I have to admit that the applause sounds better now than it did a year ago. [Laughter]
Ambassador Evron, President Lane Kirkland, Tom Donahue,1 members of the AFL-CIO executive council, members of great independent labor unions, and other friends of Israel who've come to join me in honoring Lane tonight:
1 Secretary-treasurer, AFL-CIO.
I want to begin by offering my congratulations to the Israel Bond Organization on their 30th anniversary and on having just passed the $5 billion mark. That's how much this organization has raised for Israel's economic development. And I've also been very eager to join with you tonight in saluting a man who has won my deepest admiration. My feeling for Lane Kirkland extends beyond either politics or party. I want Lane to know in the presence of those he loves and respects that in me he has a friend for life.
Lane and I have a lot in common. We're both Democrats; we're both southerners. Both of us are proud of what we've been able to accomplish together. Each of us has been elected to one term in office— [laughter] —as President. But I have a strong feeling that the similarity ends right there. [Laughter] Fortunately for organized labor, fortunately for all the people of our great country, fortunately for all people around the world who honor and cherish human rights, we expect Lane Kirkland to be heading the American labor movement for many years to come.
As many of you know, the AFL-CIO has its main office on 16th Street, right across from Pennsylvania Avenue. You might say that they are within shouting distance of the White House. This is a little fact of which I've been reminded from time to time when I heard the voices coming across the street toward my office. I know this great labor organization is proud of its close proximity to the seat of the executive power of our country. I've been told that President George Meany enjoyed taking friends to his office window and pointing out to them how his office looked down on the White House. [Laughter] And I wouldn't be surprised if Lane Kirkland carries on a similar ritual as some of his friends who visit him up there.
In a few weeks I'll be leaving my office on Pennsylvania Avenue, but there is, of course, a positive side of the transition. Lane Kirkland, those who work with him, will be staying behind, and it's nice to know that a good friend of mine will be looking after our neighborhood in the years ahead.
Tonight I've come to help you in honoring a great American in a special way.
Golda Meir, in her lifetime, became a symbol of Israel, but she was more than a symbol. I first met Golda Meir when I was Governor of Georgia, making a very important trip for me to Israel. She received me and my wife in her office for extended conversations about religion, politics, her own nation, our Nation, the close ties that bind us together. I knew her to be a living, breathing, loving, human example of what Israel is all about.
Golda Meir embodied the finest qualities of her own nation. She was strong, yet compassionate. She was tough-minded, but also an idealist. She had a bright vision of the future, but she lived in the real world. She was defiant to her enemies, but she still found humor in life's adversities. She was a lover of democracy and of peace, she was a champion of working people, she was a fighter for the rights of labor. Most of all she was a real leader. As a leader, she could distinguish from the permanent from the transient. She was a fighter who always knew the reason for her own struggle.
In October of 1972 she told a conference of American women, "I doubt if I will live long enough to see an Arab leader who wants peace with Israel." At the time she spoke, her doubts were well founded.
When I first met with President Sadat, early in 1977, he shared the same basic sentiments about the unlikely prospects of finding an Israeli leader and an Arab leader, at the same time, who jointly shared the commitment to peace adequately, to search for it. But 5 years after Golda Meir made her remarks, as President Anwar Sadat of Egypt arrived on his peace mission in Jerusalem, and the world both held its breath and then breathed a sigh of relief, she saw the breakthrough for what it was.
Here's what she said to President Sadat, in her very emotional welcome to him: "When I was asked many years ago when I thought peace would come," she said, "I said the date I do not know. But I know under what conditions it will come: when there will be a great leader of an Arab country. He will wake up one morning and feel sorry for his own people, and for his sons who have fallen in battle. That day will be the beginning of peace." And then she said this to President Sadat: "You've come to us for the sake of your sons as well as for the sake of ours."
Of all mothers who mourn their sons that fell in battle, Golda Meir could get to the heart of a matter—as you can see from these brief remarks—and so can Lane Kirkland. Where there's controversy, Lane is able to strip the matter down to its basic elements. He sees what is essential and what is not. He also sees what is negotiable and what is not and never can be negotiable. Lane and I have fought side by side for many good causes these past 4 years, but I've never doubted Lane's strength and his will to keep right on fighting until ultimately the goal is won or will be won.
His commitment to economic and social justice does not stop with those questions narrowly defined as so-called "labor issues." I'll never forget something that Lane said to me in a small group in the summer of 1979. We were at Camp David, wrestling with the challenge of foreign oil dependency, trying to arouse our Nation and to turn it around on this urgent matter. Lane Kirkland sized up the situation perfectly. No one put the whole question better than he. "Mr. President," he said, "the issue is freedom."
When we raised the issue of human rights around the world, many people did not then and still do not see the significance of it, the profound significance of the issue of human rights. The people in Africa see it. The people in Asia see it. The people in Latin America see it. The people in Eastern Europe understand it. Many of the people in Western Europe and in this country still do not see the profound significance of the issue of human rights. But to Lane Kirkland the issue has always been clear. Human rights is what the United States of America should stand for in the world.
When the United States and Israel and her major Arab neighbor began their first fumbling steps toward progress for a much desired peace, Lane Kirkland knew the importance of that struggle, and he joined it. To him the issue was clear—not just peace for the Middle East but peace also for the United States of America.
Lane Kirkland is being honored here tonight with the Golda Meir Leadership Award for, quote, "Leadership, service, and dedication in the spirit and measure of the founders of the State of Israel." Like the founders of Israel, like Golda Meir, Lane is committed to the rights of working people. He's dedicated his life to protecting and expanding those rights. Like the founders of Israel, Lane is committed to human rights. To him, labor fights and human rights are indivisible.
Lane is also committed to Israel itself, to its security, to its development, to its long-term prosperity. That commitment is in the great tradition of the American trade unionism. It was in 1917 that the American Federation of Labor voiced its official support for the claim of the Jewish people for a national homeland in Palestine. For more than six decades of challenge and diversity and adversity in Israel and outside Israel among Jewish people, that commitment of the American labor movement has never wavered.
It's a commitment shared today by America as a whole. We Americans support Israel, because we identify with its struggle. It's a struggle for freedom, it's a struggle for democracy, it's a struggle, itself, for the protection of human rights. We identify with Israel's courage, its unwavering, unswerving determination. We Americans, as individuals, care about Israel. We care about Israel's people, but our support for that great country is not just a case of a big nation looking out for a smaller one. It is and it ought to be recognized by everyone as a true partnership.
I've been privileged to help, as President, in forging that true partnership between the United States and Israel: a partnership built not on the superiority of one of the partners, but on the common interests, on common goals, on common values of both nations and both peoples.
In March of last year, I went to Jerusalem to help bring the Camp David accords to fruition. While there, I had the opportunity to speak at one of the most democratic political assemblies in the world: the Israeli Knesset. And I certainly found it to be the most lively organization that I've ever addressed.
Here's a nation that has fought four wars in which its very survival, in each instance, has been at stake. Here's a nation that has been under attack since the very day of its founding. Yet Israel has never lost sight of its democratic foundations. For more than 30 years, in spite of war, in spite of terrorism, in spite of every kind of international harassment, the people of Israel have clung tightly and fiercely to their own liberty. And Israel has proven that democracy need not be something that a nation honors only when its own security is certain.
That's always a temptation—when a nation's security is threatened—to turn from democracy. Israel has never been tempted to do so. Administrations change. Policies are modified. People disagree. Governments have differences. But the values which the United States and Israel hold in common must and they will endure.
Israel has never known peace, not complete peace. It's always faced the dangers of terrorism, the dangers of neighbors who threaten its very survival. But through the good will of many people, these three great nations have now taken a major first step. We've begun the process. We've turned two great peoples from the posture of war to the embrace of friendship. We've been peacemakers. And our three nations have been something else. We have been teachers. The United States, Israel, and Egypt have indeed shown the world that enmity and hatred are not irreversible, that peoples can, if they choose, learn to live together, learn to work together.
Tonight we've come here to pay honor to a man who has shared this commitment, again, to Israel and to the ideals for which it stands—democracy, human fights, and the love for peace.
In closing I would like to say a brief word about the future. This evening Jews everywhere begin their annual celebration of freedom and dedication. There's much to celebrate this Chanukah. Since the first Chanukah candle was lit we have seen 2,000 years of preservation and continuity in the Jewish faith. And for the first time in that 2,000-year history or more, an independent, secure Israel has seen that peace is possible, that peace is not just a dream. The process we've undertaken, the lesson that has been learned, can be the beginning of a full and lasting peace. That goal can be won by carrying on what has been begun. It must be won through negotiation, not through terrorism, and not through a continued state of belligerence. The road to full peace will not be easy, but the direction has now been clearly marked.
Recently I met with Prime Minister Begin, who expressed to me since the election in our own country a deep desire and a deep commitment to continue the Camp David process toward a full and complete peace in the Middle East. And today, through the Vice President, Mubarak, Egypt, I received a personal request from President Sadat that this peace process be pursued by the United States and Israel and Egypt in the months ahead.
I'm very proud of what we've started. I'm proud, too, of our commitment to Israel. For me that commitment has been a personal one, deeply personal for me. I came to the Presidency of this great country determined that the security of Israel would never be threatened by another war. I leave office having helped in forging the only recognized and formal peace that Israel has ever known. This is a precious thing, not to be abandoned.
In a few weeks my own public duties will pass to my successor. But my commitment to Israel, to its peace with Egypt and with its other neighbors, to the peace it deserves, to the peace it cherishes, to the peace so valuable to the people of my country, this commitment to Israel and to peace will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Thank you very much.