|By Sascha D. Freudenheim||
21 March 2001
Report on a Speech by
Part 1. The personal
As I look around me right now, I want very much to be happy and enthused, and I have a bad feeling that this is unlikely. I'm surrounded by several hundred Jews of (theoretically) varying stripes. Yarmulkes of all types, along with uncovered heads; women in hats and without. Israelis, looking ... like Israelis look, and American Jews looking like we look; we all know there's a difference, much as we might pretend otherwise. Some youngsters, too, though they are almost uniformly on the more religious side, with leather or felt yarmulkes and ankle-length skirts, as needed.
Directly in front of me are two men, suburbanites judging by their accents, discussing the market and the possibilities for investments, with the blasé and meaningless level of detail of two television commentators; not terribly knowledgably, it seems to me. Next to them: a cute young blonde, early twenties, in a long skirt and a tight (and quite full) sweater, sitting with a young man, neatly groomed and head covered with a suede kippah; they lean into each other, but never seem to touch. She's chewing gum and blows bubbles constantly; but she's cute and she knows it, and she has his undivided attention for whatever she's talking about. He plays with his cell phone periodically.
As a whole, the group is loud, and unruly. Several times we've been asked to sit down; most don't. Off to the side, a group of men have completed their evening prayers and melt back into the crowd. No women participated, despite their presence in the room.
At the front of the ballroom: a dais, and behind that a hanging banner from the main sponsor of the event. In Israeli blue, with white text, it says: "Our Land, Our People, Our Bond." Israel Bonds is the primary event sponsor. Not that you could have missed this, since their name is all over the place, and every chair came equipped with a booklet, a special anniversary edition of their pamphlet on Israel's future. The other sponsor is the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Their contribution to my take-away pile consists solely of a tri-folded, business-card size piece of paper that lists the addresses, telephone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses for all of the major American media outlets; on the back is a set of instructions on how to write an effective letter, presumably in the event that I've forgotten how to accuse the media of an anti-Israel bias without getting too emotional about it. No doubt this will come in handy some day.
And so here I am again, wanting to be happy, and yet I'm reminded of exactly why I have withdrawn from participating in most organized Jewish activities since Yom Kippur - since the start of the new Intifada. I have a hard time with it, that's why; "the Jews" are bothering me. I'm bothered that so few of them speak out in favor of basic human rights for Palestinians. It upsets me further that American Jews have allowed themselves to get suckered into blindly supporting a nationalist movement so few years (from the perspective of Jewish history) from our creed having been the victims of one of the worst nationalist movements human history has known. The nearly-blind allegiance to the sloganeering of something like "Our Land, Our People, Our Bond," which appears to get no reactions from anyone around me; no negative reactions, anyway.
I'm envious, in a way. I wish I could see the world in certain enough terms that I could believe Jews are better, and that we're somehow entitled - entitled to the land, to our actions, to living with all of our beliefs unchallenged. But I don't, and I can't. Enough; Sharon isn't even speaking yet. My goal tonight: to listen, and to record things as accurately as I can. I have reacted enough; now I must listen, and hear for myself.
Part 2. is the political.
[Following are fragments of the speeches that took place; there were a total of six speakers. Directly below is the section on Ariel Sharon's speech, since that was the focal point. Sharon was preceeded by several other speakers; pieces from those speeches are available here. I have made every effort to keep things accurate and in context, but I also acknowledge that I did not record the speeches, or attempt to transcribe them in their entirety. They are fragments. Text not in quotations consists of my summary or other annotation.]
[Sharon, who had just been given gifts by New York's Mayor, Rudolf Giuliani, made a joke on the whole Clinton scandal, and noted that he is not allowed to accept gifts valued at more than 3 cents or something. Then he "recognized" the important work of Israel Bonds, before proceeding directly to his key remarks.]
"I bring greetings from Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for the past 3,000 years, and capital of the state of Israel for the past 52 years. We are only custodians of the city. The city of Jerusalem belongs to you no less than to ourselves. It is an issue that you are obliged to stand and speak out about."
"As Prime Minister, I am first and foremost a Jew. That is the most important thing. And as a Jew, the relationship to Diaspora Jewry is very important. Israel is a tiny little country with great potential ... but above all, it is the only place where Jews have the right to defend themselves by themselves." [Applause.] "My first priority is to restore security to the people of Israel. We have the unalienable right to live peacefully, without violence and terrorism in our homeland."
Sharon then shared his vision for leading a "government of national unity," which consists of four pillars:
The first pillar is "immigration. We need to bring one million more immigrants over the next 10 to 15 years. The goal is that by the year 2020 the majority of Jews will be living in Israel." Sharon mentioned the Jews of Russia, Brazil, South Africa, and others and noted that Israel "must create the right conditions for them to move." He also mentioned remaining Jewish communities in France and Ethiopia, and said that the "time has come to see a strong aliyah from the United States as well."
The second pillar: education. "Strengthening Jewish education in Israel and abroad, integrating Zionism and Jewish education Jews must know the Bible, their history, and the history of the land of Israel they must know that the Jews never stopped living in Israel and that education is the key to breaking the socio-economic gap" being faced in Israel.
Pillar three: We "must continue to build communities in areas of 'national priority.' This will ensure an even distribution of the population" throughout the area, and should include a further evaluation of water rights issues.
And the fourth pillar: Israel should "continue on path to a fair market economy and privatization. the goal is to compete in today's global marketplace." Sharon noted that Israel has the highest number of engineers in the world on a per capita basis.
"It is time to be proud Zionists again, and to wave the flag of renewed Zionism. We have accomplished great things in the past 120 years of Zionism..."
Sharon, who had come from meeting President Bush, then spoke about their meeting, and the reiteration of the special relationship between Israel and the US; Sharon and Bush apparently both expressed their concern regarding regional stability, and terrorism, and spoke of possible measures to halt development of weapons of mass destruction by Iran and Iraq.
Moving to the subject of the Palestinians, Sharon said "First, there must be calm. [over the last year] Israel has made many concessions for peace; unfortunately we have not achieved a single one. now, we must take a more pragmatic course."
There are two stages; the first "is to ease restrictions, ease sanctions and at same time, wage a relentless campaign against the terrorists. At the second stage, after calm has been restored, the 'government of national unity' will conduct negotiations - but not under threat of hostilities. Despite the intense diplomacy of the last nine months, it's clear that the parties are not ready."
Also, "Israel will observe those agreements ratified by the Knesset - but not by those signed by previous administrations" without parliamentary approval.
"More than ever, Israel needs security zones; Palestinians need better economic opportunity; Palestinians need hatred removed from their media, from their textbooks, and they should be taught the language of peace. Arafat must understand that he will gain nothing from violence... We will not negotiate when Israeli civilians and soldiers are under fire."
Sharon noted again that he talked about all of this with Bush and with other senior administration officials; he said he did not leave anything without an answer. He made sure that Bush understood Israel's position: "Things should be clear: there are things we can do, things we cannot do." Similarly, there is "evidence that Arafat is in control, and his forces are directing the violence." In the regional politics of the middle east, deterrence must be key. Sharon feels ready to come the US as a partner, and not just someone asking for something. But "Palestinians misread past withdrawals as weakness... a strong Israel is an essential component of regional stability." He then noted that Israel is a proud partner in the development of missile defense systems with the US [presumably referring to their Arrow system, similar to the US' Patriot missile system].
Finally, "the Jewish state is not just an Israeli project. I've been saying that for years... you [American Jews] are responsible for what goes on there no less than ourselves. You share in the burden of accomplishing these tasks. ... and we are partners in the future of the Jewish people."
[Read pieces from the other speeches at: www.sascha.com/ArielSharon_2
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