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President Rivlin addresses key challenges facing the Jewish community, speaks on the Operation Protective Edge report at JPPI Conference
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President Rivlin addresses key challenges facing the Jewish community, speaks on the Operation Protective Edge report at JPPI Conference

28 February 2017

President Rivlin addresses key challenges facing the Jewish community, speaks on the Operation Protective Edge report at JPPI Conference

(Communicated by the President's Spokesperson)


President Reuven Rivlin this evening (Tuesday) addressed the opening session of the Jewish People Policy Institute conference, at an event held at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. Also speaking were President of the Supreme Court Miriam Naor, Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, and President of the JPPI Avinoam Bar Yosef. Also attending were senior former US diplomats Dennis Ross and Stuart Eizenstat.


President Rivlin opened his address by speaking in relation to the publication of the State Comptroller’s report into Operation Protective Edge. The President called on Israel’s leaders to learn from the report’s findings, to implement them as necessary, and to strengthen the IDF “so it may continue to serve as a barrier of defense for us”.

The President then went on to address some of the key challenges facing the Jewish community and Israel.


Here follows the text of the President's address:


Ladies and gentlemen, I have accompanied, and continue to accompany the IDF from as far a distance as I am able. I was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for many years, and a member of the government. I saw the IDF as it prepared for war on all fronts as ordered by the political echelons. Always in the most professional of manners, always out of dedication to the people and the country.


Flaws that have been revealed require fixing. This is not a time to exchange punches. This is the time to learn from the report’s findings, to implement them as necessary, and to strengthen the IDF so it may continue to serve as a barrier of defense for us.


Even that which is most obvious must be said, the State Comptroller is responsible to the Knesset, and to the people for the process of review and investigation, to which we are all committed, and to the significant lessons learned for the State of Israel. We must learn from these reports, and not disregard them, out of our supreme obligation to work for the benefit for the citizens of Israel. We are all wiser with hindsight, and we should invest our efforts and energy in learning and implementing the findings.


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Jerusalem and welcome to the President’s Residence, and thank you for attending this meeting, for thinking about the future of the Jewish people. My thanks to the Jewish People Policy Institute for the effort you are devoting to the preservation, to fostering, and prosperity of the Jewish people. I thank you for your efforts to delineate precisely and professionally the challenges facing the Jewish people. I also thank you for the new horizons you are opening through your esteemed work.  I also greatly thank all the guests, and I bless you with the ancient words of the prophet Isaiah: “Peace, peace to him who is far, and to him who is near”.


Ladies and gentlemen, the focus of the current conference is an incomparably important and significant development: a new world agenda - the rise of nationalism against the trend towards globalism, and the effects of this change on the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora. This subject is not merely up-to-date and current. Its influence on the Jewish people - in Israel and outside - is likely to be fateful.


The question of nationalism versus globalism, even if phrased somewhat differently, is at the heart of our existence, especially since the entry of the Zionist movement on the stage of history. I am referring to what the poet Bialik mentioned in his speech in 1922. “And thus I saw then,” the national poet said, and I quote, “I am referring to the tendency towards spreading and expansion, and to the aspiration towards convergence and towards isolation… There is no nation like Israel,  nation striving to conceal itself in other groups… And at the same time remaining confident in itself, regardless of how few in number it is… A people that builds a ghetto for itself in its dispersion, a people that adjusts to others’ way of life… A people that adjusts to the entire world’s way of life… And nonetheless remains a people dwelling alone, not reckoned among the nations.”


From the distance of a century, Bialik reminds us that two forces are burning within the Jewish people and channeling the Jewish nation in contradictory and opposite directions. One of these is towards universalism, cosmopolitanism, and complete assimilation among the peoples of the world – the urge to make a profound contribution to humanity as a whole. The other drive is the aspiration towards particularism, separation, nationalism, and internal convergence. On the one hand, Freud, Einstein, Kissinger, and Bob Dylan. On the other hand, Herzl, Ben Gurion, Jabotinsky, Ahad Ha’am, Bialik, and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.


Ladies and gentlemen, in the name of the first aspiration, the aspiration to contribute to humanity; the Jewish people have given rise to a splendid and incomparable Diaspora. In recent generations this Diaspora has become established on the principle of a liberal foundation in which the state is neutral towards religion. And that nationalism does not contradict being a citizen of the world, but constitutes a prior condition to realizing it. Many of our brothers and sisters, the children of the Jewish people, believed that the optimal Jewish existence is a Jewish existence in a diversified environment, especially in Western society. US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter expressed this well when he wrote in one of his judgments: “One who belongs to the most vilified and persecuted minority in history is not likely to be insensible to the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution… We owe equal attachment to the Constitution, and are equally bound by our judicial obligations whether we derive our citizenship from the earliest or the latest immigrants to these shores.”


On the other hand, in the name of the second aspiration, the aspiration to convergence and separation, the State of Israel arose. Last year, I stood before the Parliament of the European Union and emphasized to them the centrality and essentiality of the particular-national aspiration for us. I said thus; “The State of Israel too is an audacious endeavor of statehood, of a people returning to its land after two thousand years of exile. And so, just like you, Israel faces difficult and complex challenges. But, unlike Europe which embarked upon a process of removing partitions between nations and states, Israel wishes, and indeed must remain first and foremost a national homeland, a safe haven for the Jewish People.” The Zionist choice is the national choice.


Ladies and gentlemen, the current period is a challenging period for Israel and the Diaspora. Diaspora Jewry today fears that the attitude of various forces towards Jews will worsen - for example, as a result of the State of Israel’s actions at this very moment. From the other direction, fear is growing in Israel that the delicate balance between a particular identity and a cosmopolitan identity is being upset among many Jews in the Diaspora. On the one hand, the cosmopolitan inclination is growing stronger among the followers of liberalism, causing the younger generation to become more distant from identifying with their Judaism, and in any case from the State of Israel. On the other hand, the proportion of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox groups among the young generation is growing (64% of the Jewish children under 18 in New York are growing up in Orthodox families). This group is closely connected to Judaism and maintains a close affiliation with Israel.


At the same time, its influence is small in life outside of the community’s borders. There is therefore concern about the willingness of this group to assume positions of leadership in the name of the Jewish community as a whole, and certainly in the name of the State of Israel.


This is, of course, my opportunity to call on the rabbinical leadership, whose concern for the Jewish people’s future cannot be doubted, to actively participate in the strategic and so essential dialogue about the Jewish people’s future.


The tensions I have described constitute a challenge to the Jewish people, and as part of this, also to the State of Israel. It is our duty to devise a strategy and formulate a vision.


Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge is great, but I believe that a number of principles must guide the strategic dialogue between Israel and the Diaspora – the dialogue for the years to come.


The first principle is the struggle against anti-Semitism.


The State of Israel is not, and never was, compensation for the Holocaust. It is a realization of our people’s right to self-determination in its ancient homeland. The Holocaust, however, has made the struggle against anti-Semitism a supreme duty for all the Jews in the world, and above all for Israel. A foundation in future relations between Israel and the Diaspora must therefore be a united struggle against anti-Semitism. We cannot compromise in this struggle. It must be an absolute struggle without tactical cost-benefit calculations.


The second principle is respect for Israeli democracy.


Dear friends, just because Israel holds such as special place in the hearts of many Diaspora Jews, some are frequently frustrated by various aspects pertaining to the State of Israel’s policy. We must agree profoundly and fundamentally to respect the Israeli democracy fully and totally. We must keep in mind that Israel is always open to Jews from all over the world, day and night, unconditionally, without any questions.


At the same time, however, we must remember that Israel belongs to its citizens, both Jews and non-Jews, and that their choices must be respected. The deep respect for Israeli democracy is likely to again constitute an anchor for the identification of the world’s Jews, including that of the liberals and the democrats.


The third principle is the profound interdependence between brotherhood and responsibility.


All members of the Jewish family – both in Israel and in the Diaspora – must come to realize that family solidarity cannot be confined to the symbolic realm. We all have a heightened degree of responsibility towards our brothers and sisters overseas. We must understand how we can fulfil our brotherhood and our responsibility.


The fourth and final principle is the aspiration towards a true recognition.


For many years, our recognition of the other side was based on impressions, images and imagination. We must put an end to this. We must begin to establish the relations between the Diaspora and Israel on a profound recognition of Jewish life in each of their centers. We must develop and promote initiatives that facilitate significant exposure of Jews on both sides to the circumstances of the other’s lives. If we succeed in formulating a covenant based on these principles, we will have made a genuine contribution to the Jewish people’s future in both Israel and the Diaspora.


Ladies and gentlemen, I will conclude with a little Jewish story. The physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi - who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1944 - was once asked what motivated him to become a scientist. In response, he said that in his childhood in Brooklyn, when he would return from school, his mother would always ask him, “Izzy, did you ask a good question in school today?” That is how, he explained, “my mother made me a scientist.” I want to express my wish that the current conference will produce good questions, and that when the time comes, new answers will also come from those questions, because that is where our people’s future lies.