THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release
|April 27, 1998
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT RECEPTION FOR THE
50TH ANNIVERSARY OF ISRAEL
11:58 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. President,Director, all the officials of Hebrew University. Mr. VicePresident, members of the Cabinet, the administration, members of theCongress. I'd like to especially thank Dr. Dunn, Dr. Nyang, Dr.Schorsch, and Richard Dreyfuss and Linda Lavin for their wonderfulcontributions to this day. To Ambassador and Mrs. Ben-Elissar, thankyou for being here. To all of our former ambassadors to the UnitedStates and other distinguished guests from Israel, and my fellowAmericans.
I'd also like to ask that we give a special word ofappreciation to the people who provided all that wonderful musicwhich got us in the right frame of mind -- * Band. Thank you verymuch. (Applause.) If you could hang around here for a month or two,I think we might get some things done -- you'd keep us all in a verypositive frame of mind.
I am very honored to receive this degree from HebrewUniversity of Jerusalem -- honored because its founders include ChaimWeizmann, Martin Buber, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein; honoredbecause it is now one of the world's leading centers of learning andresearch.
I must say, I never expected to be doing this here.Many American universities have satellite campuses where workingpeople like me can obtain degrees at locations near their homes andoffices. (Laughter.) This is more than I ever could haveanticipated. (Laughter.)
President Magidor, thank you for bringing this ceremonyhere so that those of us who cannot go to Israel in a couple of daysmay share in the celebration of this magnificent 50th birthday.
I accept this honor today on behalf of my predecessors,beginning with Harry Truman -- nine American Presidents all devotedto Israel's security and freedom, all committed to peace in theMiddle East. I accept it on behalf of the American people who haveformed not just an alliance, but a profound friendship with thepeople of Israel over these last 50 years.
Today we celebrate that extraordinary 50 years. In1948, Israel arose from the seeds of the Diaspora and the ashes ofthe Holocaust. The children of Abraham and Sara, survivors of 2,000years of exile and persecution, were home at last and free at last.For its founders, the Israeli state was, however, about even morethan securing a haven for the Jewish people after centuries ofsuffering and wandering. Isaiah prophesied that Israel would become"a light unto the nations," and David Ben-Gurion and his allies setout to make that prophecy come true by establishing a society of
light, embracing what Ben-Gurion called the higher virtues of truth,justice, and compassion.
Ben-Gurion believed Israel could lead the world to abetter future by marrying the ethical teachings of the ancients withthe discoveries of modern science. "It is only by the integration ofthe two," he wrote, "that the blessings of both can flourish." Ofcourse, he also envisioned a third great achievement for Israel that,with strength and wisdom and skill, Israel would build a lastingpeace with its Arab neighbors.
As we have heard today, relations between our twonations were born of another leaders courage and vision. HarryTruman brushed aside the urgings of his advisors, as he often did,when they said go slow, wait and see, before offering Israelrecognition. For him, supporting a Jewish homeland was a moralimperative rooted in his understanding of the sufferings and dreamsof the Jews from biblical times. And as we learned from Richard'swonderful reading, it occurred just 11 minutes after Israelproclaimed independence. We, in becoming the first country torecognize Israel, had one of our proudest moments. (Applause.)
Not only that, 50 years later, old Harry Truman lookspretty smart. (Laughter.)
Look what Israel has done. Under a brilliant blue sky,the Israelis have built prosperous farms and kibitzes, plantedforests, turned streets of sand into shining boulevards, raisedfamilies and welcomed the arrival of brothers and sisters from Europeand North Africa, from Russia and Ethiopia, and America. Israelishave dazzled the world with achievements in science and scholarship,in literature and the art. They have built a thriving democracy.
And despite the passage of 50 years, Israelis seem tolove and practice their freedom as if they had only just gained it.They never seem to cease challenging themselves about their history,their relationship with their neighbors, the hard choices for thefuture. If anyone ever wonders whether there is ever a place in theworld where you can have freedom and honest, vigorous, 24-hour-a-day,seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year argument, go to Israel. (Laughterand Applause.).
It is truly one of the most pulsating, vibrant places onEarth -- alive with thousands of sounds, prayers in dozens oflanguages in the Old City; young people gathered on the avenues ofTel Aviv, computer keyboards tapping; new ventures launched on theInternet; school children now conversing in Hebrew, once the languageonly of sacred text now the voice of an Israeli renaissance. And theeconomy has been propelled by all this energy and activity into beingone of the most advanced and diversified in the world -- per capitaincome now matching nations in Europe; exports last year were $32billion dollars, 1,000 times their level in 1948.
Hi-tech companies, hi-tech people. You go to Israel, itlooks as if you can't be a citizen of Israel unless you have a cellphone glued to your hand. (Laughter.) Yes, Israelis have gone avery long way toward fulfilling the first two pieces of Ben-Gurion'svision. Surely they have built an ethical, democratic society, and amodern science and technology-based economy. It has endured againstgreat odds by prevailing again and again in battle. The valor ofcitizen soldiers and military and political leaders like Golda Meir,Moshe Dayan, Yonni Netanyahu.
But the battle for the third piece of Ben-Gurion'svision -- a just, secure and lasting peace -- is still being wagedand still in blood and tears. Camp David brought piece betweenIsrael and Egypt, but it cost Anwar Sadat his life. Here on thisvery spot, on a brilliant day in September of 1993, Yitzhak Rabincommitted himself not only to an agreement with Mr. Arafat, but to acomprehensive peace in the Middle East. How bravely he pursued it.But it cost him his life.
Jews and Arabs who have wanted nothing more than to livequiet, normal lives are still denied that simple pleasure. Still asthe new century dawns, the world is filled with the promise and hopethat we can overcome ancient hatreds to build a modernpeace for our children.
From Guatemala to Mozambique to Bosnia, and now even tothe land of my ancestors in Ireland, longtime antagonists have leftthe battleground to find common ground. They are weary of war. Theylong for peace for their children. They move beyond hatred to hope.
This is a time for reconciliation around the world. Itmust be a time to deepen freedom and raise up life in the MiddleEast. The 21st century can and must be a century of democracy,prosperity and justice, and of course, of peace. But it can be onlyif we learn not only to respect, but to honor our differences. TheMiddle East can build on the momentous achievements of its NobelPrize winners -- Begin and Sadat, Arafat, Peres and Rabin -- so thatall its children may grow up without fear.
In a land holy to three great religions, sacred sitesfor Islam, Judaism and Christianity exist side by side. If there isso much history there, the children of all that history should beable to live together.
Again and again, extremists have sought to derail peacewith bullets and bombs. Again and again, they demonstrate the realdivisions today are not between Jews and Arabs, but between thosestuck in the past and those who long for a better future; betweenthose paralyzed by hatred and those energized by hope; those whostand with clenched fists and those who reach out with open hands.We cannot let the extremists prevail. Israel can fulfill its fullpromise by drawing on the courage and vision of its founders toachieve peace with security. Never has the opportunity been morereal and it must not be lost.
You know, I was sitting here on the stage todaylistening to everything that was said and thinking of all the greatgifts that Israel has given the United States. In 1963, 35 years agothis year, when Israel was still a young nation and President Kennedywas killed, your then-United Nations Ambassador, Mr. Eban, gave anenormous gift to the American people in all of our pain by putting inone short, terse sentence how we all felt when he said, tragedy isthe difference between what is and what might have been. As we lookahead to tomorrow, let us define triumph by turning his formula onits head. Triumph is when there is no difference between what mighthave been and what is. (Applause.)
Let us in the United States say that we will stand byIsrael, always foursquare for its security, always together infriendship, but we want this debate to continue until there is nodifference between what might have been and what is. (Applause.)
We look at Hebrew University and see all three pieces ofDavid Ben-Gurion's dream coming to life. We see biologistsdeveloping techniques to locate a single cancer cell among millionsof healthy ones. We see the moral commitment to keeping people'shealth among the scientists there. We see Hebrew Universityresearchers undertaking efforts in cooperation with Palestinianresearchers in East Jerusalem. One of the participants in theproject said, it's science and peace together. We know that muchmore is possible. We must understand that much more is essential.
Fifty years from now the 21st century will near itsmidpoint and Israel will have a 100th birthday celebration. Sure asthe world, our grandchildren will be hanging around here on thislawn. What do you think they'll be able to say? And what will theybe celebrating? It is my dream that on that 100th anniversary,people from every country in the Middle East will gather in the HolyLand, and all the land will be holy to all of them.
As a Christian, I do not know how God, if He were tocome to Earth, would divide the land over which there is dispute now.I suspect neither does anyone else in this audience. But I know thatif we all pray for the wisdom to do God's will, chances are we willfind a way to close the gap in the next couple of years between whatmight be and what is. I think that is what we owe the founders ofIsrael -- to finish Ben-Gurion's dream.
Thank you and God bless you all. (Applause.)