Today’s antisemitism is not limited to the various sects of militant Islam, nor is it limited just to the xenophobic elements on the fringes of European society. Because today it often wears the mask of so-called progressive thinking in the West.
I’m very pleased to welcome you all to Jerusalem. There are senior government ministers here from Germany, from Romania, from Bulgaria, from Canada. Our own Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Naftali Bennett, the Mayor of Paris, the UN Coordinator for the Peace Process, religious leaders from across the face, many from the Muslim community. I had an excellent discussion just now with the Imam of Paris. There are ambassadors here and distinguished guests from so many walks of life, from so many lands, including great actors.
So I’m delighted to see all of you here, even though the subject of our deliberations is not a source of delight.
Seventy years ago, with the end of World War II and the revelation of the horrors of the Holocaust, some believed that humanity would discard one of history’s oldest hatreds – antisemitism. And it’s true that in the years immediately following World War II, blatant expressions of hatred for the Jews appeared to take a respite, at least in the liberal West.
Yet today there is no doubt that we are living in an age of resurgent antisemitism. Jews everywhere are once again being slandered and vilified.
This is taking place in the intolerant parts of the Middle East but it’s also taking place in what otherwise would be expected to be the tolerant parts of the West. It’s taking place in Beirut, in Damascus, in Tehran. But it’s also taking place, violently so, in Toulouse, in Paris, in Brussels. Because along with vilification come the inevitable violent attacks.
And Jews are now being targeted for being Jews. Jews have the right to live freely and safely wherever they choose. And governments everywhere are responsible for guaranteeing this right.
I want to take this opportunity to praise all the governments that have been witnessing this resurgent antisemitism, their commitment to protect the rights of the Jews, the rights of individuals, the rights of their citizens. Their representatives are here, and I praise you for it. But Jews also have the right to join us here in Israel, and if they make that choice, we will welcome them with open arms.
Contemporary antisemitism doesn’t just slander, vilify and target the Jewish people. It first and foremost today targets the Jewish state. That’s the nexus, that’s the core, that’s the focus of antisemitism.
I want to give you an example of this from today, this morning. I went down to Ben-Gurion airport to welcome home the IDF’s humanitarian mission to Nepal.
The UN filed a report. Actually, this is a good UN report about Israel. It said that of all the countries in the world, and Israel is one of the smallest countries in the world, Israel fielded the second largest rescue and relief team in Nepal. Of all the nations in the earth. Our people did a magnificent job. They saved lives. They took people out of the rubble. They treated 1,600 wounded people and sick people. They delivered life, several births.
Yet yesterday state television in both Iran and Venezuela accused our humanitarian team of trafficking in babies. Now, did any of you see an Iranian rescue team in Nepal? This is the quintessential example of the Big Lie technique. The aggressor accuses his victim.
And this big lie of antisemitism is propagated most enthusiastically by those who trample on the human rights of their own people.
Iran will speak of human rights? I don’t want to talk about Venezuela. I’ll leave that to you. They lecture us on human rights, on the rule of law, on safeguarding human decency? They string people in cranes, innocent people in cranes in the squares of Tehran and Iran’s other cities. They send their goons to Lebanon, to Syria, to Yemen, slaughtering people by the thousands. They slaughter Muslims, they target Muslims who do not share their violent creed.
Today, a lot of the extreme antisemitism that we see today is coming from old quarters, intolerant quarters, xenophobic ones in parts of Europe, in a peculiar marriage with the militants who seek to overtake the world of Islam, and they have integrated the most extreme antisemitism into this murderous theology.
I want to give you an example. First, recognize that their first and greatest number of victims are their fellow Muslims. But they also target us, and I give you the Hamas Charter. It repeats the ancient libels against the Jews. It openly calls for the murder of Jews wherever they are and for the destruction of their state.
And the same can be said of Hezbollah and for the common patron of both Hezbollah and Hamas, which is of course Iran.
And of course they have competition. The militant Shi’ites have competition from the militant Sunnis of al-Qaida, of ISIS and al-Nusra who echo their murderous creed not only about Israel. You’ve seen the horrors they commit on their fellow Muslims.
Today’s antisemitism, as I said, is not limited to the various sects of militant Islam, nor is it limited just to the xenophobic elements on the fringes of European society. Because today it often wears the mask of so-called progressive thinking in the West. Some of those who consider themselves champions of tolerance are remarkably intolerant when it comes to Jews and the Jewish state.
The classic antisemite portrayed the Jews as the embodiment of all evil in the world. Modern antisemites portray the Jewish state as the embodiment of all evil in the world.
When Hamas and Hezbollah rocketed our cities, thousands and thousands and thousands of rockets, fired directly at our cities – that’s a war crime, hiding behind their civilians – that’s a second war crime – when they committed these dual war crimes, tens of thousands demonstrated on the streets of European capitals, not against Hamas, not against Hezbollah, but against Israel.
Now, thousands are being killed in the brutal conflict in Yemen. You see any demonstrations in London or Paris? A quarter of a million people have been savagely butchered in Syria. You hear any word of academic boycotts on the Assad regime? And in Iran now under the Rouhani government, executions have gone up, innocent people are taken to death. You hear any UN resolutions condemning these violations of basic human rights?
And the answer regrettably is no. The demonstrations, the boycotts, the resolutions are all reserved for the Middle East’s one true democracy, in fact it’s the most beleaguered democracy on earth – Israel.
This is a travesty. You can try to explain it away in many ways and it’s true that the internet has a multiplier effect, but you can have a multiplier effect on many, many lies, on many slanders, and yet this has a global multiplying effect, and there is something fundamentally wrong that this slander is reserved for the one country in the region where the death penalty is not even used against the most gruesome terrorist murderers, the one country that holds human rights sacrosanct, where equality is protected under the law – for women, for Christians, for minorities, for all.
You can ask yourself how is that possible, how could it be that the Jewish state is treated like that. There’s got to be fire if there’s smoke.
How do think the Jews were treated for generations? The things that peoples said about the Jews for generations were believed across so many lands. They believed that we poisoned the wells, that we drank the blood of Christian children, that we were spreading disease deliberately. By the way, these are all repeated as we speak.
You see, how could it be that they believed it? But they did. Not only did they believe it, you say, well, that’s because of ignorance. Yeah, that’s true. Except that some of the most educated people in history believed it – Voltaire, Dostoyevsky, and the list is a lot longer, by the way.
So education and knowledge may be a partial protector against this slander, but there’s something deeper here because these are such patent falsehoods. It is the willingness to submit to slander, the willingness to believe this. This is what creates the ground, and it starts not from the bottom. It starts with the elites. And that’s where it has to be challenged.
And today the treatment of Israel is no different from the treatment of our forbearers. The Jewish state is being treated among the nations the way the Jewish people were treated for generations.
And we’re not perfect, by the way. We have a lot of things that we can improve. We have a very boisterous and robust democracy. You should come to the Knesset. I invite all of you. What fun. But it is. It’s alive. It’s free. Everything is debated, everything is open, and there is a system of justice, a system of laws and true tolerance. With all the imperfections of any society, we’ve built here a tremendous society. Beleaguered? Yes, but with great success.
And our best allies actually these days are some of our Arab neighbors because they know we face a common threat.
So we see this country. How can it be that this country is slandered like no other country? Well, probably because old habits die hard.
But the sad truth is that some of them don’t die. The sad truth is that no rational examination can justify the obsession with the Jewish state, and this obsession with the Jewish state and the Jewish people has a name. It’s called antisemitism. I know you understand all this. I know that the people in this room have learned the painful lessons of 70 years ago.
I appreciate your commitment to fighting antisemitism because the battle starts from the top. Antisemitism, contrary to what people think, does not just bubble up from below. It percolates also from the top. And that’s why it’s so important that there are leaders here, across lands, across faiths, across professions, from the public and the private domain, who are gearing up to fight this old obsession.
You have learned from history, but regrettably, many around the world have yet to do so.
I want to assure you that we have. We are no longer a stateless people searching for a safe haven. We are no longer a powerless people begging others to protect us. Today we have an independent and sovereign state. Today we can protect ourselves and defend our freedoms, our lives.
What has changed in the history of the world for the Jewish people is not the hatred of the Jews, but with the founding of the Jewish state, the rediscovery by the Jews of the capacity to defend ourselves against slander and against attack. Today we can speak up against our vilification – as I am doing right now and as you have been doing, and I know you will continue to do.
Because there is a simple fact – a lie that is left unchallenged and endlessly repeated assumes the cachet of self-evident truth. Our biggest job – our biggest job – is to go and light a candle of truth.
When I came to the United Nations many years ago to serve as Israel’s ambassador, I met a famous Jewish religious leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and he said to me: You know, you’ll be going into a house where many, many lies will be leveled at Israel and at our people, and he said, "Remember that in the darkest halls, if you light one candle, then people will see the light of truth for a very long distance. They’ll see it from afar, and your job," he said to me, "is to light a candle of truth in a dark hall." Well, I’ll tell you, we need a lot of candles, a lot of lighters of candles, and that’s how I see you.
Because nowhere is this calumny that is leveled against our people more systematically propagated than in Iran. The ayatollah regime is conducting as we speak a competition. The competition is an international competition. It parallels our conference, except it’s the very reverse. It’s a competition of Holocaust deniers from around the globe, who can better deny the Holocaust. And while they are denying the Holocaust, they’re planning another genocide against our people. They openly threaten to annihilate the State of Israel.
Just a few weeks ago, a few days before the Lausanne agreement was signed, an Iranian general said, "The destruction of Israel is non-negotiable." Openly. And of course they seek to build nuclear weapons to implement this mad design.
I have to tell you honestly that the Lausanne framework won’t stop them. Israel wants to see a peaceful solution, a better deal that will actually block Iran’s path to the bomb. But I want to be absolutely clear. The Jewish state will defend itself by itself against any threat.
That’s what we’ve learned from history. That’s what the Jewish state is all about.
But we’ve also learned something else. I don’t know if we’ll be able to eradicate the scourge of antisemitism. I know we have to fight it. We have learned that if you don’t fight it, if unstopped, these fires of antisemitism eventually spread and they consume everyone. That is I think the central lesson of the 20th century, in many ways the central lesson of modern times.
So for the sake of decency, for the sake of our common humanity, for the sake of our common future, we must all continue to stand up and fight antisemitism. The Jewish people and decent people everywhere will salute you for doing just that.
Thank you, thank you for coming to Jerusalem, thank you.