A very warm audience, thank you all. Thank you Ambassador Divon. Thank you to the CD, to the Portuguese Jewish community and to the Central Jewish Board for making this possible. There are Members of Parliament here and diplomats and the Vice Mayer of Amsterdam, distinguished rabbis, Mr. Abravanel, leaders of the Dutch churches, Christian friends of Israel and above all the proud members of the Dutch Jewish Community.
Ambassador Divon is right, I came here a second time in a formal capacity as finance minister. This was seven or eight years ago, and I heard about this synagogue, but I had never visited it. So I said I want to go see it. And I walked in and I was absolutely amazed. I said it’s one of the most beautiful synagogues I’ve ever seen, and they said: “Well, you haven’t seen the best part.” They took me to the back, to the archives, and started showing me material about Spinoza.
I was amazed. Talmudic writings, Biblical scholarship down the centuries, I was amazed. And I said, well, I have to come back here. So now we have a short visit. It’s really almost one day. I said I want to come back to this synagogue. I walked in with my wife this time and we are amazed, and we’re delighted to be here, it’s absolutely spectacular, nothing short of it.
This morning I began my day in Jerusalem, the eternal and undivided capital of Israel. Now I stand before you in this synagogue in Amsterdam, Amsterdam – the beating heart of this country Holland. The Dutch people and the Jewish people, we’re both small in size but great in spirit. This glorious synagogue bears witness to the triumph of that spirit. It bears witness to the spirit of the Jews of Spain and Portugal.
Mr. Abravanel, you may or may not know this, my father wrote a book about Don Isaac Abravanel, the great leader of Spanish Jewry, and he’s devoted his life to the scholarship of the history of the inquisition and the history of the Jews of Spain. That wondrous society was broken down in one day and these Jews, who included the greatest geniuses of that time anywhere on earth, they were expelled. And in the lands that they lived in for a thousand years, first in Spain for many centuries and in Portugal a few years later, their lives were destroyed.
It was the single greatest catastrophe since the destruction of the Temple and it hurled another great catastrophe in the making, but at the time it was an enormous breakdown of life. These Jews, or some of them, came here and found refuge in this country, and they rebuilt their shattered lives here. This magnificent synagogue bears testament to their powers of regeneration. But it also bears witness to the spirit of the Dutch people. They opened their arms to those fleeing religious fanaticism; they let those who escaped their inquisitors begin life anew, with religious freedom, with freedom.
As the Jewish community began to be rooted in this land, the Netherlands enjoyed a golden age. It was an age that gave the world Rembrandt, Spinoza, Leeuwenhoek and many others. It was an age of great masters, and great thinkers – free thinkers; an age of merchants and mariners, artists and scientists. This tiny nation, Holland, became the envy of the world. Its fame spread far and wide – the fame of a people rooted in Biblical values, with a work ethic second to none; the fame of a people who championed liberty and who kept their unique identity while being tolerant of others.
As the Netherlands grew and prospered, so too did the Jewish community, and on the eve of World War II, it numbered 140,000 strong. Hebrew words, Jewish words made their way into everyday Dutch. You know those words: mazzel. Everybody knows what mazzel is. Holland had a lot of it, and the Jews of Holland had a lot of it, but they were about to run out of luck, because a new darkness spread over Europe, and Dutch Jewry was decimated. No, that’s the wrong word. Decimated, decimation is what the Romans used to do to spread a message of cruelty. They’d kill one man in ten in the decimated community. But with Dutch Jewry, it’s not that one in ten were killed. It’s that barely only one in ten survived. Over 80% of Dutch Jewry perished, one of the highest percentages of any community in Europe.
There were many non-Jewish citizens who stood on the sidelines; there were some who helped the Nazis. But there was also something else. There were many brave Dutch souls who stood up to the Nazi evil. The record of this Dutch courage, that record stands out as well. The people of Holland can be proud that despite the small size of their population they have the second highest number of what we in Israel call the Righteous Gentiles of any country.
There were thousands of them, thousands of righteous Dutch men and women who risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews. This is the highest form of courage. You can risk your life, that requires great courage and heroism. But to risk the life of your children, and your parents and your relatives to save somebody else – that may be the highest testament of bravery there is. There were men and women like Huibertje and Cornelis Oosterlee. I want to tell you about them. The Oosterlees hid a Jew in their home throughout the war, and they helped many other Jews escape to safety.
Their son Maarten is here tonight. Thirty years ago Maarten's daughter Annelies came to Israel. She volunteered in an old age home for Dutch Jews in Israel that is named for Queen Juliana. Annelies followed the footsteps of the Biblical Ruth and she decided to raise a Jewish family in Israel. So her three children are the great grandchildren of a righteous family from the Netherlands, and her husband Colonel Eran Lerman is here with me tonight because he serves as my Deputy National Security Adviser. Now that’s Dutch security cooperation for you, of the best sort.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Dutch and Jewish people have stood together in the past, and we stand together today. Israel is inspired by the History of Holland. I’ve studied it somewhat and I find some remarkable similarities. This is the history of a small free people that stood its ground against a great empire and won independence; the history of an entrepreneurial nation whose commercial success was admired throughout the world. Israel sees itself in much the same way: we’ve stood our ground against much larger enemies committed to our destruction; we have a remarkable record of innovation and achievement in hi-tech startups and Nobel winning scientist, the per capita is the highest in the world.
But we also share, Israel and Holland, some present achievements. Both our countries are weathering a great economic storm. And I can say that so far, by the way this place is a burden on me and my government and on the government of Holland, so far we’ve acted responsibility even when others don’t, and I think we have the economic performance to show for it. But I think that on the issues that most concern Israel, on the one issue that most concerns Israel, we also stand together.
We stand together in opposing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran continues its feverish pursuit of nuclear weapons, all the time declaring its intention to wipe Israel off the map. A nuclear armed Iran is a threat to Israel, to the region and to the world. Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, period. I want to thank the Dutch Government for its firm stand in favor of strong sanctions on Iran, and I believe that those sanctions should be applied on Iran’s Central Bank and on its oil exports, and they should be applied now.
Israel and the Netherlands also stand together on the need to advance a secure and genuine peace with the Palestinians, and I want to make clear something that is often obfuscated. Israel places no preconditions on the negotiations with the Palestinians. We have conditions in the negotiations, but we have no preconditions to start the negotiations. It’s about time we started those negotiations. We’ve asked to do that for three years. We’ve placed no conditions on the start, and we cannot end the negotiations unless we begin them. So I’ve made clear from day one that I’m prepared to meet President Abbas any place, any time to negotiate peace. And I make that clear again today. I invite him to sit down and negotiate peace for both our peoples. President Abbas, don’t walk away from peace; continue the negotiations.
What’s my formula for peace? It can be summed up in a few words: a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. Here’s why we need a demilitarized state. Because we don’t want to repeat the mistakes that were made in Lebanon and Gaza. In both cases Israel left the territory, and as soon as we left the territory, Iran walked in. It walked in with its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon and its proxy Hamas in Gaza. Then they proceeded to stockpile rockets and missiles and fired roughly 12,000 rockets into Israel, into our cities, into our towns, onto our children.
Israel is a small country. Holland is a small country and Israel is smaller than Holland. Imagine 12,000 rockets being pelleted down on you, and then have in your immediate neighborhood, right now, a total of 70,000 rockets. 10,000 in Gaza, 60,000 in Lebanon, pointed on our heads. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen a third time. And remember that the Samarian and Judean mountains dominate the country, they are much bigger than Gaza, and Israel is left with a narrow coastline. If we have tens of thousands or more rockets, that means that any point in Israel can be reached by rockets that have to traverse one minute, two minutes flight time. It’s a tiny country.
Israel is a great country, but it’s a small country and it faces the greatest security threats of any nation on earth. So in any peace treaty, for any peace to endure, to succeed, Israel needs real security agreements on the ground, not paper promises, real security on the ground. That’s a prerequisite for peace and that means a demilitarize Palestinian state.
Peace will require compromises from both sides, but there is something that I as Prime Minister of Israel will never compromise on. I will never compromise on Israel’s security. That’s my responsibility – to protect and ensure the Jewish future, the security of the one and only Jewish state. In the peace treaty, the Palestinians will have to agree to do something that they haven’t done for over 63 years. I know this is against a lot of received opinion. These people don’t really understand what this conflict is about. What is it about? Why is it going on? How long is it been going on? From 1967? From 1948?
No its not. It’s been going on from 1920. That’s when the attacks, the first attacks on the Jews in Jaffa occurred from Palestinians. Why did they attack us? Why? There were no settlements. There were no territories. There was a settlement, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Tzfat. Jews have been there for ages in those cities. Why did they attack us? Why did they attack us for nearly half a century from 1920 till 1967. Why?
There weren’t any refugees till 1948. After 48, if you asked the Arab world: “Why are you attacking Israel?” They said it’s the refugees. But that’s the result of their attack on Israel, not its cause. Anyway, we had an equal number of refugees kicked out from Arab lands, but we absorbed them, we didn’t make it a perpetual cause for conflict.
And after 1967 when you asked them: “Why is this conflict going on?” They said because of your presence in the territories, but there wasn’t a single Israeli soldier in Judaea and Samaria before 1967 when three Arab countries placed a noose around the neck. Again the technique is to turn the result of Arab aggression into its cause . What is the cause of this conflict? It’s the persistent refusal to accept the Jewish state in any boundary. So if peace is to endure, there is a simple requirement other than security. The Palestinians will have to do something they refuse to do, they still refuse to do today, amazingly. They must, once and for all, recognize the Jewish state.
We deeply appreciate the position of the Dutch parliament on this issue. Last year it passed a motion making clear that lasting peace requires recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. I couldn’t say it better myself, although it takes me a little more time. But that’s it. That’s what it‘s all about. And you can write articles for a year, or a decade, for decades, and not put the finger on this simple truth. But it is the truth and it should be spoken clearly.
A demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state is the formula for peace and I hope for our sake and for the sake of the Palestinian neighbors, for our children and their children, that the Palestinian Authority gets on with it, comes to the table and negotiates peace. They’ll have their own positions, and I respect the fact that we can differ, but the only way we can resolve these differences is to sit down and to talk and argue and finally agree.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Israel is a beleaguered democracy confronting great threats and great challenges. Yet there are those who pass Israel as a pariah state every time we exercise the inherent right of self defense. I can tell you that our soldiers go to unprecedented lengths to keep innocent Palestinian civilians out of harm’s way. There are those who shamefully call them war criminals. So I appreciate especially the fact that the Netherlands was one of the handful of countries who refused to participate in this theater of the absurd. The Netherlands stood up and voted at the Human Rights Council against the Goldstone report and we appreciate that and we thank the Netherlands for doing something so clear, so simple.
Mind you, the Human Rights Council had Ghaddafi as, I think, chairman; it had Iran. It’s absurd. Yet we were being hauled into this kangaroo court, and our soldiers, who risked their lives in order to save civilian lives, ours and our neighbors’, they were accused of being war criminals. It’s good to know that the government of this country, where the International Criminal Court sits in judgment, they know who the real war criminals are. They’re the leaders of Iran who call for a new holocaust and vow to wipe Israel off the map. The real war criminals are the terrorists of Hezbollah and Hamas who fire rockets at civilians and place their weapons right near schools and hospitals to use innocent people as human shields. These are the real war criminals. In Holland, there are people who know it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Israel and the Netherlands, the Dutch people and the Jewish people, must continue to stand together for the sake of truth. I know that this is a difficult battle. It requires leadership. Leadership is tested when people stand and say what is not popular. When they stand against the regnant tide, when you stand up and you say simple things of truth, that’s leadership. It’s also action. But in its essence it’s to say yes to good things and to say no to bad things. It’s not easy, I recognize that sometimes it’s not easy.
But the most important thing about leadership in the face of vilification and criticism it’s to stand up and to say and tell the truth. At the United Nations this past September, I spoke about a meeting I had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe shortly after I came to serve as Israel’s ambassador to the UN. The Rebbe told me that even in the darkest hall, the light of a single candle can be seen from a great distance. In this remarkable synagogue, you’re used to the lighting of candles.
Well I ask the Jews if the Netherlands and the many non-Jewish friends of Israel that inhabit this great land, to continue to light candles of truth. Let us work together to ensure that this light can be seen far and wide, let everyone know of our shared commitment to defend the one and only Jewish state, to secure our common values and to advance a lasting and secure peace for all.
Thank you very much.