Jimmy Carter photo

Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Begin of Israel at a Working Dinner for the Prime Minister

July 19, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. First of all, I want to welcome all of you here tonight--the Members of the Senate, the Cabinet, my own staff, the distinguished Members of the House, and also our very fine visitors from Israel, Ambassador Dinitz.

I was very much concerned a few weeks ago, when I discovered that this is a special night and I didn't know if we could induce anyone to come. The Speaker pointed out again tonight that this is the All-Star Game, the major baseball game of the year. [Laughter] And I was taken aback the day before yesterday, when my wife came and said, "Jimmy, we ordinarily have only 20 people come to your working suppers, and we are trying to cut the list down to 60."

I couldn't understand it. So, I talked to Cy and talked to Dr. Brzezinski, and they said that everyone wanted to come to meet the new Prime Minister of Israel. This is the largest group we have ever had, Mr. Prime Minister, and it's a great tribute to you and to the interest in your country and is demonstrative, I .think, of the very close ties of friendship between the United States and the great nation of Israel. I'm pleased to be the host tonight to such a distinguished man.

As I said in my welcoming remarks this morning, this is very gratifying to me. He's the only foreign visitor I have had who is junior to me. I feel like a senior statesman tonight since he's very new in office. And he and I have a lot more in common.

Ambassador Dinitz was telling me that after the election somebody asked Prime Minister Begin how it felt to be unknown. And he said, well, he was known as Menahem who?--very similar to me, except the question was asked about him after he was elected Prime Minister, and it was asked about me when I first started running for President. [Laughter]

But he and I have a lot more in common than those ties that I've described to you, and we've explored some of them today. It's been one of the most gratifying and stimulating discussions that I have had since I have been President.

We've had a chance to get to know each other personally, and it's been obvious to me that our guest is a strong leader. He's a man of deep convictions and unshakeable principle. He's a man of truth and quiet dignity. He's a man who is polite and very modest. The only times today when I've seen him somewhat disconcerted is when he thinks that the praise and the compliments are excessive, and he's embarrassed then.

I think this is a tribute to him. And I know that the people in Israel and the many friends in our country who look with favor on him and his leadership are gratified to have him come to see us.

We've had far-reaching discussions today. We've explored differences of opinion in a very blunt and frank fashion. And I think we've resolved some of the differences; few still remain. But we've discovered and mutually recognized, in order to make them permanent, the agreements that are inherent in the attitudes of our people.

We both feel that this year is a propitious time to move toward real, permanent peace in the Middle East, a recognition by all nations that Israel has a right to exist, to exist as a proud and independent nation, to exist permanently, and to exist in peace. This is a basis on which we approach the coming crucial months.

We also recognize the sharp differences of opinion that exist between Israel and her Arab neighbors, the historical distrust that must be overcome. We also recognize the intense interest and legitimate concern and involvement of almost all the developed nations in the world and many of those who are still developing in a peaceful settlement of Middle Eastern differences.

We recognize that the basic security of Israel must not only be guaranteed in military terms and from the viewpoint of leaders who are involved, but the security of Israel must be guaranteed in the minds and hearts of people who live in that country and in the minds and hearts of people who would disturb that security if they thought there was hope for success. There must be a reassurance of the staunch friendship that binds our country to Israel.

I have met with the Arab leaders who've been here to see me and whom I've met in Europe, and we've always made clear to them in the early stages of discussion that the basic premise on which we approached a possible Middle East discussion leading toward progress and peace was our commitment to Israel.

We have also explored today some very sensitive questions, some that can prove to be embarrassing because of past statements made in the heat of anger or the heat of challenge or the heat of despair or the heat or depths of insecurity. And with a new hope being generated, we see a need for a frank discussion of all the issues that in the past have appeared to be insuperable obstacles toward peace.

I've been very proud of the attitude taken by Prime Minister Begin, who has said that all issues are negotiable and who has already expressed publicly his hope that he and President Sadat and King Hussein and President Asad can meet with others in Geneva in October.

We don't know yet that we can resolve all the differences that might prevent such a meeting. But following this week, Secretary Vance will go to the Middle East to have private conversations with the leaders there and will also have a follow-up meeting with the Israeli leaders themselves.

The future, of course, is still in doubt. The historical differences still exist. But I am convinced, having spent hours and hours talking and listening to the leaders involved, that there is a unanimous hope that peace might come and a realization of the great benefits that can accrue to all the people in the Middle East with the coming of security and peace.

We are determined to do our share not to try to impose our will on anyone but to act as a trusted intermediary and, to deserve that trust, to give the same points of view to all the parties who will be negotiating-not to mislead anyone, not to avoid a controversial issue--and, wherever appropriate, to open those controversial issues up to public scrutiny, public analysis, public debate, even when at times it creates some hopefully transient dissension among people who have strongly held opposing views.

But there is no way to postpone any longer those issues that sometimes in the future will be divisive but which have historically been divisive either for 29 years or for 2,900 years.

Finally, I'd like to say this: Success this year is going to require a great deal of courage. As has often been pointed out, it's much more difficult to make peace than it is to make war, because in searching for peace there has to be an accommodation; in searching for war, there has to be an arousing of animosity and hatred and a using of innate dissension and distrust as a basis.

But the courage that exists in our fine visitor is one of the factors which encourages me to look toward great progress this year toward true peace in the Middle East.

We share a common religion. We share mutual economic trials, tribulations, successes, and hopes. We are bound together politically, culturally, ethically by blood relationships. And these common purposes and goals and characteristics provide a sure base which will withstand the trials and difficulties of a challenging year.

I look forward to it with a great deal of anticipation, and I'm very proud tonight to welcome to the White House the new Prime Minister of Israel and to offer a toast to this good and decent and courageous man in whom the hopes of many are focused, and on the brave and courageous people of the great and courageous nation of Israel.

To the people of Israel and to you, Mr. Prime Minister.

THE PRIME MINISTER. Mr. President, after having met you, I can say it was a great day in my life to be here, to speak to you, to listen to you. We have had very few good days in our lives in our generation. Most of the days were spent in struggle, in persecution; to time in being hunted, in dreams, in suffering. And the days of solace are not many.

This is one of the best days in my life, having met the President of the United States, having learned that this is a man, a great friend of humanity, a man of great understanding and feeling and, therefore, as I can say now wholeheartedly, a great friend of Israel.

Therefore, tonight, Mr. President, with your permission, I will say something about what I believed to be, perhaps since my childhood, the moral greatness of America.

In 60 years, America has saved mankind from three very grave dangers. The first was Prussian militarism, which during the First World War almost trampled under foot all of Europe and, ultimately, the world. 1917 was a crucial year. There were mutinies in the French Army. The great question was: "Whom? Who is going to break whom?" And then the outcry was heard throughout Europe: "The Yankees are coming." The army of General Pershing fought valiantly. Mainly, the spirit of the European armies, of the allies, rose. And then victory came.

The second time America saved mankind came during the period when, as Churchill said, all the embodiment of evil in mankind turned a great nation--a nation of poets and philosophers--into a bloodthirsty mob, thirsty first of all for Jewish blood. And in that hour, perhaps the darkest in our time, we lost a third of our people. That would mean 80 million Americans wiped out. Those are phantasmagoric figures which scientists make up in connection with the megatons. But megatons are produced never to be used. As we believe, all free men and all those who believe in divine providence, we have to live with those phantasmagoric figures to the last day on Earth.

A dark age started in Europe and throughout the world. We should always tell the truth. There was a time when England stood alone resisting that barbarous tyranny. And there was a time when the Soviet armies fought heroically against the onslaught by the Nazi hordes.

However, whoever studied history does know and should admit that were it not for America--for America's might and America's spirit and faith in justice and liberty--England would have succumbed, Russia would have fallen, and then a dark age would have started, perhaps for many, many years, perhaps for centuries, mankind never knew since the days of Nero and Caligula.

Ultimately, the United States won the day for all mankind, and so we were saved from the dark age under Nazi tyranny.

After the Second World War, Mr. President, there is no doubt whatsoever were it not for America, the Soviet armies long ago would have reached the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. There wasn't enough strength in Europe left to withstand such a possible onslaught. It was only because of America that part of mankind was saved from Soviet slavery, from Communist subjugation. This struggle still goes on, as we can see a tendency to take over country after country by proxy.

This is the moral greatness of America. It saved three times, in two generations, in 60 years, all the nations, all mankind. We free men bow to that greatness of America.

America knew crisis as well, economic and moral crisis. But as we follow those 200 years of American history, as we read Jefferson and the story of Lee and Hamilton and Citizen Tom Paine and the marvelous life story of Abraham Lincoln--who actually renewed all the great precepts taken from the Bible when we follow this wonderful story, we see that after each crisis America becomes more democratic, more just, more free, and more devoted to our human tasks.

Now, with your permission, Mr. President, a few words about little Israel--and I do not say so for the sake of artificial modesty--we are a very little country. We shall always be. And in comparison with America's might, we are a very small, very small country and people in the Middle East. However, we rose in suffering and in heroism.

Sometimes, as I heard today as well, journalists have an undertone when they ask me about the Bible. I am not ashamed to say that I do believe with all my heart in divine providence. Were it not for divine providence, where would we be today or tonight? We were sentenced to death, all of us, and the life of every one of us is a present. We could have been there in the trains and in the camps, as the wife of my friend and secretary, a young lady, was, having spent 3 years in Auschwitz, having looked every day upon that smoke coming from the chimneys and knowing what happened.

So we suffered. And when people ask me about the Bible, then I can say our generation, my generation, is almost a Biblical generation.

Of course, we don't dare compare ourselves with our ancestors. But what was the Biblical generation? They achieved everything by suffering and with heroism. They suffered very much until they reached the Promised Land. And Moses, the great liberator, wasn't even allowed to come into the Promised Land.

In great heroism, Joshua was told, "Be strong spiritually, have courage and faith against overwhelming odds and forces."

That is our generation. Everything we achieved was through great suffering, almost inhuman suffering, having lost a mother, a father, a brother, a little nephew, everything dear and near to you being bereaved and orphaned; asking the question, "Wherefore will come my salvation?" And then saying to ourselves, "Rise for a just cause. Endanger your life; it is a present given to you. And create conditions in which never again will an enemy raise his hand on a Jewish child and escape with impunity."

So we did fight. And we suffered. And there was great heroism and singing of the Hatikvah with the last breath in one's lungs. But ultimately, with God's help-indeed, only with God's help--we won the day. We have a country, a parliament, a government, a land to till, cities to build, the field to make green, to take in our persecuted people from scores of countries, from the Arab lands. We took in 800,000 of our brethren from the Arab countries. The others came from Europe, what we call in Hebrew Sharei Pleyta--that term is absolutely unknown to other nations--the remnants of our people from generation to generation; we are the remnants of the remnants.

And now we want to have peace, more than anything in the world to have peace. We didn't have, in our time, one day of real peace there with all the tragic events, and in our own land, terror and bloodshed, always living on the hinge, always threatened with extinction and standing on guard for our people and for human liberty and for human dignity. This is the story of our generation.

Therefore, Mr. President, I have come to you, as the democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel, with a deep sense of responsibility. May I inform you, sir, that our spiritual leadership, the rabbinate, the day before yesterday asked the people to pray every day for the success of my mission. And they decided that there is a special song to say every day, a people praying for the success of one's mission.

This is some phenomenon, because they know we have a great friend, the United States of America. And we, Israel, are a faithful ally of the United States. We do whatever we can to serve the free world. We contribute to the national security-as tonight I will show you, Mr. President-to the national security of the United States.

We are a guardian of human liberty and democracy in the Middle East. We look around; I don't see any country in our neighborhood which can, through a free vote of proud citizens, say one leadership should take a vacation and there should be another leadership. And then the transfer of power is being carried out in so orderly a way--my predecessor waiting for me in his office; I coming in, shaking hands, expressing the best feelings for each other, and then the predecessor saying, "Now, take over," and I going into my office and then, indeed, giving the first order to bring in the Vietnamese refugees into our country.

Democracy is beautiful. When you look at what is happening under tyranny or whatever comes, and you compare democracy-as Churchill used to say, it also has its faults, but basically how beautiful is democracy.

We are proud that we are a democracy, as the United States carries the banner of democracy. This is our contribution to freedom, national security of the free world. We shall continue to do so to the best of our ability.

Our talks, Mr. President, I do hope, first of all, will result in the deepening of the friendship between our countries. One day, one day--I pray for it--perhaps I will be able to say that in pride I will call you my friend, in pride. And then our talks may result in progress towards that goal called peace.

We must have the sense of urgency, but we also must have some patience. May I respectfully submit that I prove to have patience. Some patience it was. [Laughter]

You, too, Mr. President, showed that you have patience. So some patience must be guarded, because it's an historical conflict; it is not a territorial problem. For 19 years there was no peace. For 19 years we didn't have the second part of Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, not one day of peace.

The question arises: Why not? Were it a territorial conflict, there was no reason not to make peace with Israel. It is an historical conflict. We came there. We have come there by right to the land of our ancestors. But it was not recognized, and time and again attempts were made to destroy us.

Sometimes you have a defeated aggressor claiming that he's the wronged victim. But we know what happened. We only defended ourselves against attempts, repeated, to destroy our people, our dream and our independence and, ultimately, our lives.

With a sense of urgency on one hand and some patience on the other, I think we can build a foundation of peace in the Middle East and the recognition of justice for all and fairness for all, as we believe.

We don't hate our neighbors. We don't want to humiliate them at all. We never wanted to defeat them. We never wanted to wrong them. But we had to defend ourselves. This is the whole story, as they used to say in those ancient days, on one foot. I can only speak very shortly standing on one foot, the whole story.

We are hopeful; we are optimistic. We have to be. Our people have always been optimistic.

So, Mr. President, the day after tomorrow I will be leaving Washington with a staunch heart, grateful for your gracious hospitality, for your friendship, for the encouragement you gave all of us, for your leadership.

At the time, ladies and gentlemen, the British used to say, because of their own reasons, thank God for the French Army. Now, paraphrasing that saying, I will raise my glass and say with all my heart, thank God for America.

To the President of the United States, the leader and defender of the free world: Lechayim.

Note: The President spoke at 9:02 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Begin of Israel at a Working Dinner for the Prime Minister Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243266

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