Speech in London to Israeli soldiers’ support group
The following is the text of a speech by Jose Maria Aznar to the Uk Friends of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel Soldiers delivered on October 21 in London.
2010-10-21 by Jose Maria Aznar
(NB: This is the pre-prepared text and may differ slightly from the version actually delivered).
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor and a pleasure to be here among you tonight.
Probably there is no harder decision for a political leader than to put young people, boys and girls, just because they are in uniform, in harm’s way. Unfortunately, sometimes the decision has to be taken to defend our values, our way of life and our territorial integrity. For some countries, like Israel, the need to defend itself has been a frequent necessity more than an abnormal situation.
So it is an honor and a privilege to be here, at a dinner organized by an association whose goal is to express solidarity and love to those who are in the forefront of our defense -- young soldiers.
I also want to pay tribute to our defenders. Governments must ensure that our military is well prepared for its duties. I always believed our societies must be ready to show support for our military. This is why it is such a pleasure to be at this dinner tonight. It is an excellent example of the support they deserve. And it is my wish that this example should be followed widely not only in support of Israeli soldiers but in support of all soldiers that are defending the free world against evil.
In quieter moments I dream of a world where the use of force will serve no purpose, a world, for instance, free of nuclear weapons, a world where peaceful coexistence could be the norm and not the exception. But I’m not so naïve as to confuse my aspirations with the reality I’m actually living in.
The world, I’m afraid, is not perfect. It is plagued by risks, challenges, instabilities, and threats. Enemies are not just the creation of paranoid minds. They are for real.
To its cost, Israel knows this all too well. At its very inception it was attacked by its neighbors, and it is the only country on Earth that from its very beginning, 62 years ago, has had its right to exist constantly challenged. And despite all odds, having to face much bigger armies, Israel has been able to prevail over its enemies, time after time, no matter how they have acted or manifested themselves. From regular armies in the battlefield to hidden suicide bombers in buses or pizza parlors, Israel continues to prevail.
Where Israel has been less effective, if I may say so, is in a different but related realm: in publicly promoting itself and explaining its problems.
You don’t have to subscribe to The Guardian or watch the BBC to see that in Europe it has become commonplace to denounce Israel’s alleged “siege mentality”. Yet how can we refuse to acknowledge that what the State of Israel has gone through in its 62 years of existence has been a “siege reality”?
It is all too common to denounce the harshness and decisiveness of Israeli actions, yet we refuse to acknowledge that Hezbollah not only continues rearming at a fast pace in spite of the presence of U.N. troops in Southern Lebanon, but that its leaders continue proclaiming their intentions to destroy the Jewish state, and that Hamas, in Gaza, hasn’t renounced its objective of annihilating Israel either.
It is common to kick up a fuss about the alleged Israeli siege of the Palestinians and to accuse Israel of having established a new form of apartheid, forgetting that Arab parties have representation in the Israeli parliament and other government institutions. It has become normal to speak of occupation whether the Israelis are in Gaza or not.
It is commonplace to execrate the fence that partially separates the West Bank from Israel, yet far too many of us refuse to acknowledge that that same fence has allowed Israelis to go out for pizza, to the movies, to dance, or to send their children to school on a school bus, without the constant fear of a suicide terrorist attack.
But make no mistake about it. The problem with Israel’s image in the world is not a problem of public diplomacy to be solved easily by hiring the right PR people. It wasn’t the case in the recent past and is not going to be the case in the near future. Neither is it merely a problem of “left” or “right”. The rejection, for instance, of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman may be justified in some capitals by reference to some of his political opinions and statements, but in reality the substance of the rejection is roughly the same as what Tzipi Livni experienced when she was Foreign Minister as well. It doesn’t matter who is the Prime Minister in Jerusalem. It is Jerusalem that matters.
Why so? Why is Israel so exposed to unfair criticism? To me, the answer is clear and simple: because Israel is still at war.
Not conventional war as in 1948, 56, 67 or 73. Not terrorism as we saw in the 70s, 80s, 90s and after 2000. But a new kind of attack – an attack on Israel’s legitimacy, on her right to exist. A “soft-war”, where many of its adversaries are employing legal tricks, multinational bodies, and an army of dubious NGOs to present Israel as an illegitimate state, as a barbarian state, a state that should be isolated and turned into a pariah.
It is a war not against Israel’s armed forces, but against Israel’s legitimacy; not against Israel’s strengths, but directed at Israel’s perceived vulnerabilities.
I believe that this is worse than intolerable. It is unjust, morally wrong: and it presents a strategic risk not only for Israel and its people but for all of us. Israel’s enemies are the West’s enemies. The threat is not a Palestinian State, the threat is extremism, fanaticism and religious intolerance . From Hizbollah in the north to Hamas in the south to Iran in the east.
Now, since direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians have resumed and the peace process is moving ahead, it is important, despite all the difficulties the negotiations may experience, that we should all recognize the value, the prospects, and the hopes they represent. I am sure that Israel wants peace, and I know that all true friends of Israel want to see her achieve that dream of peace and security.
But it is equally important to remind ourselves that in order to secure a long lasting peace, it is imperative that a future Palestinian State is a democratic state where the authorities are accountable to their people, where the government should be at the forefront of fighting corruption, not nurturing it, where school texts really teach coexistence not hate.
In any case, even if the current public atmosphere surrounding Israel is slightly more benign than usual because of the direct talks and the flexibility shown by the Israeli government, events like the one staged a few days ago, where some Palestinians children threw stones against a passing car in order to provoke a reaction from Israelis in front of a surprisingly well prepared bunch of cameramen, underline not only the volatility of the situation, but the readiness of many in the world to blame Israel automatically, with or without reason.
Of course, Israel is a normal democracy, and must expect fair and reasonable criticism of the kind that all of our democratic allies and partners are used to. But we cannot accept unfair, unreasonable and unbalanced demonisation of Israel, still less applause for people who want “to wipe Israel from the map”, to use a phrase from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I won’t quote him again, I promise!
I will never cease to say that Israel is a western country, that it is an integral part of the western world. As I put it in an op-ed in The Times (of London) a few months ago, I believe that if Israel goes down, we all go down.
We live in a world where the traditional distinction between military and civilian has become increasingly blurred by the tactics and strategies of terrorists. We, the members of NATO, seem capable of recognizing the implications in Afghanistan where the Taliban eschews uniforms or distinctive emblems in favor of ambushes, deceits and concealment among civilians. Why are we so blind when Israel faces the self-same dilemmas that we do elsewhere?
Condemning Israel for stopping the Flotilla back in June was not only morally dubious – it denied Israel the same right to defend its interests that we would freely accord to others, and to ourselves. It was a grave strategic mistake.
For the main barrier between radical Islam and us is the State of Israel. To constrain Israel’s freedom is to grant a victory to enemies who are ultimately also our enemies. That Iran at some point announced its support for a new flotilla should lead us to reflect on our assumptions. Israel is not the problem; the problem is our failure to recognize the real enemies of freedom and prosperity — the enemies of the West that confront us all.
Because of all of that, because of this more than delicate moment for Israel, I called a few friends a few months ago -- some of them are here tonight among us -- as well as some vital supporters. I wanted to form a group of leaders, primarily from Europe, mainly non Jewish, to stand up and defend Israel. To say enough of this nonsense that only tries to undermine Israel’s standing in the world community.
People like Marcello Pera, the former president of the Italian senate, British historian, Andrew Roberts, Alejandro Toledo, former president of Peru, Lord Trimble,and John Bolton, among many others volunteered to be with me in the Friends of Israel Initiative. And they did it the very same day the Flotilla was stopped and the whole world was in a rush to condemn Israel for acting in self-defense.
We have been very busy since then, with public presentations here in London, in Rome, in Latin America, and in Washington DC where, I should say, a bipartisan resolution was introduced in the House in explicit support of our goal, works and organization. Our first statement, “Defend Israel to defend the West” gained the support of more than 10 thousand people in a few weeks.
You can get a sense of what we are doing by visiting our website.
Let me finish by saying that we plan to keep on moving in the direction we all believe in: to defend the right of Israel to exist with no exceptions and under all circumstances.
Let me be clear. We don’t seek to defend any particular Israeli government or any particular set of policies or any particular party. Israeli institutions are mature enough to defend their choices. We want to stand up for the right of Israel to exist. Judeo-Christian values form the roots of our civilization. Delegitimizing Israel undermines our identity, warps our values and puts at risk what we are and who we are.
So, dear friends, it is not only the threat that if Israel goes down-- which, make no mistake, many of its enemies would like to see happen --we all go down. It is that letting Israel be demonized will lead to the deligitimation of our own cherished values. If Israel were to disappear by the force of its enemies, I sincerely doubt the West could remain as we know it.
So, I conclude with a question: Is it craziness for a group, as I said before, of mostly Europeans and non-Jews, to say: Enough! Stop this nonsense of making Israel responsible for all the problems in the region, if not beyond? Enough of the short sightedness which refuses to see Israel as a cornerstone of our Western civilization?
Craziness? No! It is vital. For the West, for Israel. And for our children and grandchildren and the world they will inherit. Because there is still right and wrong in this complicated world. And if we allow those fundamentals to be blurred and eroded and confused, we will all be set dangerously adrift.
Defending Israel today means strengthening the West, standing up for our values, and their right to exist as a normal country, a fellow democracy and a celebrated ally in our great western alliance.
To pay tribute to the soldiers that are always ready to fight on our first line of defense, to remind us of their value to all of us as well as of their personal sacrifices, is not only a good thing to do, but it’s our duty as well.
Thank you very much