Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressed one of the most important representative bodies of the Jewish diaspora at Expo Tel Aviv on the morning of October 22. He provided the Forward with the exclusive rights to reproduce the text of the speech he gave to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America at the opening of their “This is why We Need To Talk” conference.
Good morning my friends. It is been a year since we last met in Los Angeles. Last year, I traveled 8,000 miles to see you, this year it is just an hour away. The fact that the GA is hosted in Israel every 5 years is not to be taken for granted. I want to thank the heads of the JFNA for this important statement. It gives us pride to see you all here.
“We need to talk.” This is the title of this GA, and I cannot agree more. We need to talk, we have to talk, and — we need to listen. We, Are not “strategic allies” — we are family. We do not have “shared interests” — we have a shared fate. A shared history, and a shared future. It may not be easy to have a truly honest conversation, But this is, I believe, what needs to happen. Just a week ago, in the opening session of the Knesset, I said that our biggest threat is our inner war. I said that victory in the battle between us means losing the war of existence. This is true for Israeli society, this is true for the Jewish people. We must establish the importance of our relationship, as a value that is above debate.
We cannot escape from returning to the table and re-discussing our disputes. It is our shared responsibility for our children, for the future Of the Jewish people. The Blaustein-Ben Gurion agreement from 1950, defined the relationship between Israel and American Jewry. This document, cleverly captured the delicate balance, between deep mutual responsibility and non-interference. In Hebrew it sounds better —
נקודת האיזון העדינה שבין הערבות לבין אי ההתערבות.
[“nekudat ha’izun ha’adina she’bein ha’arvut l’bein i hahitarvut” Literally: “The delicate point of balance between involvement and non-involvement” or what Amos Oz called “There is a delicate balance between intervention and non-intervention.”]
We must cherish this principle, of deep mutual responsibility and noninterference. And that is, out of respect to our peoplehood on the one hand, and to our two democracies, on the other. On the same note, it is time to update or formulate a new “Blaustein Ben-Gurion” agreement. An agreement that meets the current realities and challenges.
We need to create wider circles of awareness here in Israel. For many young Israeli-Jews, being a Jew means being Israeli. We must increase their exposure to your schools, camps and communities. They need to realize — and feel — that they have a family, a family they must take into account. I support the idea of creating a “Reverse Birthright” trip, for young Israelis, to get to know Jewish communities worldwide. Many such delegations targeted for Israeli opinion leaders, are already making a change. My staff, together with the ministry of diaspora affairs, is developing an active community for graduates of these delegations. That is, in order to increase their impact, and start exploring the important things we can do together, Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.
We must take upon ourselves joint new missions, in order to inspire our partnership. I have been promoting cooperation between the State of Israel and the Jewish people in investing and creating partnerships in the developing world. The Zionist vision has always strived for Israel to be an essential and inspiring member in the family of nations. This vision is rooted in the Jewish notion of “Tikkun Olam.”
I returned from Ethiopia a few months ago. I was accompanied by a delegation that included senior public figures, business people, academics, doctors and representatives of civil society. For the first time, significant members of the Jewish world took part in the delegation of the President of Israel. We were joined by the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, and leaders of large Jewish organizations from around the world. Together, we deepened our partnership with Ethiopia in promoting development goals. This experience was powerful. Israel, with its innovative capabilities, Should strive to be a significant partner in dealing with global development goals. We can do this even better, together, with the Jewish people. I think the time is ripe For A joint Jewish fund, supporting innovations that promote development goals. We do well, but we can do much better — together
Dear friends. In our Declaration of Independence, the core identity of the State of Israel was defined as a democratic Jewish state. The declaration says that the State of Israel will be based on the values of liberty, justice and peace, and will ensure total equality for all its citizens. Let us not forget. This declaration was not written when we had safely returned to our homeland. On the contrary, we committed to these values at the eve of the War of Independence; at a time when we did not know whether the State of Israel would survive. But, even then, in the shadow of catastrophe, we were proud and confident, and we saw in those values the compass that guides us. Then, as today, we will never compromise, neither on our values nor on the security of our citizens. In this divided world, I believe that Israel can shine as an example of partnership built on diversity. This is what “Israeli hope” is about — establishing partnership between the four tribes, ensuring that Israel will continue to thrive as a Jewish Democratic State. We, in Israel, together with you, the fifth tribe, must all work together, as one tribe. I thank you for your great efforts to bring Israeli hope to every child in Israel, to ensure the bright future of our Jewish state.
Thank you all.