Greeting to President George W. Bush
The Knesset, May 14th, 2008
Benjamin Netanyahu, Head of the Opposition
[Translation provided to IMRA by MK Netanyahu's office]
Israel and the United States were founded on one pivotal idea - freedom:
individual liberty, religious freedom and the desire to be a light unto the
nations-along with the determination to resist those seeking to destroy
The history of the Jewish People was deeply rooted in the creation of the
United States. The first pioneers to land on the shores of America saw
themselves as the new Children of Israel who escaped slavery to attain
freedom in the new Promised Land. They gave Hebrew names to their sons and
daughters and biblical names to their cities and towns- Salem, Canaan, Zion,
Bethel, Bethlehem. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson urged that the
symbol of the United States portray Moses leading the Jewish people into the
Land of Israel.
The United States, in the view of is Founding Fathers, was the New
Jerusalem, the City on the Hill shining a beacon of liberty to the world. It
is no coincidence that the immortal words of freedom inscribed on the
pedestal of the Statute of Liberty - "Give me your tired, your poor, your
huddled masses yearning to breathe free" - were written by the Jewish poet
Emma Lazarus, one of America's earliest Zionists.
American Presidents from John Adams to Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson,
were ardent supporters of the return of the Jews to Zion. "Restoring the
Jews to their national home.is a dream shared by many Americans," Abraham
Lincoln said. Indeed, Harry S. Truman recognized Israel's independence only
minutes after the Jewish State was declared, thereby giving the Jewish state
immeasurable support at its birth.
You, Mr. President, carry on the tradition of these great presidents. You
bear the torch.
Welcome to the Knesset, Mr. President, welcome to Jerusalem, the eternal
capital of Israel.
The relationship between our peoples is based on our connection going back
hundreds of years, a communality of ideals and principles, of spirit and of
For that reason, the United States has repeatedly stood by Israel throughout
its history, contributing generously to its strength and well-being. For
that, Mr. President, all Israelis say today to you and to your fellow
citizens - thank you.
Over the past sixty years we have witnessed what this vision of liberty can
achieve. We have built our state while upholding the values of democracy. We
have lived up to the words of the nineteenth-century British author George
Eliot who foresaw that the Jewish state would be a beacon of liberty and
progress amid the despotisms of the East.
We cultivated our land, liberated our cities, ingathered our exiles, revived
our ancient language, developed our economy, and extended our hand in peace
to our neighbors.
We have seen the blessings of being a free people in our own land, just as
earlier we endured the curse of being a homeless people with no country and
no defense. The unspeakable tragedy that befell our people in the first half
of the 20th century occurred because the State of Israel did not yet exist
to protect the Jewish people, and because the United States at that time did
not lead the free world. The democratic nations were too late in confronting
Nazi totalitarianism. The result was the murder of millions and the
annihilation of a third of our people. We swore then -never again!
But in the second half of the century, the fate of the Jewish people and
mankind was utterly transformed. The establishment of the State of Israel
enabled the Jews to regain control of their destiny and to regain the
ability to defend themselves. And the United States now assumed the
leadership of the free world and won the Cold War.
Today, at the dawn of the twenty first century we face a third totalitarian
threat - the tyranny and fanaticism of radical Islam. Its disciples are
conducting a terror war of jihad against the United States and Israel, who
represent the culture of freedom which they so ardently detest.
Mr. President, you have confronted this threat with great courage. For the
past seven years you have led the struggle against it. You have been a true
leader. You have never bent to the winds of fashion. You have never
hesitated from fighting tyranny and defending freedom.
We, the citizens of Israel, stand by you and the United States in this
Our first task is to prevent Iran, which calls for Israel's annihilation,
from arming itself with nuclear weapons.
Twelve years ago in my speech as Prime Minister before a joint session of
Congress, I said that the greatest danger facing mankind is a nuclear Iran.
Time is running out.
Our second task is to deny Iran the ability to establish additional bases
around us, like the ones it has established in Lebanon and in Gaza.
Unilateral withdrawals only bolster these bases, push peace away and bring
terror closer. This is happening before our eyes every day with the
rocketing of Sderot, Ashkelon, and the Western Negev. It must stop. Israel
should have long ago adopted a policy of not containing terror but defeating
it, as you have Mr. President.
Our third task is to bring peace to our region.
The State of Israel has worked for peace since the moment of its inception.
We have never stopped yearning for peace and working for it. Peace will be
achieved when people regard it as a basic human need, one which enables them
to improve their lives.
We must therefore today advance the economic peace with our Palestinian
neighbors. That is the only way to strengthen the moderates and weaken the
Israel can advance widespread prosperity in our region with the cooperation
of the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and other Arab countries. But in order
to achieve this-in order to prevent the radicals from dominating the
moderates-Israel must retain control over security in its own hands. We must
remember that the goal of peace is to strengthen security, not weaken it.
Security and economic peace will provide the corridor to the diplomatic
peace. Yet even after the achievement of a final peace settlement, Israel
will have to retain defensible borders. The only durable peace is a
But there is one other thing which we must preserve. It is not strictly
confined to issues of secure borders or territory but rather to a central
factor in our national existence-Jerusalem!
In your previous visit here, Mr. President, I presented you with a coin from
the period of the Jewish revolt against the Romans. One side of the coin was
inscribed with the words "Shekel of Israel," and the other side "Year Three
(of Israel's Independence)" and the words "Jerusalem the Holy."
Mr. President, this coin was minted in 70 C.E. The Roman legions had already
gripped Judea and were strangling Jerusalem. The city's Jewish defenders
knew that the end was near. They minted this coin not for commercial
purposes but as a message for future generations-as a message for us: that
the Jewish People would return to its land and rebuild Jerusalem and its
This is the source of our identity and the thrust of our millennial
yearnings. That is why Herzl called the national movement of the Jewish
people "Zionism"-in honor of Mount Zion in the heart of Jerusalem. This is
why Jews in Toledo during the expulsion from Spain and why Jewish fighters
in the Warsaw Ghetto pledged "Next Year in Jerusalem!"
In all the centuries of our exile and even with the advent of independence,
we never forget for an instant the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the
Forty years ago, we liberated Jerusalem and reunited it. Our first act was
to ensure the freedom of religion which had previously been denied. That
religious freedom, which is so cherished by the citizens of the United
States and so vital to world peace, will be preserved as long as Jerusalem
remains united under Israeli sovereignty.
The Promised Land is a land of promise. We have shown a remarkable ability
to overcome adversity and to unleash the great powers of creativity stored
within us. We can bring unimagined prosperity to ourselves and to our
neighbors, we can defeat the terrorist enemies of democracy and freedom, we
can achieve peace with our neighbors.
But to do so we must remain true to our principles: That freedom should be
protected, that enterprise should be nurtured, that peace should be
defended, that Jerusalem should remain united.
The rebirth of Israel is one of history's great parables. It is the story
not of the Jews alone, but of a human spirit that refuses to succumb to
history's horrors. It is the incomparable quest of a people seeking, at the
end of an unending march, to be a free people in its own land, the Land of
Zion and Jerusalem.