Jimmy Carter photo

Toasts at a Dinner Honoring President Carter in Jerusalem, Israel

March 11, 1979

PRESIDENT NAVON. Mr. President and Mrs. Carter, Prime Minister and Mrs. Begin, very distinguished guests from near and far:

It is my privilege to greet you in Jerusalem, the Eternal City of David.

We have met here this evening to honor an illustrious statesman, his distinguished and devoted wife, and his great country.

The United States of America is great, not only because of its scientific, technological, and military strength but also because of the profound human values that are deeply implanted in the hearts of its people. It is a beacon of hope for all those who walk in darkness.

Greatness in a man or a nation is no easy thing. It takes supreme wisdom to refrain from exerting all the power at the disposal of the strong. To be leader of a nation which is responsible in large measure for the destiny of the entire world, a man needs profound faith and constant prayer. It is our profound conviction, Mr. President, that you have within you that fountain of living waters from which you can draw a never-failing source of inner faith.

By your side is your devoted helpmate, a loyal partner in your joys and sorrow. In voting for her forever, if you will permit me a personal note, you have realized one of your favorite watchwords, "Why Not the Best?". [Laughter]

In your life, my dear Rosalynn, you have also known the dark side of the Moon; hence your particular sensitivity towards those to whom fate has not been kind. Your heartfelt involvement in the welfare of the individual does not distract your attention from the problems of the great world, which is, in fact, composed of individuals. The Talmud has forbidden us to pronounce all the praises of any person in his presence. I will be content, therefore, to say no more than this: that all those who have met you have surrendered unconditionally to your sincerity, nobility, and warm personality.

Mr. President, one thread runs through the entire history of our people. It is a long and epic story of the few against the many, a prolonged struggle to preserve our spiritual character and identity against powerful forces that threaten to destroy us.

If it is not easy to be great, it is even harder to be small. We strive for two aims which, on the face of it, appear to be contradictory-to be equal, but different. We continue to cherish our national aims, to gather in our scattered people from the four corners of the Earth, to solve our social and economic problems, to make the desert bloom, and, above all, to build a society founded on the spiritual heritage of our fathers and universal human values.

We have worked hard to achieve these aims, even in times of stress and war. But we are profoundly convinced that only true peace will enable us to achieve these ideals. it is my sincere and earnest prayer, Mr. President, that the efforts you have devoted here towards that end and the efforts devoted by the Prime Minister, Mr. Begin, and the Government, will be crowned with success.

Mr. President and Mrs. Carter, while it is irrelevant now, I read that both of you shook hands, while running for the governorship of Atlanta, you shook, in 4 years, 600,000 hands. Yesterday we added a few more. Today we wanted to save you some, but the President went down and shook a few hands more, so I lost count of it. [Laughter] Anyhow, I can tell you those hands stretched to you and those whom you did not shake are very friendly hands.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will ask you all, please, to join me, to stand up and join with me in drinking a toast to our illustrious guests, the President of the United States and his honored lady, to the success of his noble mission, to the family, to Miss Lillian, to the friendship between our peoples, and to the progress and prosperity of the United States of America.


PRIME MINISTER BEGIN. Mr. President of the United States; Mrs. Carter; Mr. President of the Republic of Israel; Mrs. Navon; Mr. Speaker; Mr. President of the Supreme Court and justices of the Supreme Court; our masters and teachers, the chief rabbis; members of the Cabinets of the United States and of Israel; members of the Knesset; the leader of our loyal opposition; the Chief of Staff of our Army; and Mr. Mayor of our capital city; ladies and gentleman; honorable guests:

Mr. President, on behalf of the Government and the people of Israel, I welcome you to the eternal capital of the land of Israel, the indivisible Jerusalem.

The saga of America is living in our hearts. What is the saga of America? Thirteen colonies, ruled by a great nation, but by a foreign power, rising in revolt against a regular army, including mercenary troops, going through a horrible winter of suffering and deprivation, fighting on, ultimately winning the day and receiving the surrender of General Cornwallis, proclaiming its independence, explaining to the world why that separation took place.

That Declaration of Independence, written 13 years before the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen during the French Revolution, and—I, a Jew, dare say—which reads as a chapter of the Bible; proclaiming those self-evident truths for which man, almost in every generation, has to rise and fight; giving a constitution which is working for 200 years, and working well, which helps overcome every crisis in democracy; and then three times in 60 years saving all mankind from the dangers of militarism, from the peril of the most horrible tyranny ever known in the annals of mankind, and from Communist domination over the world—indeed saving thrice all mankind in a short period of 60 years.

The saga of America, to which in 25 years 2 1/2 million Jews emigrated, one of the greatest phenomenon of people's wanderings; 100,000 per year, from the shtetl, bringing with them and transferring with them all the traditions of the shtetl, knowing no word of English, speaking their old language; and then giving birth to a new generation, to another generation; and then turning into the mightiest Jewish community in the history of our people since the days of Alexandria during the Second Temple, and contributing so much to the civilization and culture and development of the United States, and helping so much the State of Israel.

Since the famous words were written to America and about it, "Give us the poor," well if not for that miracle of those 25 years, millions more of Jews would go the way you and I, Mr. President, saw today when we visited Yad Vashem.

May I say, although it's a festive dinner, that when we both heard the children singing, [in Hebrew] "I believe with a perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though He tarry, I shall wait daily for His coming," [in English] and knowing that with this prayer, our fathers and mothers went into the gas chambers, I couldn't help all the time thinking these children and smaller ones were dragged to a wanton death. If I said this, I said everything.

And' this is the reason, Mr. President, why we, remembering the saga of America, who helped to save a whole section of our people, is living in our hearts; why we love and respect your country, not because of any interest, but from the heart; why we are your friend and your faithful ally; why we are grateful for your help; and why we help as much as we can your country.

And this is also the reason why we want, so much, peace with all our hearts, with all our souls; why we pray for it, why we yearn for it; why we made so great sacrifices for its sake; why this parliament gave an overwhelming support, with the sacrifices, to the completion of our labors to achieve peace.

Mr. President, we have to care for the security and the future of our people. This is our responsibility. We shall carry it out under any circumstances. Never again should a foe, a bloodthirsty enemy, be capable of killing Jewish children. And we shall do whatever is humanly possible to make their life secure, not only in this generation but for all generations to come, in this land of our forefathers, to which, as of right, we came back.

Therefore, we want a real peace treaty. It must be real. It cannot last a few months, or even a few years. It must last for generations, actually forever. Therefore, we must care of its wording, because it has to be clear that this is going to be a real peace, and with the peace must come security.

Therefore, we cannot and we shall not put under jeopardy and danger our civilian population. We shall defend it under any circumstances, even with our lives if necessary, as we have done. This is the problem. Some say to us, "What do you care? Even peace treaties are broken, can be broken." Respectfully, I would like to explain to the learned men who teach us this chapter in history that we, too, read some pages of history.

For instance, I always remember since my boyhood the famous saying made by the German Ambassador to Edward Grey, the Foreign Minister of Great Britain, on behalf of the German Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, when the German army swept through neutral Belgium, and so an international agreement which lasted for 84 years was trampled underfoot. And when Grey said, "If you don't evacuate Belgium, we shall go to war against you," that Ambassador, on behalf of his Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, said, "But, Mr. Minister, are we going to go to war for a scrap of paper?"

Those who say so pay a price for it. A peace treaty is not a scrap of paper. A peace treaty is, as it must be, a serious document. It should be carried out.

It can be broken by cynics, by enemies of peace, by enemies of mankind. But, of course, our nation, with our experience, cannot be asked to sign any document which would make legitimate a breach of the peace treaty. Therefore, we have problems.

Yes, Mr. President, you, and may I say respectfully, I will tell our peoples the truth. And therefore, here and now, it's my duty to say that we have serious problems to solve until we can sign the peace treaty with Egypt—and we want so much to have this serious document signed.

And today we dealt with the serious problems. We all work quite hard—you perhaps harder than anybody else—for the sake of peace. But we do work hard, and we shall go on during the night to deal with these difficult problems. We only hope we shall be able to solve them.

But there are serious issues and difficult problems. This is what it is my duty to say at this juncture, at this moment. Hopefully, we shall overcome the difficulties and be able to sign a peace treaty, a real peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, as a first step towards a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East.

We wouldn't like to have a separate peace treaty with Egypt and have an eastern-northern front, a combination of 6,500 tanks—excuse me, 5,600 tanks, more than 6,000 heavy guns, more than a thousand fighting, firstline planes, et cetera; it's a great danger to us. But, of course, we cannot compel anybody to come to the table.

We invited them. We are prepared at any moment to resume negotiations with them—with Syria, with Jordan, with Lebanon, with all our neighbors, with all Arab states—if they wish. Of course, nobody can force them to come. In God's good time, they will, I believe with all my heart, in God's good time. Until then, of course, the peace treaty with Egypt is the first step, and it must be a real document.

Mr. President, we are proud to have you with us, you and your gracious lady. We met many times in your great country, built on the saga of America, which is so dear to all of us. We meet here tonight in Jerusalem, in the Knesset, in the center of our democracy, this democracy which gives Israel the inherent stability which gives you a reliable and stable ally in the Middle East—and may I say the only democracy in the Middle East—and, therefore, the ally, the stable and reliable ally of the free world and of its leading power, the United States.

Mr. President, you hold the greatest office in the world, the most difficult office. But I believe that you will go down in history with a higher title than even that of President of the United States. And this higher title is "servant of peace."

In this spirit, ladies and gentlemen, may I raise my glass to our honored and dear guest, the President of the United States, and to Mrs. Carter, to the President of our Republic, Israel, and to Mrs. Navon, to peace and to the everlasting friendship between the United States of America and the State of Israel.


PRESIDENT CARTER. Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, distinguished officials of the great republic of Israel—legislative, judicial, executive officials of this great nation—friends of the United States here in Israel and friends of Israel from the United States who are also here—many visitors have come here to express their support for this momentous effort for peace:

I thank you, Mr. President, and Mr. prime Minister, for your gracious and your kind and your wise words. For both Rosalynn and for me, I want to express to President Navon and Mrs. Navon appreciation for the personal hospitality they've shown us.

We know that we are among friends within this room. Indeed, I have a sense that in many ways we are all one family. As in a family, the relationships between us are frank and sometimes very lively. But also like family members, we recognize that the bonds between our nations and our people are more than just strong for now. They are both strong and permanent.

We in the United States will stand by Israel, and we will never waver in our admiration for you or in our support for you for a strong and secure and a free State of Israel.

We realize that our own security is intimately tied with yours. There are bonds of blood between us, bonds of history, bonds of culture, bonds of religious belief. Perhaps most important of all are the enduring values which we share, the values for which my Nation was formed and exists, the values for which your nation was formed and exists—a belief in individual liberty, a common commitment to representative democracy, a common vision of human brotherhood, the conviction that there is no higher pursuit than that of peace with justice, not only among our own kin and our own kind, but we share this commitment with like men and women throughout the world.

We are now engaged together in a common effort, to achieve a real peace, a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, a peace that would enable the people of Israel and all Middle Eastern people to live in security, to live in prosperity, and to develop to their full potential.

We are now in sight of an important initial phase of that great objective. The events of the past 16 months, beginning with President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and Prime Minister Begin's immediate response, have engendered that great hope. More progress has been made in the last 16 months than in all the previous three decades of bloodshed.

I myself, as President of the United States of America, have spent literally hundreds of hours in detailed negotiations trying to realize the peace which I have just described briefly.

We are not looking for just a peace document signed by two nations grudgingly. We are looking for a document of peace signed in a spirit of mutual trust, mutual friendship, mutual commitment, mutual understanding, mutual realization of common purpose, that will open the avenue in the future to an easy interrelationship between neighbors who are going to be permanent neighbors, either in a spirit of animosity and hatred and bloodshed, or in a spirit of cooperation and good will and progress.

We love Israel, but we are not jealous. We want you to have many other friends. That's our common hope and our common prayer. There have been disappointments and frustrations, some still remain. But the progress that has been made would not have been possible without Israel's great leader, Prime Minister Menahem Begin.

He's a man of courage, of integrity, of utter and selfless dedication. He and his colleagues have been tough negotiators. They know what is at stake for Israel. And I know they want the best agreement for Israel.

This concern is based on horrible historical fact, actions which we saw memorialized this morning, that brought horror to a world and which must not ever be forgotten. But in guiding the negotiations, the Prime Minister has never lost sight of his original vision, a strong, free, vibrant Jewish people, living in Israel-which you are now—but also living in peace. And we've all seen abundant evidence that he possesses the political skills to translate this vision into reality.

I am absolutely confident from my conversations within the last 3 or 4 days with President Sadat and from my conversations with Prime Minister Begin that both are determined not to let this great opportunity for peace slip from our grasp.

If we can resolve the few remaining differences-and I am still hopeful that we can—our meeting tonight will be just a prelude for an occasion of joyous celebration, the signing of the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab nation.

I ask all of you to .join me in a toast to our gracious hosts, President and Mrs. Navon, to Israel's courageous leader and his wife, Prime Minister and Mrs. Begin, and to our common goal: the transformation of the Middle East into a land of peace.


Note: The exchange began at 10:05 p.m. in Chagall Hall at the Knesset.

Jimmy Carter, Toasts at a Dinner Honoring President Carter in Jerusalem, Israel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249003

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