PM Netanyahu's Speech at the Knesset Special Session in Honor of the President of the French Republic, Francois Hollande
     
 
 
Briefing Room
 
18/11/2013 
יום שני ט"ו כסלו תשע"ד
Photo by GPO 

 Translation

Mr. President, my friend, Francois Hollande, welcome to Jerusalem. Welcome to the capital of the Jewish people for the past 3,000 years. The people of the State of Israel greet your arrival with fondness, with feelings of genuine friendship. You said yesterday that you are a true friend of Israel; I agree. We thank you for your strong support of our efforts to fortify Israel's security and to establish a true peace with our neighbors. We appreciate your position that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran is a danger not only to Israel but to the entire world.

Mr. President, yesterday as you arrived in Israel, I said that France's contribution to human culture was tremendous and indeed it is. Philosophers such as Descartes and Montaigne, men of science such as Lavoisier and Laplace, encyclopedists such as Diderot and Voltaire – I can tell you personally that my father was the editor of the Hebrew Encyclopedia and he always spoke of their contributions, and those of statesmen such as Montesquieu and de Tocqueville, medical researchers such as Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie, writers such as Victor Hugo and Emile Zola, artists such as Renoir and Rodin, and the list goes on and on – what a contribution to humanity.

However, few know of France's unique contribution to Zionism.
I previously wrote about how support by the leading countries of the world for Zionism began at the turn of the 20th century. It was anchored in a new vision of the Jewish people, one that developed following the period of enlightenment and revolution in France.

The philosophers of the time emphasized the natural rights and freedoms of each and every person. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the greatest philosophers and intellectuals of the Enlightenment of the 18th century, well understood the unique status of the Jewish people.
 
The Jews, he wrote, represented an irregular situation: Athens, Sparta and Rome had been destroyed and had passed from the world, their peoples disappearing from the planet, but Zion did not lose its children. And Rousseau, who espoused rights for everyone, then took care to add the following sentence. He said, "I will never believe that I am hearing a serious argument by the Jews as long as they do not have a free country, and their own schools and universities where they can express themselves and argue without fear – only then can we know what they have to say".
With this statement, Rousseau was among the first people to tie personal freedom with national freedom, and this perception only grew stronger during the 19th century: that only the national rehabilitation of the Jewish people in the Jewish homeland would lead to a real resolution to the problem of the Jewish people. It would return the Jews to a normal status, not only as a nation, but also as individuals, just as Rousseau thought.

Even Napoleon, it is said, shared the desire to see the Jews return to their land, at least that is what the Zionist leaders believed when they quoted a statement attributed to Napoleon in 1799, when his army was only 40 kilometers from Jerusalem. "Hasten, Jews! Now is the moment… to claim… your political existence as a nation among the nations". This attitude was strengthened later by French writers and poets who visited Israel, like the well-known French poet Lamartine, who wrote with great emotion, "This is Judea; this is the place of the Jewish people".

Mr. President, the Speaker of the Knesset rightly mentioned the impact the Dreyfus trial and the rising anti-Semitism at the end of the 19th century had as one of the factors that motivated Herzl to pursue political Zionism, but just as important was the impact of positive factors on the Jewish people, such as Emile Zola, who stood forcefully against anti-Semitism, and French President Clemenceau, who enthusiastically supported the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel at the Versailles Conference in 1919.

This was also the attitude of the wonderful French journalist, Albert Londres. Londres visited Israel in 1929, after he passed through many Jewish communities in Europe. He saw the poverty of the Jews in the East and he also saw their lack of security in the West. Londres arrived in Israel and wrote, "Whoever sees the children of Abraham in the Carpathians or on the Vistula River, and 15 days later arrives on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean discovers that they have become the children of Theodor Herzl and feels a thrill of amazement. A Jew had a dream; he saw his miserable brothers and sisters tear off their chains, take flight, cross the sea and rejuvenate their image on the land of their forefathers – they were slaves, now they will be free. In their souls, shame has been replaced by pride. Confidence will take the place of fear, and each of them can shout from their windows, 'I am a Jew, this is my glory'".

Londres, who was perhaps the greatest journalist in France during the modern era, certainly of the 20th century, was perceptive and in 1929 recognized clearly the depth of Arab resistance to Jewish settlement as it was taking shape in the Land of Israel. He visited in Tel Aviv, wandering the streets, becoming enthused by what he saw, and he wrote, "In 1908, there was not a single home here. In 1929, there are nearly 5,000. 'I shall rebuild you and you shall be rebuilt' is written on the town's seal". Then he added, "From the day the first stone was laid, the Arab answered, 'I will destroy you and you shall be destroyed'".

I remind you, my friends, in 1929, there were no so-called "settlements", as they are called today. The true desire of our enemies was to drive us out of Tel Aviv and indeed out of every place in this land. Well, they did not succeed – not to drive us out of Tel Aviv and not to destroy us. They did not succeed in preventing the establishment of the State of Israel, but even when the country was established, they did not stop trying to achieve their goal. And here, Mr. President, we had the help of France – during the period of the underground organizations, before the establishment of the country, during the first fateful years of its existence, France stood by our side. I think there is one person who can testify to this more than any other and that is our President, Shimon Peres, who played a central role in developing the relationship between Israel and France. Since those early years, there have been ups and down in our relations, but I must say that the fundamental ties between Israel and France have never been undermined.

Mr. President, in this house I have said several times that I accept the solution of two states for two peoples in the framework of a genuine peace that puts an end to the conflict, alongside strong security arrangements for Israel. Not all members of this house agree with this statement, but most of us agree on one thing: for the peace to be genuine, it must be a two-way street. The Jews cannot be asked to recognize a Palestinian nation-state without a demand that the Palestinians recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Sir, just hours ago, you met with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. I call on him from here today: let us break the stalemate, come to the Israeli Knesset and I will come to Ramallah. Stand at this podium and recognize the historic truth. The Jews have a connection with the Land of Israel stretching back nearly 4,000 years. The Jews are a people with the right for self-definition. Genuine peace will end all Palestinian claims on the State of Israel, including national claims on the country's territory and sovereignty.

Mr. President, genuine peace is the aspiration of every person in Israel, and that includes hundreds of thousands of French speakers who immigrated to Israel – they are an integral part of our country, our society, our economy and all fields. This community has made a tremendous contribution to establishing the State of Israel and ensuring its future. Its sons and daughters have strong ties with their brothers and sisters, members of the large Jewish community in France. Unfortunately, the community in France must face anti-Semitic harassment. And I know, my friend Francois, you are acting tirelessly with determination and perseverance to stop this phenomenon.

Yesterday, we visited Yad Vashem together and I saw how closely you studied the depictions of the horrors and I witnessed your emotion. I also remember our emotional visit to Toulouse after the horrifying massacre at the Jewish school there. I would like to tell you again here: no attempt to frighten us or destroy us or uproot us from this place – no such attempt will succeed. The State of Israel is strong, am Israel chai [the people of Israel live].
My friend Francois, welcome to our country.
Bienvenue á la Knesset, Bienvenue á Jérusalem.