Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Speech at the Official Memorial Ceremony for Past Presidents and Prime Ministers
Today, the first day of the month of Nisan, the “New Year of Kings” according to tradition, we extol the memory and activities of the State of Israel’s presidents and prime ministers who passed away: of Chaim Weizman, the most prominent and important Zionist leader during the decisive period between the two World Wars, who was elected president of the temporary State Council, and later the first President of Israel; of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, a member of the “Bar-Giora” group and president of the National Committee, researcher of the tribes of Israel, who was the second President; of the third president, Zalman Shazar, the author and intellectual; of Chaim Herzog – fighter, diplomat and military historian – who served as the sixth president; and of Ezer Weizman, who was one of the founders of the Air Force and who shaped its spirit, who filled an important role in achieving peace with Egypt and who was elected Israel’s seventh president.
During this official memorial service, we will remember past prime ministers: David Ben-Gurion, the architect of the Revival of Israel, the first of the State’s leaders; Moshe Sharett, who nurtured and developed Israel’s foreign relations; Levi Eshkol, man of agriculture, settlement and of the economy, who 40 years ago stood at the head of the national unity government during the campaign in which the IDF attained its glorious victory during the Six Day War; Golda Meir, the forceful leader who led the country with an iron first during the War of Attrition and during the hellish test of the Yom Kippur War; Menachem Begin, the outstanding parliamentarian who, after many long years in the opposition, was elected Prime Minister and was privileged enough to initiate and sign the historic peace accord with Egypt, and to whom we can also attribute the neighborhood rehabilitation project and the removal of the nuclear threat from Iraq; and Yitzhak Rabin, the Chief of General Staff during the Six Day War, who during his tenure as ambassador to Washington strengthened the alliance of strategic relations with America, and who, as Prime Minister during the 1970’s, achieved the temporary agreement with Jordan, Egypt and Syria, and later conducted the difficult and obstacle-laden political process with the Kingdom of Jordan. We will remember and never forget that the murderous hand of a Jewish villain ended his life, to our misfortune and shame.
Madam Acting President,
Every year, this official ceremony is dedicated to one president and one prime minister, and this year we remember the sixth president, Chaim Herzog and the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
Chaim Herzog arrived at the Presidents’ Residence with a long and impressive history of personal accomplishments and loyal service, as one who contributed immensely to the people and the country. As a law student in England, Chaim Herzog joined the British Army at the outbreak of World War II, and served as an intelligence officer in the framework of the Allied Forces which defeated Nazi Germany and liberated Western Europe. Upon his return to Israel after the war, he served in the Hagana and later helped establish the Intelligence Corps in the IDF. He eventually served as head of the intelligence division in the General Staff. During the tense days leading up to the Six Day War, 40 years ago, Chaim Herzog was called upon to broadcast commentary on “Kol Israel” radio, then practically the only station, which helped reduce the public’s anxiety about a comprehensive Arab attack and of an aerial “blitz” against Israel’s cities. It is impossible to forget what Herzog said during the five days leading up to the outbreak of battle, something which is strongly etched into public consciousness:
“…From knowing the facts, without a hint of boastfulness, if I were faced with the choice between sitting in an Egyptian plane charged with bombing Tel Aviv and sitting at home in Tel Aviv, for purely selfish reasons, I would prefer, for the sake of my health, to sit in Tel Aviv…”
It was one of Chaim Herzog’s finest hours. It was one of Israel’s finest hours. At one time, we knew how to conduct ourselves with composure, restraint and reserve. Not with overexcitement and shouting, but with responsibility and seriousness – these were characteristics of Chaim Herzog and of Israeli society in those days. Another of his finest hours was the opportunity he had years later, when he served as ambassador to the UN and bravely defended the justness of Zionism and the State of Israel in the face of a hostile majority which passed the appalling resolution equating Zionism with racism. As his father, the Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel, Yitzhak Herzog of blessed memory, did with the White Paper of 1939, so did Chaim Herzog: he ripped to shreds the draft of the resolution, in an unforgettable image, in front of the entire world.
As President of Israel, Chaim Herzog was an outstanding official representative. He contributed greatly to the honor of the country and to the institution of president, and strived for national unity, strengthened democracy and the rule of law, and acted to bridge parties, sectors and faiths within Israeli society and between Israel and the Diaspora.
David Ben-Gurion was one of the greats in Jewish history, and one of the greatest leaders in the world during the 20th century. The hand of providence brought this man of vision, daring and action to the defining crossroad of the people of Israel, between the Holocaust and the Revival. He lead the campaign to establish the country, formulated the patterns of democratic rule, designed the IDF as a national army, led the young country to victory in the War of Independence, opened the gates to mass immigration, determined the principle doctrine of security and the policy of compensation and decided to send the IDF to war in the Sinai following the aggression and numerous acts of terror, as well as the strengthening and threats of destruction by the enemies of the State of Israel.
David Ben-Gurion made two historic decisions which deviate from any routine context, even with the perspective of tens of years. One was the decision to hold the ceremony declaring the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 at the Tel Aviv Museum. The second was to formally declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel during December 1949, following the UN resolution regarding the internationalization of the city.
In each of these cases, Ben-Gurion was alone and isolated, and in both cases he acted out of a profound feeling of obligation to the historic opportunities he foresaw as one-time only.
How brave he was, how firm, how strongly he believed in the eternity of Israel and its destiny, legacy and future – in order to be capable of making these decision and shouldering the terrible burden of the memories, yearnings, prayers, hopes and fears which everyone poured into that one lone moment in which he decided to declare the State of Israel and later to establish Jerusalem as the capital.
We could, of course, praise Ben-Gurion even more and praise his central role in the establishment of the country and in laying its foundations, and he is deserving of such. However, I admit that in my youth, I was not his greatest admirer, and for a reason. My late father was a Knesset member of a party which Ben-Gurion “pushed outside the fence” (“No Herut and no Meki”), and this upset me. There is no doubt that despite his greatness, Ben-Gurion also could be a bitter political rival, vindictive and at times even petty. However, even his most bitter of rivals and friends could not help but recognize the greatness and power of his personality and leadership. It seems to me that the appellations attached to David Ben-Gurion by the poet, Natan Alterman, were the most precise:
“…A stiff-necked Jew ---
--- an awesome store of power,
A store of which there is none more powerful in the history of the new nation---
---There is no burden heavier than his burden, but there are no shoulders stronger than his shoulders
To carry the burden of which there is no equal
Of the dark responsibility which is beyond compare.”
No one can know as well as I do today, and as every prime minister in the State of Israel in the past knew, the full significance of the words of the poet, “the dark responsibility which is beyond compare”.
May the memories of the presidents and prime ministers who passed away be forever bound in the life of the people and State of Israel.
Acting Prime Minister Olmert's Speech at The Main State Ceremony for Deceased Presidents and Prime Ministers of Israel
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Israel’s Presidents and Prime Ministers who we commemorate today at this special ceremony (on which the Government decided) - all, without exception, fall under the category of individuals who are gradually disappearing from our landscape and from this country. They were a part of a generation which fought for, established, and shaped the State of Israel. All the Presidents and Prime Ministers who are no longer with us were a part of that group, of that wonderful and special generation. Most of them were born and raised in very distant places and immigrated to Israel, with the dream of the State of Israel, an independent Jewish State, as the driving force of their lives. They were among those who fought in the underground organizations, in the IDF, for the establishment of the State of Israel, for its independence, and for shaping the first chapters of its existence and its building.
We see their activities and struggles – which were even then far from over – from the distance of time. If there is one more thing which distinguishes all these individuals is the fact that they all – at a decisive point in their lives – reached a position which placed them at the juncture of a major decision-making in their lives – positions which put them at critical junctures of decision-making which shaped the existence of the State. Not one of them dreamt of, or planned careers – in the sense that characterizes public figures today.
The driving force was different. The circumstances were different. The historic junctures which generated those circumstances which placed them at those positions for which we commemorate them today, were unique in the history of our people. That is what set them apart – they were not career people according to present definitions. However, they were all entirely devoted to the establishment of the State, to its defense, and to shaping its character as a Jewish and democratic State.
There is one more thing which characterized many of these leaders, especially Yitzhak Rabin – in whose name we are awarding a prize this year – and that is the ability at some critical or unusual point in time, to make a decisive change which instantly transforms the course of their lives.
The political reality in general, and particularly that of Israel – our national, political, military and social reality, is so complicated and complex, extraordinary and winding.
From observing – not from personal experience – what I have come to learn is that the greatest temptation is to continue in some routine and minimize that uncertainty which could shake you and the country for which you are responsible. This temptation is tremendous because of the complexity of the reality and due to the many question marks it presents to those who have to take fateful decisions at any given moment and in any leadership position.
The ultimate test is to think from the depths of your being, and perhaps also from the depths of your people’s history. This ability – to make a decision in one instant which is different and sometimes in complete contradiction to everything you thought was right, anything you fought for many years, anything you believed to be right – and to be able to cope with the consequences of that decision – not only to your country – as is your duty – but to your own life.
Yitzhak Rabin was such a leader. Yitzhak Rabin was such a Prime Minister. The milestones in Rabin’s life were unique. Much has been said and written about it – the topic of today’s award-winning papers, as well as other works. His family background, his youth experiences, his volunteering in the Palmach, his military leadership, the highest peak of which was the liberation of Jerusalem – all of these were on the natural and right course, in which Yitzhak Rabin demonstrated all those qualities which prepared him for that decisive moment in which he found the inner strength to do everything he had not prepared for. But, he understood this when he decided to sign that agreement which was controversial then and remains controversial today. At that given moment, when he shouldered all of the responsibility, he found the power to carry through the Oslo Agreements which earned him the Nobel Prize and which led to that fearful moment when the assassin's shots rang out.
Yitzhak Rabin had the magnitude, inner force, faith and courage to tell himself, at that moment when he remained alone with himself and his conscience, that it should be thus, even if until that moment he did not believe that this would be the direction and that this would be the path. Dispute, discord, interpretations, and post-mortum are always important, but this force, model and courage are a legacy which will never be forgotten.
May he rest in peace.
PM Sharon's Speech at The Main State Ceremony for Deceased Presidents and Prime Ministers of Israel
The annals of the Presidents and Prime Ministers of Israel who passed away are fascinating in their historical complexity. Their histories are often intertwined, assembling the story of the revival of the people of Israel in their homeland. Before they had any titles or official positions, these people fought and struggled, confronted and loved, and dedicated their lives to the revival, development and prosperity of Israel. Their star shone and then faded – as is the way of the world.
Presidents Weitzman, Ben-Zvi, Shazar and Herzog, and Prime Ministers Ben-Gurion, Sharet, Eshkol, Mrs. Meir, Begin and Rabin left behind personal and national legacies, which should be taught and remembered.
The main burden of commemoration is carried by family members and a handful of dedicated people, through associations and commemoration centers which preserve the writings, memory and activities of Presidents and Prime Ministers who are no longer with us, in order for them to be inscribed in the history books of the State of Israel.
I am very concerned that the day will come when the families will no longer be able to shoulder the burden of commemoration. It is for this reason that I have instructed the Council for the Commemoration of Presidents and Prime Ministers, which works under the jurisdiction of my office, to prepare a working plan to regulate, officially and legally, the commemoration of Presidents and Prime Ministers of Israel.
This year’s award for the commemoration of Prime Ministers of Israel who passed away is dedicated to the 6th Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Menachem Begin, of blessed memory. I am pleased to grant this award to Prof. Yechiam Weitz, for his book on the Herut Movement, and to Harry Hurwitz, for lifetime achievements.
Harry Hurwitz accompanied Menachem Begin for many years, and after his passing, established, together with others, the glorious enterprise of the Center for the Commemoration of the Legacy of Menachem Begin, which I had the honor to inaugurate last year.
At this time, when Israeli society faces one of its most difficult tests, Menachem Begin’s decree is worth remembering: “a war between brothers – never!”.
Menachem Begin’s prudent leadership, which saw the whole picture, the good of the nation and the future of the nation and its residents, prevented a civil war at the dawn of our independence.
Years later, these moving words were written by Begin in this regard:
“Sometimes the choice is between tears or blood.
Sometimes, as the rebellion against our oppressor taught us, it is necessary for blood to prevail over tears;
Sometimes, as Altalena taught us, it is necessary for tears to prevail over blood”.
I hope that these words will guide us all in the coming weeks and months.
Today, a week after the first of Nissan, the Rosh Hashanah for the Kings, we cherish and remember those who carried the scepter of sovereignty and led the people of Israel in modern times.
On behalf of the Government, I reiterate our commitment to commemorate Presidents and Prime Ministers who passed away, and pledge to assist those who are charged with this task.
May the State of Israel remember – and cherish.
|Speech of Prime Minister from the state memorial ceremony of 2001|
President of the State, Mr. Moshe Katsav, and his wife, Mrs. Katsav
The families of deceased presidents and prime ministers,
The Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Israel Lau,
President of the Supreme Court, Judge Aharon Barak,
The State Attorney, Ms. Edna Arbel,
The Judicature, prizewinners, dear audience,
Wise men have already noted that the deeds of the past serve as a basis for our existence in the present and future, and that no people can disconnect from its past.
We, with hour history beginning with “In the beginning, God created”, and celebrating every year to this day our leaving bondage for freedom, and commemorating our defeats as well as our victories, we cherish the deeds of our pioneers as examples for our actions today, we honor and esteem the memory of those who led us during the initial periods of our lives.
This year, we dedicate the Prime Minister Prize to the memory of our second prime minister, the late Moshe Sharett, member of a family who settled Ein Sinia, of the founders of Ahuzat Bait in Tel Aviv, graduate of the first influx of the Herzliya Gymnasium, who in his youth participated in widespread Zionist activity, and was one of the advocates of the Hebrew language in the so-called language war.
He was filled with love for his homland, and wrote about it in one of his letters: “My dear and sole beloved, heart’s desire, the object of all my dreams, our country, the Land of Israel”.
In June 1916, when the Jewish settlement in Palestine was at one of its hardest hours, thousands of Jews were expelled from the country, and he himself enlisted in the Turkish Army and served far from his land and family, on which Moshe Sharett wrote to Eliyahu Golomb:
“Listen Eliyahu. I fully believe, not just with a belief of national theology, but with my vital, healthy and warm belief, without which I could not physically, not just spiritually live, believe that we shall not be destroyed, and that the building will be renewed. We are above everything. We are against everything. The settlement will continue to suffer. Many more blows will rain down on its back, many more obstacles will stand before it, and it may reach its death throes, but will eventually return to life. The establishment will exist, the idea will live on”.
He was a man gifted with talents and skills, with superb expressive ability, in many languages, a man of etiquette whose political and social contacts were manifold and widespread.
In the hard days of the 1940s, Sharett led the international efforts for the founding of the state, and after its founding established the Foreign Service and the foundation stones of the Israeli diplomatic service, gaining the leadership of the State of Israel as prime minister for two years. I have no doubt that in the present, while we are conducting a difficult informational campaign, we could do with such a talented man.
As Chairman of the President and Prime Minister Memorial Council, I am happy to award the prize to Prof. Yishayahu Yelink for his book “Neurotic Relations – Germany, the Jews and the State of Israel 1945-1965”, and for his compendium of certificates “Between Morality and Realistic Politics”. In his comprehensive and exacting work, Prof. Yelink devoted a central place to the late Moshe Sharett, who encouraged the reparations agreement with Germany in his capacities of Foreign Minister and Prime Minister.
My heartiest wishes to Rabbi Adin Steinzeltz and the Israel Talmudic Publication Institute for receiving the late President Zalman Shazar Prize for tremendous work for reinforcing the relationship between the people and its spiritual rotos.
I also wish to take advantage of this opportunity to thank the people of the Memorial Council in my office, and the their extensive activity for commemorating presidents and prime ministers.
Today, standing in the place of former heads of the State of Israel, those who contributed to the founding of the State of Israel, who shaped the principles of its stateliness, who marched it in light of the vision of the prophets based on the principles of morality, truth and justice of our originals, who contributed to the acceptance of the State of Israel into the family of peoples and to its development as a modern state with advanced technology power, I know how great the mental powers demanded of them wore.
The acts of these pioneers are a milestone in the nation’s history. They are the people who contributed to the shaping of the state, and we are charged with the task of ensuring that their memory will be kept for ever.
If only we could be like these pioneers.
Thank you very much.
|Speech of Prime Minister from the state memorial ceremony of 2002|
Dear Mr. President
In my years of your, a young officer in the Israel Defense Forces, an army in the making, I had the great right of working in the proximity and under the leadership of the first prime minister and minister of defense, the architect of the state and builder of the IDF. I had the privilege of being one of the students of David Ben Gurion. Since then, I consider him to be the guide of my generation, and the guide of generations to come.
Thirty eight years have passed since Ben Gurion concluded his function. The State has Israel has changed unrecognizably in all respects, and in spite of this, the road marks that Ben Gurion has left should continue to show us the way today. David Ben Gurion led the people and state, in light of the great Zionist vision he believed in with all his soul: a vision of statehood, of immigration and absorption, of settlement, of security and of building a venerable society.
In a few years, the State of Israel; a little, young and poor country, which had just finished a long, hard and bloody war, managed to triple its population, and more so, through a large immigration of Jews from throughout the world.
David Gurion considered the settlement throughout the country to be a central value in fortifying Israel’s border, and spread throughout the length and breadth of the land development towns, moshavim and kibbutzim, which shaped the country’s borders. His vision was centered by the settling, strengthening and blossoming of the Negev. This important task has year to be completed, and it is our task to fulfill it.
Ben Gurion was a realistic statesman who was not deterred from compromises, when these were essential. There was one thing he was not willing to compromise on in any way – the security of the state and the personal security of the Jews. Ben Gurion understood the strategic danger of terrorism. His policy was to collect a heave price from terrorists and their dispatchers, so that continuing terrorism would not pay off for them. Even today, with terrorism returning to rear its ominous head at every citizen of Israel, men and women alike, threatening the stability of the region, we shall follow the way of Ben Gurion in the struggle to reinstate security for Israel’s citizens.
David Ben Gurion was a man most identified, and justifiably, with the maintaining of state Jewish sovereignty, and never sufficed with the mere existing of the state, considering it to be a fulcrum to forming a splendid society based on values of justice and truth.
Today, with Israel’s society suffering many afflictions and deep gaps – we must emblazon our flag with his teachings, and I quote: “The State of Israel will not be tested by richness, nor army or technique, but by its moral figure and humanistic values”.
Today we are at one with the memory of the presidents of the state and prime ministers who have passed away. Chaim Weizmann – a great man of science and a brilliant Zionist statesman. Yitzhak Ben Zvi – the man of shield and pen, a researcher of Palestine and the Disapora. Zalman Shazar – educator and intellectual. Chaim Herzog – a distinguished general and a president who set stately functions in Israel’s presidency.
Prime Minister Moshe Sharett – who shaped Israel’s foreign service, and built many important political relationships.
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol – who led the country in the harsh days preceding the Six Day War and to our amazing victory in that war.
Prime Minister Golda Meir – who showed perseverance and audacity, standing steadfast through the Yom Kippur War.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin – the first Likud prime minister, who headed the Israel freedom campaign, led to the first peace, with Egypt – the greatest and most important Arab country.
And Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin – soldier and statesman. Our commander during rough times, signer of the peace treaty with Jordan, and who fell in the line of duty when murdered by a despicable assassin.
May the memory of the presidents of Israel and prime ministers be blessed. May their way be as a guiding torch for us.