Thank you. Each of us is forced to decide if we take a stand on things that matter in our lives and matter to the lives of those we hold dear. And Natan Sharansky took one of the greatest personal stands in the post-war period and the day you stood up in a Soviet court, tore up your indictment and said ?Next year in Jerusalem? was a testament, not only to your character, but what you represent in the modern history of our people. And I?ve found it a personal privilege to have had the opportunity to take part in the broad efforts to get Natan out of that large jail, to bring him home and to have an enduring partnership and friendship since. And I also appreciate the fact that you were kind enough to give me a draw in a game of chess that we played. I know you were kind because to others you are unforgiving so I appreciate that very much. I?ve never played with him since and I don?t intend to.
But we do move on the larger chessboards of the nations. And we have to recognize what it is that we need to succeed and to assure the Jewish future. There is a palpable challenge to our future from two main directions. The first one is the loss of identity ? the loss of identity through assimilation or through intermarriage or through both is the greatest toll-taker of Jewish numbers in the last half-century. Before that, we had the greatest catastrophe in our history. We lost a third of our people to murderous violence and I think it?s telling to go and visit, as we did, Auschwitz-Birkenau, to stand there in the terrible ice and to understand that those who didn?t burn, froze, and those who didn?t freeze, burnt. That was the condition of our people only 65 years ago as we escaped from a great cauldron, from a great catastrophe and built our life here.
But we see since then that there has been a palpable, if not reduction in Jewish numbers, the absence of growth that would normally have normally accompanied a half-century and more ? 65 years ? would enable, certainly if not the doubling, if not the tripling, then certainly more than the doubling of our numbers. And yet we were some 12 or 13 million after the Holocaust and those are our numbers today. There?s been no growth at all in most of the Jewish Diaspora. There?s been significant decline in many of the communities and certainly none of the extrapolation that one would have had for the normal development of a population. These have not taken place in the Diaspora. It has taken place only in one place, here in Israel.
And as a result, Israel today has the largest Jewish community in the world. We?re fast approaching six million souls and we?re fast approaching a point where the majority of the Jews will live in the land of Israel. That has not happened since the days of the Second Temple. That is, in one sense, good news and it will happen very shortly, but in another sense, it reflects not merely the growth and the development of Israel ? the absorption of millions of immigrants from all over the world including over a million from the Former Soviet Union ? and the naturally high growth rate of the Israeli population ? very high ? I think it?s the highest or among the highest in the developed countries, in developed economies ? and that is a reflection of an inner ? by the way ? secular and religious alike ? religious more, secular very high, very high, compared to say our counterparts in Western Europe ? very, very high. And there is a natural life force in the Jewish people in response, I think, to the Holocaust ? an enduring, lingering response to the Holocaust and to the wars of Israel and to our natural impetus to ensure that the Jewish people survive beyond the personal calculation and consideration that every family makes. So that is the good side and the robust nature of the Israeli economy, the development of the Israeli state, the Israeli society, the Israeli economy, Israeli technology ? the capacity not merely to increase our numbers but to increase our productivity well beyond our numbers ? to increase our economy, our GDP per capita well beyond the growth rate of our numbers ? this is all good news.
The bad news is that we have steadily eroded as a people. The commitment of our young people ? the Jewish people ? have frayed at the edges, but there was a concomitant development which I think was important, and that is a concentration ? a consolidation at the vibrant center including the Diaspora that says we should reverse this. And the most important thing which has happened in the last decade has been the conscious effort of the Diaspora first, and then Israel second, joining it pretty early on, to try to reverse the forces of the loss of identity through such programs as Masa and Taglit and the fostering of Jewish education, the study of Hebrew. These are conscious efforts to arrest the tide of loss of identity and we should continue them ? we should increase them. We ? I mean as a partnership between the Jewish people outside of Israel and the Jewish State of Israel, between the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel and any other organization that seeks to support this important effort. We?re committed to this.
I was the first Prime Minister who actually gave money from the Israeli official budget to foster Jewish education abroad and to help Taglit. I thought it was a tremendous development which has since been augmented. But we are committed to do this and as our economy grows, we will add more resources for this common effort ? stopping the loss of identity, strengthening the identity in the Diaspora, especially with young Jews ? getting them to come to Israel, getting them to know Israel, getting them to consider staying in Israel or becoming ambassadors in their own communities and on their campuses fighting the vilification of Israel and also cementing their own commitment to it is a vital component for the Jewish future. And I assure you, Natan, that we will work together on this because we deeply believe it and ultimately we act on our beliefs.
Now there is one other component of this. As we strengthen ? seek to strengthen ? Jewish identity in the Diaspora, we must strengthen Jewish identity here in Israel. For one, we?re in a global economy, we?re in a global information economy and there is a widespread dissemination of a global culture ? it?s not always very deep, it?s not always very inspiring but it is sweeping ? it catches our young people, it gets them to deal and immerse themselves in matters or cultural matters that is not necessarily connected to their individual roots. This happens to their individual national roots or particular national roots. This problem challenges many, many nations and especially the smaller nations. The smaller peoples are facing this challenge of being effectively culturally swamped. And we know that without strong identification, without strong roots ? we cannot create the motivations, the energies, the commitment to continue to build the State of Israel so this is not a minor effort. We also know that people are mobile and the more gifted, the more able and the more talented the people, the more their capacities and their skills are worthwhile and worthy on the universal market ? they can just move. It?s a global marketplace. And therefore what will keep people here and what will keep our best young people here? What will keep them here is a strong commitment to ensuring their own personal fortunes here, their own personal lives here but also to ensure to deepen their commitment to the Jewish state in the Jewish land. And this requires a directed and purposeful effort.
This was the nature of our effort yesterday ? we went to Tel Hai the place where Joseph Trumpledor fell some 90 years ago to secure the Upper Galilee, and we started a program for roughly 150 projects which are both from antiquity, archaeological projects from Biblical and post-Biblical periods but also the restoration of sites of modern Zionism, and in so doing also correct the distortions of history. We?re just presenting the facts. We need not color the facts, we need not prove the facts ? we just have to explain the facts ? the actual facts of the growth of Zionism, the return of the Jews, the origins of the attacks against us, the defense, the value of defense that people gave up ? pulp history warts and all. And there are some warts. Put it up front because I don?t think that any people, any other people, can be as proud of our ancient and modern history as the Jewish people. And this pride is part of our identity ? it?s part of the thing that connects us to this land and to each other. It deepens our roots in our country and it also connects, I believe, Jews around the world to the Jewish state and to the Jewish land. We?re going to do this in a variety of ways obviously suited for the 21st century and for the new means of communication. But at the end of the day, the greatest experience that we can have is to have young people in Israel, young Jews from abroad come here and actually walk this land ? walk it, sense it, feel it, study about it, learn it directly ? we say in the army ? through the boots ? through the boots but also through your eyes, through your brain and through your heart to learn about our heritage and to make that heritage part of the foundation of our future. And I think this is what our real challenge is ? to be firmly grounded in our history and yet be open to the world ? to the changes that take place and to our remarkable success in finding a unique capacity to continue projecting the Jewish genius in the modern world as we are cognizant and as we cherish the Jewish genius from antiquity to today.
This is what our Heritage Program is about and I would like to consider ways to coordinate this program which was by the way a considerable expenditure ? I?ve always found that people take you seriously only if you spend money. Well, we?re spending money on this but I think that we should spend some time, and I plan to do this in whatever form we designate, to see how we can tighten this Moreshet Program ? Tochnit Moreshet ? which is our heritage program with the Jewish Agency and with the Jewish communities around the world. I think this is not merely an exercise in education. I think it?s an exercise in survival because I think this is a key part of the history and the mystery of the Jews. It?s because we wanted to come back. It?s because we broke the laws of history. It?s because we said while we were strewn to the four corners of the world absolutely powerless, absolutely defenseless ? we said ? ?We will come back ? next year in Jerusalem?.
It?s because, Natan, you said it in a court against one of the greatest totalitarian, perhaps the greatest totalitarian system in the world. It?s because young Ethiopians who walked from Ethiopia ? many of them losing their brothers and sisters ? they said ?Next Year in Jerusalem?. It?s because the last people in the Warsaw Ghetto standing up against impossible odds said ?Next Year in Jerusalem?. And some of them died saying it, and some of them escaped and are here. It?s because this happened not only in the Warsaw Ghetto, it happened in the Ghetto of Toledo hundreds of years before that. This is a great power. But now we?re in Jerusalem and we have to teach the Children of Zion about Zion and about the Land of Israel ? the Children of Israel about the Land of Israel and about the People of Israel, about our connection and our unique commitment to our past and to our future in this land and to each other. This is not a small matter but we are not short of big matters that affect us.
You mentioned one of them that I?ve been involved with for just a little under twenty years which is the great challenge that is facing the world because of the rise of militant Islam and its attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. I mean, if I had to put in a nutshell the greatest threat that faces humanity ? it is that a militant Islamic regime will meet up with nuclear weapons or that nuclear weapons will meet up with a militant Islamic regime. The first is a danger now focused in Iran and the second is a concern that many people have about a Taliban takeover of Pakistan. I think that both are eminently preventable but things are not prevented by themselves, they depend on actions and the most important action vis-à-vis Iran is action that the international community can take and must take in time. This regime depends virtually entirely on energy. Its budgets depend on energy ? on the exportation of oil and natural gas. The first and most powerful sanction ? biting sanctions ? is to prevent the export of oil from Iran. Right alongside it is to prevent the import of oil or specifically refined petroleum which means gasoline into Iran. These are sanctions with teeth. Other sanctions are now being discussed by the international community but without these sanctions, I think they will not have the impact to actually make a dent in this regime and force it to consider whether to continue its brazen pursuit of a nuclear weapons program.
If one is talking about what are effective sanctions ? what are crippling sanctions ? what are sanctions that can actually work ? they must include, they must include the constriction of the export of oil from Iran and the import of refined oil into Iran. I think that nothing else stands a real chance to stop the progress of the regime but this has a chance ? at least it must be tried and must be tried now. There has been a slow lag of understanding of things that we have been talking about for years. At first, there was a question whether Iran is ? whether this regime is as tyrannical as it is. People said that it?s a populous regime ? it may have a theological bent but it is a popular regime that seeks to better the lives of Iran?s people. Well, they no longer think that. I think the regime has been exposed by the clear sunlight that fell on those sidewalks where young Iranians were bleeding, choking on their blood, being gunned down by these goons. People now know the truth about the nature of the regime. And a regime that tyrannizes its own people will tyrannize its neighbors very soon. In fact, that?s already happening.
The second thing that people said is does Iran have a nuclear program? There was some debate about that. Well, that?s pretty much evaporated as Iran?s secret nuclear facility has been exposed and other facts came to light. So now we know that this is a tyrannical regime that is developing atomic bombs.
The third thing that we know is that they threatened to use those bombs against us and possibly as weapons of terror against anyone else they choose. This is a formidable combination. When you have no inhibition and you have far-reaching ideological, theological ambitions ? the combination of a militant Islamic regime that has the weapons of mass death and could use atomic weapons, not merely to threaten directly but also to use it as weapons of nuclear terror could be a pivot of history. That too is understood in most of the capitals and by most of the leaders that I?ve spoken to in recent months and over the years and there is a crystallization of an understanding.
And now comes another question that caused a lot of arguments and disagreements. How long will it take for them to develop a weapon? That too, as Iran is advancing and as it is demonstrably accruing low, enriched uranium which is one step short of a process called high enrichment which they?ve just begun. That too begins to fade as an issue of discord because people understand it will happen a lot sooner than people think. So now the leading countries in the world and the leading leaders of the world today understand that Iran is a brutal tyranny, that it has a nuclear weapons program, that it is using its power to tyrannize its own people and its neighbors and that it is fast approaching a nuclear weapons capacity. Well what is it going to do when you have the understanding? There?s a difference between not knowing and knowing. Then there?s a difference between knowing and understanding. And then there?s a difference between understanding and having the international community actually act on that understanding.
We?re at that fate point. We?re at the point where the international community has to decide whether it is serious about stopping Iran. If it is serious about stopping Iran, then what it needs to do is not water-down sanctions, moderate sanctions, sanctions that will only enable people to put a ?V? around the rubric box of sanctions, but effective , biting sanctions that curtail the import and export of oil into and out of Iran. This is what is required now. It may not do the job but nothing else will. And at least we will have known that it?s been tried. And if this cannot pass in the Security Council, then it should be done outside the Security Council but immediately. I never fail to quote Hillel the Elder who said several thousand years ago some pretty smart things. They were short and succinct and to the point. And one of the things that he said was: ?If not now, when?? If not now, when is the international community going to impose biting sanctions on Iran? A year from now? Two years from now? Three years from now when it?s all pointless? If not now, when and the answer is right now! That is what is required: Crippling sanctions that affect Iran?s import and export of oil now.
I?ve just come back from Russia where I had a very successful trip. I thought of you, Natan, and I know that you?re working to strengthen the ties between the Jewish people and the Jewish Agency in Russia and although this didn?t take place this year ? the meeting that you had planned ? I have reason to believe that it will be possible in the near future.
But I thought of the transformation of our world. I thought of the great odyssey that we have made and the fact that over a million of our fellow Jews from Russia are now in Israel in key places. I said to Prime Minister Putin and before that to President Medvedev: ?You know. I?ve brought with me my own Minister, Yuli Edelstein, as a translator; they told me he speaks good Russian. So I had Yuli Edelstein on one side and I had Ze?ev Elkin who?s the coalition chief and the head of the Likud faction in the Knesset on the other side. Eugene Kandel who?s the son of a famous dissident who?s the head of our Council of Economic Advisors ? he was in that delegation too. And I mentioned you, Natan, as the head of the Jewish Agency. These are all people that I try to advance their careers ? these are all very gifted people who?ve come up in their own right. And I thought of this wondrous transformation that only 20 years ago ? 25 years ago ? all these people were probably struggling and yearning, facing impossible odds and they may even have seen already at that time the horizon begin to clear up. But this required many, many years of conviction and faith and steely determination and hope to be ?next year in Jerusalem?.
Well, we?re here this year in Jerusalem. And I think part of the reason we?re here is this unique partnership that exists between the Jewish State and the Jewish people. We face problems and challenges like no other people but we have a bond like no other people. People comment about it. They have all sorts of ? both admiration and sometimes odd speculation ? that?s a nice way of saying it. It?s a mythic and sometimes mythical bond between us ? between the Jewish people, between the Jewish state and the Diaspora. But it is a wondrous force. It has enabled us to defeat the greatest forces of history ? overcome them ? and to stand up to the greatest empires in history and to meet that challenge too. So we are here today in Jerusalem because that saying is not a cliché ? we are one ? but we have to make sure that our youngsters know that, that our children and grandchildren and our great-grandchildren know that. And we also must ensure that those who seek to extinguish Jewish identity or Jewish life will never succeed. This partnership will assure that they don?t.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now