A true friend

You are a people that every day proves its spiritual resilience and has done so from its very beginning. The vitality of the Jewish people throughout history is what has left its mark on me

June 6, 2013 16:50
Nicolas Sarkozy receives an honorary doctorate

Nicolas Sarkozy receives an honorary doctorate521. (photo credit: Couratsey ARTAMIR)

Dear friends, your words touch my heart, and I very much appreciate the honor you have bestowed upon me by awarding me an honorary doctorate from the Netanya Academic College. This event is an opportunity for me to reaffirm two basic premises that have motivated me since the beginning of my involvement in politics.

The first basic premise is the friendship I have with Israel. I have always felt very close to the Jewish people. This friendship, this fraternity – they are a great honor for me, and even an obligation. I have never denied this friendship, and will never do so.

When I was elected in 2007, I felt the need to come to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as soon as possible to breathe new life into the friendship between France and Israel. It was necessary to restart cooperation in all fields, without exception. It was necessary to seek new ways for peace with the Palestinians. We did not achieve all our goals – neither Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu’s or my own. I used all my strength to intervene to renew the peace process momentum, but did not manage to achieve this.

However, the prime minister and I together did successfully meet several challenges, in which our hopes were realized.

I refer specifically to the capture of Gilad Schalit and his subsequent release.

This soldier is a young Jew that France chose to protect as a Frenchman because France should be open to all those who suffer unjustly the world over, and Gilad Schalit is one of them.

The prime minister and I have done all in our power to strengthen the ties between our two countries in terms of defense and security, culture, education and research. I am glad to see the proof here that France was right to choose such a dynamic partner as the Netanya Academic College. We are proud to be your friend.

I never considered, nor would I ever consider, limiting the areas of activity in which France and Israel can and should cooperate. I use the word “fraternity” when I discuss my relationship with the Jewish people. I choose this word because I have not yet found a more appropriate one.

I have always felt that there was one world before the Holocaust, and another world after. I have always been convinced that after the Holocaust, no person, Jewish or not, has the right to be indifferent to the fate of Israel and the Jewish people.

The Holocaust has made Israel and the Jewish people a universal issue, because in those days, during the Holocaust, so many nations around the world were silent. Indeed, there were righteous people in every nation. And though they acted according to their conscience, and thus saved lives, still six million Jews were lost. And the world did not see. It was the 20th century and the world seemed to not know.

It was only yesterday, and the world let out no cry of protest.

Since the Holocaust, Israel’s future became a matter for the whole of humanity, not just for Jews. The Israeli issue concerns all of humanity because the Holocaust brings out in man things that are buried deep inside. Humanity owes a debt to the Jewish people, and the validity of this debt will never expire. I know that there are people who consider it regrettable that this debt perpetuates the uniqueness of the Jewish people, even though Zionism itself aspired to see the people of Israel as “a nation like all nations.”

However, the memory of this shame called the Holocaust must continue to haunt us. And therefore, if Israel is attacked, if Israel is threatened, it will not stand alone. All those who carry the memory of the Holocaust within themselves, wherever they may be, are responsible to stand beside the Jewish people. As human beings, we cannot accept a threat to its existence and its survival.

The universal meaning inherent in the history of the Jewish people has left a deep impression on me. Understanding this history through your writers, your musicians, your movies, means studying human existence, understanding the essence of the word “honor”; it means to ponder the nature of evil, the suffering, the search for atonement, but – since we are in Israel – also to question what freedom is, what revival is, what spiritual resilience is. You are a people that every day proves its spiritual resilience and has done so from its very beginning. The vitality of the Jewish people throughout history is what has left its mark on me.

Finally, I use the word “fraternity” – as I often did both as interior minister and as president of the Republic – when a Jew in France is attacked. When such attacks occur, the name of the Republic is desecrated, and every Frenchman and woman must feel that they themselves were the victims.

This is the meaning of our laws. You cannot compromise with anti-Semitism, whose sole objective is to express, through hatred of Jews, hatred of humanity.

I forever cherish in my heart the memories of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, of his sons Leo and Gabriel, of the young Miriam Monsonego – all murdered in Toulouse in March of 2012. I carry in my heart an open wound, owing to the fact that when I was interior minister, Ilan Halimi was murdered by a gang of barbarians, and we were unable to rescue him in time.

In the name of memory, it is the duty of all world leaders to put an end to hatred which allows the existence of such crimes, wherever they occur in the world. I say this because I am convinced of it. Islam is not to blame. Do not satisfy the wishes of these murderers by seeing them in an absurd light. Theirs is the ideology of a murderous minority that distorts religion for the purpose of killing, ransom, the spreading of fear and the denial of humanity.

MY SECOND premise is the importance given to culture, education and knowledge here in Israel, where the fundamental right to security is a fragile asset acquired through effort and so many sacrifices. Without education, culture and knowledge, there is no hope and no future. You have no choice.

Who would not be tempted to sink into despair right now when, watching the horizon in constant search for progress and peace, one finds the Syrian people being massacred, millions of refugees thrown out of their homes, and the irrational, fanatical Iranian leaders running to acquire an atomic bomb? Who does not understand that the range of the missiles found in Gaza or Iran, and the threat of weapons of mass destruction, feed terrorism and the suicidal strategy of your enemies on the scale of an entire region? Who does not shudder, given the momentum of extremism and darkness, just when the Arab people, and we with them, dared to hope for a rediscovery of political freedom? And who would not see, that beyond the uncertainty that prevails here, in spite of it and because of it, Israel has never ceased to invest in what is most precious – its youth. Thus, you are an example to the whole world.

An example of this is the refusal to completely give up, the refusal to sink into pessimism. Israel is the opposite of pessimism, of weakness, of giving up.

In this respect, the Israeli message is universal.

When the State of Israel was established, while yet weak, education and science already existed in all their aspects, and soon universities began to feed the country with their activity and discoveries. The more standards are undermined, the more danger grows; the temptation to give up is devastating for the West. In view of uncertainty and aggression, one must be determined and take action.

I do not doubt this, since I do not forget that already 2,700 years ago, the existence of the Jewish people was threatened.

During the Babylonian exile the Jewish people exhausted all its resources to ensure its survival; your language, your philosophy, the Psalms, and tradition both oral and written.

This tradition is a treasure. You could call it “identity” – a word of which I have never been afraid. A people without identity have nothing to share with others.

The foremost freedom of any people is the freedom to claim their identity.

Traditional identity is not a burden, it is a freedom. These are the roots and they enable us to overcome storms and difficult trials.

Thanks to this tradition and identity, Anne Frank could express in her diary – contrary to logic and common sense – her belief in humanity. Thanks to your identity, your tradition, Vasily Grossman, one of the millions of victims of Stalinism and Nazism who survived, could express in his book Life and Fate, his faith in the innate goodness of humanity. My friends, if Israel exists today, there is no justification for despair, and fatalism has no right to exist – either here or elsewhere. You are living proof that humanity will always conquer obscurantism. This is the lesson taught by Israel and the Jewish people.

When I hear about Israel in the media, it is always associated with wars, terrorist attacks, power, courage and response. However, allow me, as I receive this honorary award, to bless the other Israel, the one I know and the one I love just as much, but which, in my opinion, has not been discussed enough. This is the Israel of its citizens, connected from the bottom of their hearts to freedom, to science.

This is the Israel that has so much faith in progress stemming from knowledge; an Israel which draws its power from moral inspiration arising from biblical wisdom and the recognition that, many generations ago, it had already been given to the world. And what is it that the Jewish people gave the world? No less than the foundations of humanism itself.

This is what makes Israel one of the great democracies of the 21st century.

TODAY, AS we follow the events in the Near and Middle East, it amazes me to realize that even though we are at the turning point, on the verge of events that will turn the tables, indecision and inaction continue. What a paradox.

Perusing your history results in the conclusion that your survival was built on the ability to act, the ability to stand up again. Life has taught me that it is never too late to act. And now of all times, when so many people just talk, get drunk with talk, but do nothing. In this corner of the world, it turns out that your best defense is to act.

Two years have passed since the “Arab Spring.” We saw revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya; however, the hope for democracy in these countries is still a fragile one. Everything can still collapse under the pressure of the forces that oppose it. I cannot accept this. Such a scenario would bring disaster.

No one can act in place of these people, but Europe bears a special responsibility.

This is especially true of countries located on the Mediterranean coast, and of the members of the European Union.

They should encourage those who continue to work for democracy, women’s rights and for education. We cannot show forgiveness, we cannot close our eyes when someone suppresses freedom.

Nothing good can ever grow out of tyranny and oppression by the state.

Paralyzed, the world watches what is happening in Syria: the systematic destruction of a great country and a great people. This although intervention in Libya proved that the death machine can be stopped.

I would like to say here, in Israel, that the Syrians are entitled to freedom just like any other country in the world. I cannot accept the massacre of a people by their dictator. It saddens me to see how Europe watches Israel alone in action – one airstrike after another.

Everyone finds an excuse based on the other’s hesitations, or the other’s opposition, and all hide behind false solutions that bring no apparent response to the situation. Bashar Assad is doing irreparable damage to his people. They are in danger of extinction.

I was naive enough to think that, as a group, we had learned from the tragedy that occurred in the Balkans, at the very heart of Europe. I was sure that the world would never allow such a thing to happen again. And here we are, once more, facing a similar disaster. You surely remember: 200,000 people died in Bosnia, including women, children and the elderly, before Europe and the United States finally decided to act. Do we need to wait until an appalling numerical threshold is crossed before we decide to get involved and take responsibility? I want to believe that it is not too late to remove the weapons used to massacre the Syrian people from Assad’s hands.

And regarding Hezbollah, fighting in Syria on behalf of Iran, justice would be served if the European Union would outlaw it and add it to the list of terrorist organizations.

ALLOW ME, on behalf of my mixed identity – my grandfather was a Jew from Salonika, and my mother a Catholic – to also relate to the forgotten and persecuted Eastern Christians. We must speak for them and not fail to protect them. If we forget the Eastern Christians, this means we have lost our soul.

It is still not too late to stop Iran’s nuclear armament race. Who profits from the fact that the international community does not take steps in Syria? Is there still someone in Tehran able to listen to a warning – however minor – from the international community? Meetings of experts are followed by more meetings, and the international community is at risk of falling into Tehran’s trap and of playing into its hands.

Let’s smash this logic, otherwise it might be too late, and war will then break out – Iran is already waging it in Syria – an Iranian bomb will fall and the region will be enveloped in chaos. Who could wish for such a thing? No one.

I know it is easier to talk about peace when one does not live in Israel. Believe me. Nevertheless, I say it’s not too late to make peace with your neighbors. It is not too late to raise the issue of a Palestinian state, an issue central to the future of your country’s security.

Today, the power is in your hands. You have the upper hand in war. You enjoy legitimacy by being a democratic state.

However, Israel cannot win only in war; the Israel I love must have the upper hand in peace. The Israel I know must reach out its hand without reservation, for one reason only: that it is the powerful who should first reach out and not the weak. And Israel is strong.

Peace negotiations with the Palestinians are inevitable. I trust Israeli leaders to know how to seize the opportunity and return both to the Israeli people and to the Palestinian people, a vision of the future that I am convinced these people also anticipate: To live side by side in peace, each fed by the other’s prosperity.

Europe is betting here on part of its future. We have something in common – the Mediterranean Sea. I flew over it and landed in Tel Aviv. Just imagine the possibilities – for growth, culture, prosperity, trade – all embodied in a future realized on the day peace will reign between Israel and the Palestinians. Unified civilizations can once again reign in the Mediterranean Sea basin.

Indeed, a Mediterranean civilization exists. The Mediterranean basin was not meant to be the place on earth where mutual hatred emerges, leading to conflicts and finally to battle. It is the most beautiful place in the world. This is where the world’s most important religions were created; it is the cradle of world civilization. Peace, not war, must prevail in this place. Peace and not conflicts, not disagreements, not savagery and not mutual loathing.

I WISH the Academic College of Netanya, its teachers and its students, a success that will reach the height of your aspirations. For over a year I have not made speeches, and the reason why I give a speech today is that you imposed it on me by the honor that has been conferred on me, and out of friendship.

And believe me, what is here at stake is too important to be a part of politics only. This is a central issue for humanity.

Will good prevail over evil? Are we waiting for a terrible fate? Or perhaps your children, your grandchildren, will be able to live in peace, without the distress you feel, that you, the generation that preceded them, have known and experienced over and over.

Know this – I am your friend. A friend who will always be there when you need him. A friend who will share your troubles – troubles that are bound to come. A friend who will share your joys – that are also bound to come. A friend who will tell you the truth, even if it is not pleasant.

Who needs a friend who has no courage to defend his views? What good is a friend who tells you things that are comfortable to hear, and then says the opposite elsewhere? A friend is a person who always says the same things because he says it from the heart.

Most of all, I want to be the friend who will never agree to compromise on the existence of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. ■

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