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Remarks on Accepting the International Human Rights Award from the Synagogue Council of America

October 24, 1979

First of all, I hope that before all of you leave you'll stop by, and if Ed Sanders 1 will place the acrostic here, I would like for you to know how beautiful it is. And the shofar is symbolically extremely important to me, because there's no doubt that the rest of the world needs to be awakened from its slumber about the importance of the preservation of human rights.

This is an honor for me for several reasons—not a personal honor, but an honor to the office I hold and the principles which I espouse as the leader of this country. The fact that the reformed, conservative, and orthodox Jews of our Nation, in complete harmony with one another, have decided to give me this award is extremely significant in itself. I know you represent, under the aegis of worshiping the same God, differences of views, but I think the exemplification which you bring to this ceremony is that the commitment to human rights transcends differences among American people.

I campaigned for this office for 2 years or more, and everywhere I went, with every opportunity I had, I promised that if I was President that I would emphasize, to the highest degree of my ability, our Nation's commitment to human rights. It's one reason that I was elected. When I made my acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, when I made my Inaugural speech, human rights was a focal point for my basic summary of this Nation's foreign policy.

Human rights takes on a broad range of meanings. And we've had some notable successes in the last 2 1/2 to 3 years: Prison doors have opened to release literally tens of thousands of those who've been incarcerated for years, even decades. We've seen a massive shift in countries around the world and particularly, I think, in this hemisphere toward giving people the basic human right of shaping their own future, of choosing their own leaders, of modifying and establishing the policies of their own government.

We've espoused the cause of human rights in trying to honor the desire of people to be free, to leave the Soviet Union, to escape persecution, to reunite families, to be able to speak without fear of restraint or punishment.

Increasingly we've extended the helping hand of a highly blessed nation to those who suffer. We've taken a leadership role in helping the refugees from Southeast Asia—and later on today, I'll be making another major announcement and commitment of our country to alleviate the hunger, which is preying so heavily on my own heart and mind, on yours, and on the hearts and minds of people throughout this country.

It has not always been easy, even in this country, to maintain a strong commitment to human rights. As Pat Derian, sitting on the front row, responsible for this position in the State Department, so well knows, there are always delegations who come to me or to her or to Secretary Vance and say, "This particular dictator has been a valuable ally of ours, and when the United States makes a critical remark about political prisoners who are being restrained or in jail or punished or executed, it tends to shake our relationship with that country." We've had to withstand those kinds of pressures, and I believe that in many instances we've been successful in that effort.

Leaders of the business community-I'm sure none of you here—have sent delegations to me with a very forceful political presentation: "How can we possibly disturb our possible sales abroad or our profits abroad by making statements about apartheid or about some other deprivation of human rights?" I hope that our Nation will always stand resolved. And I'm encouraged by your recognition that I, as President, have accurately represented what our Nation is, what we hope to be in the future, and what we expect and demand, as a matter of fact, from nations all over the world.

This has not required any courage on my part, although there have been some obstacles to overcome, which I've just described, because I know that I have the overwhelming support of the American people for our human rights policy. I hope that in the future it will never be weakened, but further strengthened. And I believe that it is accurate to say that there are very few, if any, national leaders around the world who are not reminded constantly now, because of the American position, that deprivation of human rights not only hurts them in their own country but helps to tear down the esteem and respect and influence and the well-being of their country vis-a-vis the other nations of the world.

It's a constant subject for discussion and attention no matter how the government might be, how totalitarian in its orientation or composition, or how callous they have been in the past toward basic human rights. In spite of the fact that it's a little bit difficult for us in our free Nation, under a democratic government with strong public support, we ought to recognize how extremely difficult it is, how extremely dangerous it is, how much courage is required from those who live under constant oppression to demand, in sometimes a weak and faltering voice, their basic human rights. And I believe that they will be strengthened because of the result of this ceremony.

I accept this with gratitude not because of any accomplishment of my own or courage on my part, because that's not applicable here, but because you have recognized that the President of the United States ought always to withstand any pressure that contravenes the furtherance of our basic commitments, our basic beliefs, our basic principles, our basic obligation to our fellow human beings, our basic obligation to the God we worship.

Thank you very much for honoring me in this way. I'm deeply proud to be with you.

1 Senior Adviser to the President and the Secretary of State.

Note: The President spoke at 12:01 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

The President was presented with a citation in the form of an acrostic spelling out his name and a shofar, a ram's-horn trumpet, symbolizing the President's leadership in advancing the cause of human rights.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Accepting the International Human Rights Award from the Synagogue Council of America Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248192

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