Jimmy Carter photo

Address to a Conference of the Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in Boston, Massachusetts

September 30, 1976

First of all, let me say that I appreciate the beautiful statement that was just made by the Rabbi which expresses in such eloquent terms the significant character of the Jewish people in this country and the world.

I had prepared today a speech that was primarily oriented about your Holy Days, but we've had in recent hours a development in this country that causes me deep pain and deep concern as an American. I believe in this country'—I believe in the value of each human being's life—I believe in the spirit of individual freedom and equality of opportunity—I believe in the Bill of Rights—I believe in an absence of persecution. And I think the government of our country ought to be completely dedicated from the top to the bottom to the preservation of those rights. We've not seen this in recent days.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to the National Convention of B'nai B'rith, and I expressed my commitment there, in the best terms that I could, to basic human rights throughout the world, to an end to legitimatized boycott that has been permitted by the leaders of our country. A few days later, I was followed by the President of this country—Gerald Ford—who expressed his similar commitment to stamp out the disgraceful circumstances that exist with the Arab boycott.

Recently, we have seen a reversal of his position, and,I think perhaps a more accurate expression as the House and the Senate have struggled to make illegal and to expose the pressures that are put on American citizens, American businesses to force them to leave off Jewish participation in the management of those corporations if they want to trade with Arab countries. This administration has gone along, and as you well know, eight or ten different leaders in the Executive Branch of government with the acquiescence of instructions of the President have testified against terminating the Arab boycott. This hurts you especially as Jews, but it hurts me too, and it hurts our country. I see no reason why we should let a foreign nation through economic pressure circumvent or abrogate the Bill of Rights of the United States. [applause]

The Congress is doing its best, but the Congress, in spite of the greatnes of in members represented here, is entirely incapable of leadership. There are 535 people there, each representing a certain constituency. There's only one person in this country that can speak with a clear voice of the American people. There's only one person in this country that can set a standard of ethics and morality and excellence and greatness. There's only one person with a powerful voire of influence to protect the precious and delicate things that have made our country great, or to call out for ourselves a consciousness of wrong, inequity, discrimination, persecution—and that person is the President.

In the absence of that leadership, there is no leadership, and the country drifts or accepts defects in its character that ought to be rooted out.

As you well know, our foreign policy the last few years has been amoral in nature. There has been no constancy about it. There has been no commitment. There has been no constant search to correct the deprivation of human rights. There has been no adherence to the moral character of our nation itself or of our people. There has been no openness because it was a lot better to be concealed, and the American people have had no voice in the evolution or consummation of foreign policy decisions. It's been a time of evasion and secrecy in one man representing our country who has never been elected to public office.

We've seen our country thirteen months ago ratify the Helsinki Agreement which specified that the takeover of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union was permanent. But you heard the Eastern European countries in their hope someday for freedom; but at the same time we derived ostensibly some commitments to the binding of families together and freedom of movement and migration from the Soviet Union. We anticipate it because of President Ford and Mr. Kissinger's statement that there would be an immediate increase in the number of Jews who were permitted to leave Russia. We've seen no increase at all; and there's a quiet evasion of the commitment that was made by the Soviet Union in the so-called Basket Three Agreement Later, their notorious Sonnenfelt Statement also put a lid on the hopes and aspirations for the Eastern European people. And we've seen our nation committing itself to dictatorships in the absence of democracies, all for temporary advantage quite often concealed from the American people in its purposes. The lack of leadership in Washington has also made us vulnerable to blackmail as we were vulnerable in 1973. At that time, we imported 35 percent of our oil from overseas. President Nixon made a great speech about Operation Independence, and since then, we've increased 25 percent the amount of oil we import. Now we import 44 percent, instead of 35, and it's made us vulnerable to blackmail from those who do supply us with parts of our oil. We still have no energy policy for this country. We drift from one day to the next. No one knows what's going to happen tomorrow. There's no assurance of adequate supplies. We have not a drop of oil held in strategic reserve.

Under President Ford's schedule, it will be seven years before we have a 90 day supply of oil held in reserve, and the amount of oil has been increasing from the Arab countries.

We have become the world's arms supplier, and we've never shown any morality about the allocation of arms supplies to foreign countries.

We must stand staunchly with Israel. We must let the world know that there will never be any deviation in our commitment to the right of Israel to exist—to exist in peace—to exist permanently—to exist as a Jewish State. This is a commitment of the American people and our government. [applause]

And we must provide whatever aid—economic or military aid—that's necessary to permit Israel to live and to live strongly and to live in peace.

But we've provided increasing quantities of arms to those that surround Israel—potential enemies. Of course, we all want peace. We all want trade, but I see no reason why we should sell $7 1/2 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in this year alone, and our public officials at the highest possible level say that had we not approved the recent sale of offensive weapons that we might have had to face some economic damage—some withholding of oil supplies.

If I become President—and I hope you'll help me do so—I would never again yield to an Arab embargo.

If the Arabs ever said, "We're embargoing oil", there would be an instantaneous reply from me as President—well understood in advance—that we would not accept embargo, and if it comes, we will instantly prohibit the sale of anything to those countries who embargo us—no weapons, no nothing. [applause]

When the Congress has tried to exercise restraint, it's been very difficult. We need a President who will uphold the finest principles of our country— who will honor not just the letter but the spirit of our Constitution, our laws, and particularly our Bill of Rights, who will protect the right of citizens to be different—but to be free—and to provide equality of opportunity, to search out in an aggressive way the deprivation of human rights both here and around the world, and who will maintain a staunch commitment unswerving, understood by all, to our allies like Israel.

These kinds of things have not been done lately. They've brought great damage to our country. They've hurt the consciousness of America. They've removed a major portion of our vital spirit—our confidence about the future—our ability to be unified. This need not be.

Our country's not weak enough to yield to pressure or to blackmail or to abandon our most noble principles. This is inconsonant with the attitude of our people, and there's a great deal of concern about it throughout the world.

I realize that this is a time between two great Holy Day's or periods of yours—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—and I understand that you at this time set aside those periods for quiet, personal introspection. I study the same Bible you do, and when I've been in Israel, I've taken great pleasure in visiting the holy places that you also look on with reverence. This is part of my nature and part of my character, as well as yours.

One of the Bible verses that have been read in your own synagogues and temples lately is: "What does the Lord require of you that you do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God."

I hope that as you maintain an attitude of self-introspection and selfexamination, the removal of hatred and prejudice from your hearts, a recommitment to the finest principles of love and compassion and brotherhood and simple justice in these next few days—that you would not only think about me and others who might have to serve this country, but think about our nation itself.

The concept of simple justice is one that I mentioned in my acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention—that we ought to translate love from one another into the application of simple justice. Justice takes on many forms, and although it can be described as simple, it's a complex thing, and the complexity of it arises from the fact that our nation is made up of so many people. We're not a melting-pot as has sometimes been described because a melting-pot means that everything blends in together and becomes the same. We're more of a mosaic—a beautiful mosaic—of different kinds of people who have different kinds of background and interests and education and experience and hopes and dreams and aspirations and fears and prejudices, but we also fit together to make a picture of a nation in its finest form, which has been, and can be, an inspiration to all mankind. I want to restore the quality of our lives, and I want to restore the commitment of our country, and I want to honor its basic principles. And if you help me— beginning next year, hopefully sooner—we'll do it together.

Jimmy Carter, Address to a Conference of the Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in Boston, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347550

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