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Benjamin Netanyahu

PM Netanyahu's address to the Conference of Presidents of Major North American Jewish Organizations

February 17, 2011

American and European leaders want an Egypt that is free, democratic, peaceful and prosperous. Tehran wants to see an Egypt that is ruled by that same iron despotism that has crushed human rights in Iran for the last three decades.

Thank you, Alan, and Malcolm, and all of you. I see here some old hands, practiced hands, loyal hands. You've always been steadfast, unequivocal and focused on one purpose - and that is to defend the State of Israel and assure the future of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

Being focused, having clarity of vision, is abundant in this room, and it is much needed today. I've spoken in recent weeks about the shifting sands between India and Gibraltar, between Pakistan and Morocco. I've been through one or two sandstorms in my life, and I found being in a sandstorm, the two most important things that you need is not to lose sight of where you are and not to lose sight of where you are going. You have to maintain a clear sense of place and a clear sense of direction.

Two weeks ago, in a speech I gave in the Knesset, I said that everyone is watching this sandstorm. I said that leaders and policymakers in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin were voicing strong support for the protesters in Cairo.

But I also pointed out that, at the same time, these same protesters were supported in Tehran. Now, there is one thing I can assure you: the leaders in the West and the leaders in Tehran do not want the same future for Egypt. American and European leaders want an Egypt that is free, democratic, peaceful and prosperous. They want an Egypt that is looking forward and forward-looking into the 21st century. They want an Egypt that is at peace with its neighbors and that promotes stability throughout the region.

On the other hand, the leaders in Tehran: they want to see an Egypt that is ruled by that same iron despotism that has crushed human rights in Iran for the last three decades. They don't want an Egypt that looks forward to the 21st century. They want an Egypt that looks back to the 9th century. They want an Egypt that will break the peace with Israel - that will join Iran in supporting terrorism and promoting bloodshed throughout the region and in many parts of the world.

So there is a question here. How can these two visions so diametrically opposed to one another both find hope in the protests in the streets and squares of Cairo? The answer to that is very simple: no one knows what the future in Egypt will bring. People in Washington don't know. People in Tehran don't know. Now this may be hard for some of you to believe - but even columnists for the New York Times don't know.

Changing the status quo can definitely lead to a better outcome. This happened two decades ago in Berlin, in Prague and in Bucharest. In 1989, the great change in Eastern Europe we can now say for certain was definitely for the better.

But change can also lead to worse outcomes - worse for freedom, worse for human rights, worse for peace. In 1917 there was great change and great hope when three months of the Kerensky government were followed by 70-years of Soviet darkness.

In 1979, there was a genuine hope for democracy and progress in Iran, but a few months of the Bachtiar government gave way to 30 years of militant Islamic darkness. This is also happening in Lebanon today.

You remember that a few years ago, five years ago, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese poured into the squares of Beirut? That was close to, some reports said, about 800,000 people. That's close to one fifth of that country's population, equivalent to tens of millions of Egyptians. The calls for freedom that they chanted there, spearheaded by the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, were no less authentic than the calls for freedom that are now heard in Cairo.

Those protesters also had the support of the free world. They seem to herald a new day for Lebanon, a new dawn, a new beginning, new possibilities. This is what everybody in the democratic world, and even beyond the democratic world, dreamed for Lebanon. But this is not what Iran planned for Lebanon, and they worked very hard in these past five years to ensure that Lebanon has a different future.

Five years later, Hizbullah, a terror organization that respects no human rights, that crushes human rights into the dust, that brutalizes its own people, that spreads terror throughout the Middle East, that rockets Israel - five years later, after that great promise of the Cedar Revolution, five years later Lebanon has been taken over - de facto - by Hizbullah: a proxy of Iran. Just today, Hizbullah's leader announced that he intends to conquer the Galilee. I have news for you: he won't. The last thing anyone should have is any doubt about Israel's determination and ability to defend itself and defend its people. I want to make this point clear in Hebrew as well:

[Translation from Hebrew]: Anyone hiding in the bunker should stay in the bunker. Let no one doubt Israel's strength or our ability to defend ourselves. We have a determined government, a strong army and a united people. We seek peace with all our neighbors; however the IDF is prepared and ready to defend the State of Israel forcefully from all our enemies. [End translation]

I commend you, Malcolm, for the number of Hebrew speakers in this audience, but I'm sure everyone got the message.

My Friends,

Israel wants Egypt to succeed in its quest for genuine and lasting democracy. If there is a gap between Israel and the rest of the democratic world, it is certainly not in our shared hopes that the calls for reform in Egypt will be met. I'm not just saying that today. I said this in my first speech in the Knesset after the events in Egypt two weeks ago, just a few days after the protests began. I assumed then that important newspapers have good research teams. Well, evidently, that is not always the case. So here's what I said (politicians love to quote themselves):

“It is obvious that an Egypt that fully embraces the 21st century and that adopts those reforms would be a source of great hope for the entire world, for the region and for us. In Israel, we know the value of democratic institutions and the significance of liberty. We know the value of independent courts that protect the rights of individuals and the rule of law; we appreciate of the value of a free press, and of a parliamentary system with a coalition and opposition.

It is clear that an Egypt that rests on these institutions, an Egypt that is anchored in democratic values, would never be a threat to peace. On the contrary, if we have learned anything from modern history, it is that the stronger the foundations of democracy, the stronger are the foundations of peace. Peace among democracies is strong, and democracy strengthens peace.”

That's what I said two weeks ago. Here's what I say today: if there is a difference between Israel and others who share these hopes, it is that as Prime Minister of Israel, I am responsible for the security of over 7 million Israelis who live in the one and only Jewish state.

I cannot simply hope for the best. I must also prepare for the worst.

Part of that preparation is to alert the leaders and policymakers around the world to the possible dangers that may lie ahead - not because I want those dangers to materialize - I don't - but because I have a responsibility to do whatever I can to increase the chances that they don't materialize. As Jewish leaders, that is your responsibility as well. I know that you've shouldered it time and time again.

All of us know one thing - that ultimately, the people of Egypt are those who will decide their own fate. But Israel cannot profess a neutrality as to the outcome. Because above all, we want the Egyptian government to remain committed to the peace with Israel. Every s

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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