Israel does not want to be “a protected state” and does not want foreign guarantees to assure its survival. Militarily, Israel is stronger today than the Jewish people have ever been since the time of the Maccabees.
This theme was expressed forcefully by Premier Menachem Begin here Thursday night in an address to more than 3000 North American Jewish communal leaders attending the 49th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations at the Detroit Plaza Hotel.
Begin, the first Israeli Premier in office to address a CJF assembly, stressed that “Israel does not ask anyone to fight for us, to shed blood for us. We can defend ourselves.” Israel, he declared, does not want foreign guarantees because “There is no guarantee that can guarantee an international guarantee.”
ISRAEL’S STRENGTH IS ITS GUARANTEE
“There are some who learn the mistakes of history only to repeat them,” he said to applause and laughter. “Some learn the mistakes of history to avoid them. Israel takes pride in belonging to the second group,” Begin said. International guarantees, he noted, did not save the small European countries from being overrun and devastated by Hitler’s war machine. Israel, Begin said, “wants friendship, alliances, but not guarantees.”
One guarantee that Israel’s security will remain intact is its own defense machinery, which Begin termed Israel’s Lifeline. Another element sustaining Israel’s security is its hatred of war and its love of peace. As a nation that has lost 14,000 people in five wars since the State of Israel was born 32 years ago, “we know the cruelty of wars and we want to give our people a historic period of peace,” Begin said. “We want to live in peace, Jews and Arabs, in the Middle East.”
He noted that Israel has made great sacrifices for peace and the agreement reached with Egypt at Camp David has provided peace with Israel’s largest Arab neighbor. Begin observed however that there are some in the West who claim that the Camp David agreement is taking an inordinately long time to be implemented and that, in any event, it is merely a piece of paper.
Rejecting this approach, Begin declared: “We do not believe in the international cynicism that a peace treaty is a scrap of paper which can be discarded, which can be thrown away. The declared policy of Israel is to stand by the Camp David agreements, to carry them out and to see them realized.” But, he cautioned, patience is required. “Peace is a historic process and other peace agreements between various nations took years to implement,” Begin observed.
HINTS TO REAGAN ADMINISTRATION
Although his address contained no reference to the present political scene in the United States following Ronald Reagan’s Presidential sweep Nov. 4, it was apparent that Begin’s references to the need for patience and Israel’s unwillingness to become a “protected state” was a signal to the incoming Reagan Administration to be understanding of Israel’s perception of the peace process.
It was also apparently a signal to those in the American Jewish community who have been critical of some of Begin’s policies, that the peace process will not be derailed as a consequence.
Begin also appeared to be signalling the incoming Reagan Administration when he declared: “Israel is a faithful ally of the United States and the free world and the most stable ally in the Middle East. Israel has a right to expect that the United States and the free world will be a faithful ally of Israel.”
On other issues, Begin noted that Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union is declining precipitously. He urged the assembled Jewish leaders and American Jewry to make their voices heard on behalf of Soviet Jewish emigration.
“We cannot acquiesce in this situation,” he said. “We cannot keep quiet. Public opinion is a powerful force. The Kremlin does listen to Western public opinion. On behalf of all gathered at your Assembly, I would like to issue an appeal. I appeal to the Soviet authorities: Let our people go. And let them come to the shores of Israel.”
But, Begin continued, the issue of emigration also raises the problem of “neshira, ” Soviet Jews who leave the USSR but go to countries other than to Israel. This, he said, is “a serious problem which impedes aliya to the Land of Israel” because, if the Soviet Jew applying for an exit visa does not have first degree relatives in a country other than Israel, Soviet authorities use this as an excuse to reject emigration.
Although some attending the General Assembly had expected Begin to issue a strong appeal for American Jews to support the view that Soviet emigrants should not receive aid from American Jewish communities to come to the U.S. unless they have first-degree relatives here, he refrained from doing so. Instead he expressed the hope that a solution to the drop-out problem would be found that would be acceptable to Israel and the American Jewish community.
Begin also referred to the persecution of Jews in Ethiopia, Syria and Iran. Focussing on the persecution of Jews in Ethiopia, he declared that “we shall do everything to save them and to bring them home. ” His pointed reference to the Jews of Ethiopia followed a mini-demonstration inside the ballroom on behalf of the Ethiopians by several young people shortly before Begin began his address.
DEMONSTRATION FOR FALASHAS
As Morton Mandel, CJF president and chairman of the session, was making preliminary remarks about Begin, the young people suddenly began to chant: “Let Baruch Tegegne speak. Let Baruch Tegegne speak.” This was a reference to a spokesman for the Ethiopian Jews, now residing in Montreal, who had sought earlier in the day to speak briefly at this session about the plight of Ethiopian Jewry and the need for Israel and world Jewry to help rescue them. After a minute of chanting, they were shouted down by the audience and were led out of the hall by security guards.
Before this happened, Mandel called for a minute of silence for those Jews who had died recently in Ethiopia, as the young demonstrators had requested, and for Jews who died recently in France, Belgium and Iran. This was followed by Daniel Shapiro, chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council committee on Ethiopian Jewry, who read a petition which had been drawn up by supporters of Ethiopian Jews commending the Israeli government and other agencies for their work in helping Ethiopian Jewry.
The petition also urged that the problem of Ethiopian Jewry be made a top priority item. “Time is not on our side,” the resolution concluded.
On the issue of Jerusalem, Begin reaffirmed that “Jerusalem is our capital, one indivisible capital for all generations to came.” Jerusalem, he added, is not only the capital of Israel “but the heart of the Jewish people.”
In a tribute to Begin, Gov. William Milliken of Michigan referred to the Premier as being in “the tradition of Israeli men and women. Begin is a man of peace. ” Milliken recalled that Begin’s quest for peace earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978, but did not mention that President Anwar Sadat of Egypt shared the prize.
More than a hour before Begin arrived, 2400 people filled the main ballroom to capacity. Some 800 people had to be turned away and re-directed to three other ballrooms where they watched Begin on closed circuit television. The halls and elevator and escalator areas, as well as the street outside the hotel were filled with local and state police and U.S. and Israeli security personnel. Outside the hotel, at some distance away, about 250 pro-Palestinian sympathizers, along with an American First contingent from Chicago, and about a dozen Nazis in uniform, demonstrated against Israel’s policies toward the Arabs, and to Begin’s presence.
The pro-Palestinian demonstrators shouted: Begin, you should know we support the PLO” and “Down with Sadat. Long Live Arafat.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.