He was welcomed to the podium by thunderous applause, but when Ambassador Barukh Binah, Israel’s Deputy Head of Mission to the Embassy of Israel, started speaking at the 2012 J Street Conference on March 26 in Washington, D.C., he surprised those in attendance by criticizing the group, asking for more sensitivity toward Israel . Here is what Binah had to say:
Sixty-five years ago, there could not have been a Jewish ambassador, representing the Jewish State, speaking to a Jewish audience in a flourishing and confident diaspora. Today, I come before you, my Friends, to greet and congratulate you on your third conference and to discuss our common goals and possible disagreements.
Our story is always exciting and un-expected, but in the last 150 years we have surprised even ourselves. We rose from the Ghettos of East Europe and the Malah of North Africa to create a dynamic, resourceful and vibrant democracy in an unusually hostile and oppressive region.
Nobody is perfect; and, as a 7th generation Israeli born I know full well what needs to be fixed in my own society. I salute those individuals and organizations working for grass-roots improvements within Israel, and I personally attempt these corrections every four years when I cast my vote. Sometimes I have it my way, and sometimes I do not. It is called Democracy.
I understand that you, my friends, are all about future and hope. So are we, the young and most energetic country that we are. But while our view is towards the future, we dare not forget our past. History must not shackle us, but its lessons must guide us. And please, do not tell me that it is no longer relevant, because it is. (It is alive and scorching just like the trail left by an Israeli Air force F-16, flown over Poland’s valleys of death by the granddaughter of the commanders of a Ghetto revolt. It is alive in ink on paper as long as a 12 year old, an 8th generation Israeli born, dedicates her Bat Mitzvah Book to “members of my family whom I never met”, though nobody coached her in this direction.
We look today to our two flourishing communities – in Israel, and here in the United States; each shoulders an historic and current responsibility for the survival of the Jewish people. Our relations are therefore of the utmost importance, and we must guide them with principles that will ensure our partnership.
I come to you today not only as the second highest ranking Israeli diplomat in the US, but as a brother (and I have an extensive American family). We share your democratic values. But unlike your secure existence between these happy shores, an ocean apart from the bad guys, our borders are curved and dusty, and made of missiles and mayhem. As we continue to face intolerable threats, we sometimes have to make decisions of life and death. We welcome the opinions of our brethren in the Diaspora, especially on issues of Jewish identity and pluralism, but at the end of the day, it is we, the Israelis, who must bear the ultimate burden and may have to pay the ultimate price. And we, dear Friends and Family, have no margins of error; none whatsoever.
So, we need you to stand with us. It is as simple as that and someone ought to say it. Internal activism is a central part of democratic society, but Pressures on the elected government of Israel can present us with a problem, when we need you the most.
In this spirit of democracy and openness, I have to broach an issue with you, for J Street is not just an NGO that publishes a magazine and states an opinion in the free market if ideas. It is an organization that lobbies congress. You practice not only free speech but a legislative agenda. You don’t only publish op-eds, you bring members of Congress to the region. I respectfully submit that this relatively new role lays responsibilities before you which I am not certain have always been adequately considered. Thus, when you bring lawmakers to Israel, please make sure that they come out with a full picture.You may be critical of settlements, but if you choose to show the most extreme, it behooves you to present the greater mass of moderates as well. If you show them negative aspects of checkpoints, please show as well the catastrophe and grief of terror victims. If you show them Israel’s failings, show them also our triumphs such as the aliyah of the Jewish community of Ethiopia. I urge you to strive for balance, so that these lawmakers may become friends of Israel who might be critical, and not critics of Israel who are not friends
I welcome the evolution in J-Street’s position, which brought about the recognition of the ultimate need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities. I hope that this will be followed by adopting President Obama’s policy that all the options, including a military effort, are on the table.
Likewise, I welcome your position against one-sided resolutions on settlements, and I hope that you will never go back to opposing a veto cast by the Obama administration, like you did in January of 2011.
I would like to express our appreciation of J Street’s active repudiation of BDS, and of your activity on campus to help stem this insidious ideology. Our shared view is that BDS is not a form of criticism, but a blatant, though veiled attack. I hope that the leaders of the BDS movement will not be welcomed at J Street, and that all calls for boycott will continue to be refuted. They use such appearances as a means of gaining legitimacy, and whatever actually happens in your fora, they report to their supports that they were greeted at J Street with enthusiasm and consent. Please don’t let yourselves be used. They aren’t honest players.
Regarding Iran, this radical, ideological regime represents an unparalleled danger to world peace and stability and a very serious threat to Israel, as its leaders continue calling for our annihilation. For this regime to have nuclear military capability is simply unacceptable. A nuclear Iran will never be contained.
Israel’s position is very clear. We support the initiative lead by the United States to take all possible measures in order to make sure that Iran gives up its nuclear military ambitions. We applaud President Obama’s clarification that all options are on the table, economic sanctions, diplomacy, and including the military effort.
Our region indeed harbors forces of radical ideology, unwilling to accept our very existence as a free nation in our own country, and while we pursue and seek peace, the Ayatollahs of Iran call loudly for our annihilation. They seek to develop nuclear weapons and support terror groups in Lebanon and in Gaza who attack us constantly and defy our right to exist.
Regarding our peace policy, a vision that Israel was established with. It is the vision of our prophets, from Isaiah to Herzl. Without peace our security will not be complete, but without security there will be no real peace.
The sands of the Arab Spring may go on shifting, but Israel remains committed to achieving peace with our Palestinian neighbors. We wish them well. Yet, our efforts to directly negotiate all issues are constantly thwarted by Palestinian rejection. We are willing to put all the contentious issues on the table, in order to bring an end to the conflict. But time after time we find out that the metaphoric table was removed, or cut, or blown up in the flames of Terror. We urge the Palestinian leadership to lead their people in the arduous path of peace, as true leaders do, and to forgo the game of the past, the game of hatred and virulent incitement. It is not a game of political Quidditch that we play here; it is a heavy-duty selection of choices that we must make. A Hamas government is not a harbinger of peace and neither is an Iranian-backed Hezbollah regime.
However, the proof of the pudding, my friends, is in the eating, and so far we are only fed with the old, stale and hateful anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish slogans, as if nothing is happening. I read the sober remarks of Judea Pearle, father of the late WSJ reporter Daniel Pearle, over the last weekend. He said: “I grew up in Israel in a culture of peace and coexistence … but I do not see a hint of that on the other side … there is still no Palestinian leader who can go back to his people with the words ‘end of conflict'” on his lips.
So, while we cling on to our quest for peace we must be very careful and keep our shields up. Especially when repressive regimes such as Iran’s or Syria’s continue to butcher their own citizenry (like in Teheran 2 years ago and in Homs, 2 days ago); especially when they go on spewing their venom, and especially when they strive to build a nuclear arsenal that might attempt, God forbid, to put an end to the Jewish Question, this time in the Middle East.
We are grateful for President Obama’s statement that, “When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. And whenever an effort is made to delegitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them.” We are just as appreciative of the US administration steadfast support in the Human rights council in Geneva, and in other international fora, rebuffing one-sided unbalanced resolutions on the settlements, and the US insistence on Palestinian return to the negotiating table. I am sure you share with us the bond of “special relations” between Israel and the United States.
I have mentioned some of the challenges that we face, but I come before you today as the proud envoy of a cheerful and optimistic country. We should celebrate our tiny, little country. You all know of our superb military, our research universities, and our Nobel laureates, the contributions we make in science, health and Agro-tech. But how many of you know that, according to UNESCO figures, Israel ranks first, alongside the UK, in the number of new titles per capita per year?
We are still driven by the old flame, compelling us to exceed our potential, and this is the true essence and meaning of being a Zionist today.
Friends, I urge you to stand by our side as Americans, as members of your community, as Jews. For the sake of our forefathers and our future, we must keep our brotherhood strong.