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President Rivlin addresses JFNA General Assembly in Los Angeles
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President Rivlin addresses JFNA General Assembly in Los Angeles

14 November 2017

President Rivlin: “The State of Israel was, and will always be, the home of every Jew; Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, secular, traditional, Ashkenazi, Sephardi. Jews. We are all one people, and Israel is dear to all of us.”

On the Kotel: “The symbol of unity, the Wall of our Tears and Joy, has become a symbol of division and disagreement. I hope that in the future we can return to the table together, and reach an understanding on this important issue. We must all respect Israel’s democratic process, the decision-making process. Whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish democratic state, ‘religion and state’ is a political issue.”

On the need for cooperation: “These are the tasks before us; the fight against anti-Semitism; preserving Jewish identity; safeguarding the security of Israel. We must continue to pass these duties to our children and grandchildren, from one generation to the next.”

On Iran: “The current agreement puts both Israel and the United States in danger, and shakes the stability of the entire region.” 

In his first major address outside of Israel to the North American Jewish community, President Reuven Rivlin this evening (Monday) addressed the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, held this year in Los Angeles 12-14 November. 

In his address, the President spoke about several key issues, including the disagreements surrounding the Western Wall (Kotel), as well as other key challenges the Jewish people currently faced including; anti-Semitism, preserving Jewish identity, and ensuing the security of Israel. The President also spoke of the work of the President’s Office under the umbrella of the flagship Israeli Hope initiative, aimed at building bridges between all the communities of Israel. 

The President began by thanking the JFNA’s leadership for inviting him to address the conference, and gave special mention to the family of Hamas held captive Avraham Mengistu, who were present at the General Assembly. The President said, “The State of Israel will not rest until the return of our fallen soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, and our citizens, Avraham Mengistu, and Juma Abu Ganima, who are held by Hamas.” 

The President turned to the thousands of attendees from Jewish communities across North America, and said “The State of Israel was, and will always be, the home of every Jew; Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, secular, traditional, Ashkenazi, Sephardi. Jews. We are all one people, and Israel is dear to all of us.” He noted, “Israel is the most daring enterprise in the history of the Jewish People. The Jews of the Diaspora, especially in North America, are full partners - not only in the establishment of Israel, but also in its development. You are true stakeholders in this wonder called Israel. You stand beside us at times of crisis and joy. You dream with us. You challenge us. You help keep us strong. And we are strong. I am here today to say that this cannot be taken for granted. We thank you for this sense of family. For your unconditional support and love. For your consistent message that ‘we Jews stick together’, that ‘all Jews are responsible for one another’. In this, we have a lot to learn from you - that is the truth.”  

The President said that, “The Jewish People must be based on one simple demand: mutual responsibility. A commitment to the security and the well-being of all our people. This commitment, must be stronger than any disagreements. We have the challenge of establishing our relationship as a value: a value that is above any argument.” 

we went on to say, “The challenge of building the relationship between us must begin with getting to know each other better. Sometimes the way to become closer is to recognize the differences, understand the different points of view.” 

“We still have a way to go,” said the President, and stressed, “On the painful issue of the Kotel agreements, it causes such pain that the symbol of unity, the Wall of our Tears and Joy, has become a symbol of division and disagreement.” He added that on this issue, “The development of the agreement was a sensitive process, led by our government in order to try and bridge the gap. I hope that in the future we can return to the table together, and reach an understanding on this important issue. It is our mutual responsibility, and a common interest. At the same time, we must all respect Israel’s democratic process, the decision-making process. Whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish democratic state, ‘religion and state’ is a political issue – maybe the most explosive one.”

The President praised the commitment of the Jewish community to Israel, and said, “You have real, positive, and effective impact on the Israeli system and society. We have built strong channels of cooperation on strategic issues. You have great impact on the Israeli agenda. I ask you, don’t stop. As part of the challenge of building the relationship between us, we need to create an honest and open dialogue between the sides, this is our only way to move forward.”

The President went on to speak on what he noted to be the three key challenges before the Jewish people; the fight against anti-Semitism, preservation of Jewish identity, and ensuring the security of Israel.

On the need for Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities to stand untied in the face of anti-Semitism, he stressed, “We shall continue to fight together against anti-Semitism in all its forms; from the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, to terror attacks against our brothers and sisters around the world, from BDS on campuses, to attacking Israel’s legitimacy in the United Nations. There is no room for hesitation, we must continue the fight against it as one united front.”

On the issue of education and promoting a positive Jewish identity in the next generation, the President said, “We all share the responsibility to keep Jewish identity and the Hebrew language, and to pass it from one generation to the next. This is a hard challenge in Israel - it is even harder in the Diaspora. I must express my great admiration for everything you are doing. For you, ensuring the Jewish identity of your children is a lifetime effort. In this too, we have much to learn from your commitment.”

The President went on to stress the importance of Israel’s security. He said, “We are one people that has one Jewish State. Keeping Israel strong and secure is also a task we share.” He noted the importance of Israel’s relationship with the United States of America and said, “You are an integral part of the unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States. This is the place to thank you for the role you play in developing these relations, in ensuring America’s commitment to the security of the State of Israel. This is also the place to thank the American Administration – President Obama before, and now President Trump – for supporting Israel and keeping its strategic edge.”

The President went on to warn that “Today, Iran is establishing its control through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, and up to the Mediterranean. This is not just a threat to Israel, it is a threat to the entire world.” He said, “Iran is the number one exporter of international terrorism. It is a country whose leaders call openly for the destruction of the State of Israel. We cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear capability. That is madness. We must work together to prevent that. The current agreement puts both Israel and the United States in danger, and shakes the stability of the entire region. It is not enough to enforce all parts of this agreement. It has to be improved, so that we will be prepared for the day after it expires.”

The President also spoke of the need to find a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. He noted that “Maintaining the security of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, is also a founding principle in any future agreement with the Palestinians,” and that “The Israel-Palestinian conflict will not be solved by boycotts or by unilateral steps. The political hijacking of international bodies, from the UN to Interpol, only harms the chance of reaching a solution.”

Speaking of his own childhood experiences growing up in Jerusalem, and of the importance of building understanding between the two sides, he said, “The Jewish People, the State of Israel, has never been and will never be at war with Islam. The lives of Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, are bound together. We live side by side, and with each other. We share the same land, the same holy places, the same water and the same sky. There will be no peace, until we all understand that we are not doomed to live together, it is our destiny to live together; Arabs and Jews.” He urged there should be a greater focus on achievements that were possible today, and noted the importance of investment across Jerusalem, which was a “microcosm of our ability, Jews and Arabs, to live together.” He said there was a need to, “Keep Jerusalem one - in words and in action.”

The President reiterated, “These are the tasks before us; the fight against anti-Semitism; preserving Jewish identity; safeguarding the security of Israel. We must continue to pass these duties to our children and grandchildren, from one generation to the next. .”

In the run up to the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s independence, The President noted, “Israel has never been better. We enjoy a vibrant and stable democracy, with economic growth, increasing exports, and low unemployment rate. Today, Israel is a world hi-tech power, a world center of excellence in the fields of cyber technology, water and agriculture.” He noted Israel was third in the world in the number of patents per person, and that in Israel, every eight hours a new start-up was born. The President said that against this background, Israel was faced with the challenge of ensuring the Start-Up Nation, the “Israeli dream”, was “accessible to every young man and woman in Israel? To the young Haredi man in Bnei Brak? To the young Arab woman from the Bedouin town of Rahat?”

He noted, “Israeli society is going through a major change. It is changing from a society made up of a clear Zionist majority, to a society made up of four clear sectors, or ‘tribes’, which are getting closer in size: secular Jews, National Religious Jews, Haredim, and Arabs. Four tribes, all of them Israeli. These sectors study in separate education systems, live in separate towns, have different media, and hold different ideas about Israel and its values.” The President said that in this new reality, “I believe that this challenge - of creating a partnership between the four tribes - is one of the most significant challenges that the State of Israel faces today. In order to meet this challenge we need the partnership with you, the fifth tribe, the Jews of the Diaspora. Ensuring ‘Israeli Hope’ for every young man and woman in Israel is also the key to ensuring the Jewish Hope. This is the Jewish and democratic state that we all dreamed of for two thousand years. A state based on the vision of the Prophets of Israel. A state that respects the unique identity of each sector in Israeli society, and the Jewish people. A state that regards equality and fairness as its guiding light. A state that demands shared responsibility from all. A state that does not compromise on its Jewish identity or its vision of Jewish peoplehood, while also having a vision of a shared Israeli-identity for all its citizens: Jews and non-Jews alike.”

He noted that the President’s Office was working together with government ministries and other organizations to promote this vision, and invited the communities of North America to be partners in these projects. The President stressed, “In 2017, this is Zionism. It is about seeing the challenges of the moment and facing them with courage and an open heart. It is about keeping the State of Israel as a democratic Jewish State, democratic and Jewish, in a single word.”

The President concluded by praising the humanitarian work of Israel and Jewish communities around the world, from disaster recovery, to the deployment of new technologies to provide water, and the provision of aid for communities in need. The President noted the greater impact that could be achieved by closer cooperation and said, “We should select shared missions, the Jewish People and the State of Israel, for Tikun Olam (making the world a better place). Just imagine the change we can do together. I would be happy to plan, together with you, a conference at the President’s House in Jerusalem, so that we can work together on our shared goals.”

He ended by saying, “Let’s put the arguments aside, and work together. Let’s develop our mutual commitment as a value and as action. For the good of the Jewish People, for the good of the State of Israel, for the good of the whole world.”