People are seeing that Israel is a country that contributes to the world – every day. I recently spent two days in Washington DC with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on his first official visit to the United States.
I was on Capitol Hill when he addressed the joint session of the two houses of Congress and the Senate. I think his speech to the Congress was a work of art: it included every element that needed to be there with the right balance, with incredible delivery. And I must say that while I was sitting there I felt a sense of great pride at being Israeli, great emotion at being Jewish and witnessing this wonderful occasion.
But I also came away from his visit with another feeling, and I’ve tried to analyze what I felt after I left Washington. And I think that if I have to put it into words, it is the very real feeling that we are not alone. We are no longer alone.
I want to qualify that by saying that I think we were never alone as far as the United States is concerned. The United States has always been and will always be a steadfast and true ally of Israel, regardless of which administration heads it. But the thought that we are no longer alone has transcended from Washington DC even to New York and to that last building on First Avenue, where I have had the incredible honor of representing a country I love very much and am very proud of every single day.
Because even at the United Nations, things have changed. And even there we are no longer alone.
Look at what has happened to Israel over the last two years in the United Nations: two years because it is nearly June and it was in June of 2004 that the UN for the very first time held a seminar on anti-Semitism in which the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, made a very, very strong and dramatic statement condemning anti-Semitism.
In October of 2004, anti-Semitism for the first time ever was condemned in the framework of the Religious Intolerance Resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. In January of 2005, for the very first time, the United Nations General Assembly held a commemorative special session to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps in Europe.
In March of that same year, had the privilege of accompanying Secretary General Annan on a trip to Israel, where he headed a group of forty-two other heads of state inaugurating the new wing of the Holocaust museum of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
In June last year I was elected vice president of the General Assembly of the United Nations – the first time in fifty-four years that any Israeli has held that position. In November last year the United Nations General Assembly in an unprecedented, unique and for the very, very first time, adopted an Israeli sponsored and initiated resolution, declaring the 27th of January ever after as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And in January this year, just four months ago, the United Nations indeed held that commemorative special session.
You had to be there, to see that General Assembly hall overflow. Not filled to capacity, but overflowing. They needed another two rooms to accommodate the people who came. Many representatives from all over the world, many ambassadors and ministers, but mainly Holocaust survivors in their thousands, sitting there, very old, as their numbers dwindle, as Holocaust passes from being memory to being history, telling their stories, watching a choir sing El Maleh Ra’chamim and Hatikvah and songs in Yiddish.
And it was then when I went on the podium, overwhelmed with emotion, thinking that this is actually happening in the very same hall which only thirty years ago equated Zionism with racism, that I said, shehechianu v’keamanu v’higianu l’zman hazeh at the United Nations.
But it wasn’t until I saw that emotion that this day and this gesture created in Israel and I got calls from numerous Holocaust survivors and their children that I realized how many cords we touched, and what an incredible thing has happened.
And you may very well ask, ‘Why has all this happened?’ It may clear why the prime minister was received so well in Washington, although the prime minister himself, while we were sitting at Blair House after the session and during our flight back, said that he truly felt that the reception was not for him: it was for Israel.
But it is more difficult to understand why the 191 member states of the United Nations are becoming more hospitable, treating us more normally, accepting us more, and why we feel more at home there.
There are several explanations. The first, and I believe the most important one, is that we are living in a world that changed in unimaginable ways, on 9/11. A world that is no longer divided just between rich and poor or between north and south, but that is indeed divided between terror and those who fight it. Between terrorists and those who stand against it. But this is not just a war against terror.
This is indeed, and let’s call it what it is, a war against extreme, fundamentalist, dangerous Islam. Because while it may be politically incorrect and maybe even untrue to say that all Muslims are terrorists, it also sadly happens to be true that nearly all terrorists are Muslims. And it is time if there are moderate, thinking, caring Muslim leaders, whether religious or political in the world, it is time for them to look very deeply into their own societies and ask themselves, as Bernard Lewis in his very, very interesting book, What Went Wrong?
In that fight, Israel has always been at the forefront. But, luckily, it is no longer alone.
Because the threat we hear from Iran is no longer just a threat to Israel. The threat of terror is no longer just a local Israeli threat. The new axis of terror and evil, consisting of a mad and lunatic president in Iran, who denies the Holocaust while diligently preparing the next one. And of terror of Damascus in Syria, which harbors and perpetrates and initiates and is very hospitable to all the terror organizations and the Hamas, which was elected democratically as the leader of the Palestinian people and is dedicated strategically to the destruction of Israel.
And the Hizbullah, which is nothing more than just another unit in the Iranian army. These are true, existential, strategic, long-term threats to Israel. But they are also strategic, long-term threats to the rest of the world and to civilization as we know it. But this world is changing and realizing that if we want civilization to survive as we know it, we must stand up against these forces of evil. And it is because of this changing world, and because of this realization that we are no longer alone.
And the world is divided in another way as well. Today the world is divided between those who spread evil and those who do good. We’ve seen it time and time again when disaster struck, whether it’s Katrina in the US or the tsunami in Southeast Asia or other horrible disasters.
We’re seeing that Israel is a country that contributes to the world – every day. Not to itself or to the Jewish people, but to humanity and to mankind more than any other country, and certainly more than most other member states of the United Nations. Israel’s economic successes are no secret, but the great thing about Israel – is that Israel is not keeping its success, its innovation and its creativity to itself. Israel is sharing it with the world.
Israelis are living on the highest peaks of the Andes and the most arid deserts of Africa. They’re working with a people, with Israeli agriculture making deserts bloom, with Israeli medicine making limbs move, with Israeli innovation making life better and making the world a better place. And that realization too, that this is indeed the true Israel. Not the one depicted and perceived on the television screens and on the cable networks as a country of bloodshed and disaster and torn by conflict, but a country of innovation and beauty and creativity and excellence.
And that, too, is finally sinking in. And it is because of that that I truly believe that Israel facing those very, very serious dangers will prevail. And it will prevail not only because it is doing good while others spread evil. It will prevail not only because ultimately at the end of the day it is moral and just. And it will prevail not only because it is strong. It will prevail because a country that has given the world the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Israel Philharmonic and the Interdisciplinary Center deserves no less.
(Excerpted from a speech delivered to the Israeli Friends of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herziliya)