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(photo credit: AP)
The visionary Theodor Herzl stated, "It is true that we aspire to our ancient land. But what we want in that ancient land is a new blossoming of the Jewish spirit."
This conference is a tribute to fulfilling Herzl's dream, the Jewish nation's dream: rediscovering Jewish values, raising awareness of Jewish tradition, promoting Jewish unity, exploring Jewish identity and all while strengthening ties between the Jewish Diaspora and the State of Israel; these responsibilities are very important to you, but they are vital to the State of Israel.
UJC translates Jewish values into social action, in America, Israel and around the world. Your prompt action and exceptional generosity, which knows no boundaries, assisted Israel's reconstruction of the North with incredible vigor. UJC immediately donated $50 million for emergency welfare projects during the recent fighting. Since then, over $350 m. were raised with the sole purpose of supporting reconstruction projects aimed at developing and strengthening the very areas adversely effected.
You also supported Israel this summer in numerous solidarity missions. To all of you who made a pilgrimage to Israel in the midst of the fighting I say: your presence reassured me and the entire population of Israel, that Israelis and the Jewish Diaspora share unbreakable bonds of allegiance.
We are one people! We have one heritage! We share one future, a future which we create together! Together, we must also remain dedicated in our fight against those who persecute us on account of our religion. Together, we will raise awareness of the world-wide phenomenon of anti-Semitism.
We must have patience with those who challenge us. We must remain calm with those who provoke us. We must strive to inform those who have been misled about our religion. And we must never be complacent about those who seek to hurt us.
Ladies and gentlemen, the recent fighting in Lebanon tested Israel's resilience, and despite all that has been said and written, we stood up to the challenge.
This summer the brave soldiers of the IDF, including soldiers from reserve units who volunteered in unprecedented numbers, fought with resilience and heroism. They fought without fear, hesitancy or self-consideration.
They fought in a war of wanton aggression started by Hizbullah and fueled by zealotry and hate.
This was Hizbullah's war. This was Iran's war. Not Lebanon's war. And not Israel's war.
Hizbullah was dealt a blow they did not calculate and were not prepared for. Israel's response proved we would not tolerate continued threats against us. It is enough merely to quote Hizbullah's leader who said he would not have initiated the abductions had he known Israel would react with even one percent of the force we did.
The security situation in Lebanon has been forever altered - we will never return to the former status quo. The Lebanese military, and not Hizbullah, is deployed in the South. The Lebanese government is asserting its sovereignty over the entire state. Now, the main task that lies ahead is the full implementation of UN Resolution 1701.
There are many lessons that must be drawn from this war. We will learn them and we will correct whatever is needed. We already started this process.
But there is only one, ever so precious goal that Israel did not yet achieve. We have not returned home the abducted soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
I asked Ehud's wife, Karnit Goldwasser, to join us here today. Karnit, I promise you that Israel will do, that I will do the utmost to bring back our dear sons and bring Udi back to your arms.
Together with Gilad Shalit, abducted by Hamas from the Gaza Strip, there is nothing more important to me than bringing our three heroes back home.
I ask everybody to keep those brave men and their families in your thoughts and in your prayers.
As Israel focuses its attention on our Palestinians neighbors, we owe it to the future generations of both Israelis and Palestinians to dedicate ourselves to finding a means for progress.
My friends, a choice needs to be made.
We can embrace hope, and together we will revitalize our two peoples and the entire region, providing for our children the opportunity and prosperity that only comes with security and understanding.
Or we can be gripped by fear and conflict in which we ruin not only ourselves but the future for generations to come.
Let me be clear. Israel chooses hope! Israel chooses peace! But Israel cannot accept a government led by an organization that denies our existence, actively pushes to destroy our society through unending terrorist attacks or refuses to even recognize former agreements signed upon by Israelis and Palestinians.
It is unacceptable for Hamas to participate in the Palestinian political system while maintaining its ability to commit terrorist actions concurrently.
The leaders of the Palestinian Authority must create hope for their own people. They must rise to the challenges of governing, and lead their people, without succumbing to the difficulties of uniting a fragmented populous or to extremists who favor a culture of hate.
We must stop the spiraling conflict, end the fight between us, and bring peace to our battered region.
Far too many people have lost their lives in this continuous struggle. Generations of both our people have been scarred with the effects of these ongoing acts of violence. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has continued far too long.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best: "We must learn to live together as brothers, or we are going to perish together as fools." It is clear that progress can be achieved only by talking to each other. Here and again I declare, I am willing to meet Chairman Abbas immediately, without preconditions, to discuss with him means for creating progress for our two peoples and hope for a better future in our region.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the pivotal moment of truth regarding Iran.
It would be an unbearable sin to future generations to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. What would we tell our children? How can we justify not preventing this catastrophic event? If Iran achieves the ability to produce nuclear weapons, as we know it is seeking to do, we will enter a new era of instability unlike any the world has ever seen.
We cannot afford to wait. We must all speak with one voice.
No longer can the international community afford to hesitate, contemplate or waiver in its dealing with this defiant state. No longer can we allow Iran to defer the demands of the international community without consequence.
We cannot tolerate, we will not tolerate, those who challenge Israel's right to exist while actively seeking to develop the catastrophic weapons to fulfill their goals.
America's leadership in preventing Iran's nuclearization is indisputable and unequaled. I just met my good friend, a true friend of Israel, President George W. Bush. We discussed this issue at great length. His determination to prevent this most serious of developments is unquestionable. But America must have the support of the international community if we are to successfully defuse this mortal threat.
Our actions will be measured by results, not intentions.
Our integrity will remain intact only if we prevent Iran's devious goals, not if we try our best but fail.
Our generation will be judged by its ability to ensure peace and security not by its failure to stand up to the most challenging of threats.
We did not choose this responsibility. But the burden is ours and we cannot, we will not, we shall not shy away from confronting this challenge.
Once before, calls to wipe out the Jewish people were appeased by the community of nations. Once before, but never again! A coalition of moderate Arab countries can and must unite their common interest in preventing Iran from undermining stability in the Middle East. This coalition must struggle against the dangers of radical Islam that manipulate the very source of Islam itself. We saw this coalition forming towards the end of the fighting in Lebanon. It is crucial for this coalition to be nurtured! Dear friends and colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I am an optimist. I believe in the power of hope because I've seen how it can transform an entire nation, how hope can grab people by the heart and show them how tomorrow can be better and more prosperous than today.
Throughout our history, when others expected us to cast our faith into darkness and despair, we have always been guided by the miracle of light.
Where others saw only desert and sand - we saw abundant fields and a countryside filled with life, hope and opportunity.
Israel has the highest number of scientists per capita in the world. Our advancements in the high-tech sector prove our population is among the most innovative in the world. Superior medical research facilities demonstrate Israel's competitiveness in the most progressive of fields.
International investments in the Israeli economy tripled this year to a record high of $20 billion. Israeli exports are increasing, the stock market just reached an all-time high and the shekel is strengthening.
Israel is focusing on the strategic development of the Galilee, Negev and Jerusalem. Developing these strategic regions as integral parts of the country is a clear objective, necessary to ensure the long-term stability of Israel and a brighter future for all Israelis.
Israel recently dedicated $650m. to be invested in developing the North and parts of the South by the end of 2007. We will focus on improving the educational system, increasing jobs in the area and raising the standard of living of the population affected by the events in the North. All are projects that your generosity helps fund.
We have many more important missions to implement. In order to encourage as many Israelis as possible to live in the Galilee, we must create job opportunities and revitalize the destroyed infrastructure. With your continued assistance and support, we will create a new reality in the Galilee.
But do not take my word alone on the wonders of our state. I urge each and every one of you to visit Israel.
Join us. Participate in shaping our future, our heritage; strengthen the affinity between yourselves and your people - not next year in Jerusalem, but this year in Jerusalem! The Israeli government together with the Jewish Agency work in unison to strengthen the connection of the Jewish nation to Israel, increase Jewish Zionist education and promote aliya through fantastic programs such as birthright, Na'aleh, MASA and Nefesh B'Nefesh. I know how many of you are involved in these programs. I know how many of you invest in these programs. And I want to tell you, from our side, that these programs are essential in order to build up the bond between Jewish youths and the State of Israel; Jewish youths and their perceptions of who they are as Jewish people. And this perception becomes so much more significant when they come to visit the State of Israel. Keep doing this, keep moving on this. It is very important.
We must build ties between the Diaspora and Israel from a young age. We must promote our youth absorbing the tradition of their forefathers so that when the time comes, they might appropriately pass our age-old traditions on to their children.
For we are all partners in Israel's fate. We are the hereditary benefactors of our ancient religion and culture. With your dedication, the spirit of Israel continues to resound with abundance and harmony.
No matter how many times I recite Israel's national anthem, I always fill with emotion as I say the final phrase: To be a free nation in our land, in the land of Zion and Jerusalem.
We dedicate our lives to these cherished words we recite emotionally. We cry tears of joy knowing these words were fulfilled. We take oaths of honor swearing we will never let them be deferred. We live by these words, we fight for them, and throughout several generations, far too many have sacrificed their lives for them.
Our lives are interconnected. Our fates are intertwined. Israel and the Jewish Diaspora is one. Your success is our success. Our success is your success.
We may be separated by a vast ocean, but our hearts beat together - always. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your support and dedication and love to the State of Israel.
A section of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's speech to the UJC General Assembly in Los Angeles, concerning aliya and study programs, was cut short in the excerpts we published on Thursday. Here is the full section.