lifetime. This is a democracy where all, Jews and non-Jews alike are equal under the law, in the one and only Jewish state. Jews can come here and live here as free people and they can come here from any part of the world. All Jews can feel at home here. And as Prime Minister of Israel, I’m committed to strengthening the unity of the Jewish people, and I will continue to reject any attempt to divide the Jewish people and to de-legitimize any Jewish community. Everyone is welcome – Reform, Conservative, Orthodox alike. Everyone.
Of course, the greater irony is that Israel, this unbelievably vivid, lively democracy, is the most maligned free society on earth. In the UN Human Rights Council there are more resolutions on Israel – it’s the majority of the resolutions – more than North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Syria combined. And you know, when you face this criticism, this torrent of unfair criticism every day and every hour, it assumes the cache of self-evident truth. That’s what slander always tends to do. And under this attack, you can easily bow your head, but I want to tell you that the days when the Jewish people bow their heads, those days are over.
Since we founded the Jewish state, we resist. It’s not that the attacks on the Jews or their state have ceased with the founding of Israel. It’s that we have the capacity to resist. That’s new, and that’s something that evaded our people for centuries.
And Michael, your father understands this, you understand this, and as I discovered this morning, your son understands this. Like your father, you’ve turned your battles into action. You serve as a UN messenger of peace – that’s the good UN – and on the occasion of Israel’s 50th independence celebrations, you hosted a nationally broadcast television tribute to Israel. You know, our 70th anniversary is coming. I was in the 50th anniversary as prime minister. It may be possible that I’ll be there on the 70th. Why don’t you do it again? And earlier this year, you wrote very movingly in the Los Angeles Times about your son Dylan’s experience with anti-Semitism. This piece created an online sensation and it drew painful attention to a subject many would prefer to sweep under the rug. You publicly denounced anti-Israel groups that call for a boycott of the Jewish state. You correctly described the boycott movement as an ugly cancer. Ugly cancer. For there can be no tolerance for intolerance, for those who dehumanize and vilify the Jewish state. Mind you, we’re not perfect. We have our imperfections. Who doesn’t? But there’s a world of difference between pertinent, legitimate criticism and the kind of vilification that is addressed to Israel every day that is really meant to deny us our right to live as a free people in our land.
And rather than suppressing your Jewish identity, you chose to embrace it. But I think the most moving embrace is the decision to celebrate Dylan’s bar-mitzvah in Israel, and it demonstrates both your commitment to our heritage and to our land, to our country.
So Michael, I wish to applaud you for all your accomplishments, and the impact you will certainly have in your years ahead in fulfilling your role as a Genesis Laureate. I applaud you, Michael, for coming here to Jerusalem, our capital for 3,000 years where we are shaping our future while we remember our past. I applaud you – and I think this the most important thing – for setting an example to Jews everywhere to stand tall and stand proud. Be proud Jews.
Thank you all. Thank you.