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Israel is in danger of being perceived as weak, and therefore it must be more serious about its quest for peace and security, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman said on Monday.
Foxman made the appeal in a panel discussion with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, at Bar-Ilan University, where he is to receive an honorary doctorate on Tuesday.
"If you make mistakes, if you make fashlot [slang for errors], okay, that's human," he said. "But if you are not serious about who you are and what you are and your future, that is very dangerous."
'Jews have too much sway in US policy'
Foxman refrained from stating directly that the Olmert government was now seen as weak after the mistakes it made during the Second Lebanon War last summer, but argued that Israel's friends - the Jewish Diaspora, the United States and "other fair-minded democratic nations" - look to it for strength and leadership.
"Your seriousness about yourself, your seriousness about your values, your strengths, your leadership - that's very important," he said. "Because if your friends and allies begin to question how serious this endeavour is, how serious you are in your quest for peace and security, it will undermine that natural asset which has through very difficult times been so important."
And, he added: "I apologize for [having] the chutzpah to say to you, you who live in the midst of this great Jewish achievement - for God's sake, keep it precious, be serious about it, for we need each other."
Foxman said that while he expected US support for Israel to remain strong, Israel should not take it for granted.
"Nothing is forever. Interests change, and we need to be continuously alert, aware of who our friends are, how friendly they are, what their interests are," he said. "But I do not worry that with the next administration, the love affair that many people have described on both sides of the ocean between the United States and Israel will change."
In her remarks during the panel discussion - entitled "Public Diplomacy: Winning the Political War against Israel" - Eisin insisted that Israel is strong, and argued that it should no longer sell itself as a weak David against the Goliath of the Arab world.
"I ask you, how many countries know how to put a satellite into space? How many countries in the world invented the cellphone? How many countries in the world are at the forefront of biotech, of agrotech...?" she challenged.
"Maybe we're not a Goliath - we're not a monster - but we are strong. We have a strong army. We know where we are, and it's part of the dilemma of how we present ourselves: Is it more correct to present ourselves as the weak moderates in this sea of extremism, or do we stand up and acknowledge who we are?"
Then, addressing Foxman directly, Eisin noted that 2006 - the year of the Lebanon war - was the best year Israel had ever had economically.
"It's not despite [the war], that's who we are," she said. "We come out stronger, Abe.... We see that we have corruption, and we weed it out, because you have to bring it out to be able to acknowledge it.
"Yes, you're right, Abe, in 2007 we have to remind people. We thought we didn't have to in the 1990s... but that doesn't make us weak. You have to constantly go forward and try to face the challenges that are up the road, and I honestly believe that we will face them, and to the better."
In her closing remarks, Eisin said she wanted to leave the audience of some 100 people - including Bar-Ilan University's board of trustees - with "a note of hope."
"It's 2007, and Israel seems to be at the depth of our own self-criticism," she said. "Don't worry! We're self-critical - that's the kind of democracy that we are.... We are a democracy in the Middle East that has warts and blemishes, but we live here, and we actually believe that we have a right to be here."