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Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel

September 25, 1969

Madam Prime Minister and our very distinguished guests this evening:

As I look around this room, I see several Members of the Senate and the House who have been here before during this administration's dinners in this State Dining Room, and who have seen the heads of state and heads of government who have been here.

All of them were very distinguished leaders of their countries but, as you know, this is the first time that in this administration we have had the honor to receive the head of government of another state who also is a woman.

Now that, naturally, should give a great deal of opportunity for a President of the United States, in welcoming the Prime Minister, to remark about her unusual capabilities, not only in her official capacity but as a woman. And I can only say this, that I am reminded of the fact that David Ben-Gurion [Israel's first Prime Minister], in referring to our very distinguished guest this evening, referred to her as the best man in his Cabinet.

I also recall the old Jewish proverb to the effect that man was made out of the soft earth and woman was made out of a hard rib.

Now, I do not mean by these references to indicate that the Prime Minister whom we honor tonight, is one who does not have those very remarkable and unique qualities that we admire in the women of her country and the women of our own country, and the women of the world. But what I would like to say very simply is this: that throughout the history of her people, a history that we know very well in this country, a history that we heard even the Marine Band and our Strolling Strings attempt to represent by music very briefly a few moments ago, we know that very capable women and strong women have played a remarkable and important part in that history.

In Biblical terms, we remember Deborah, 3,000 years ago. The Bible tells us very little about Deborah, except that she loved her people and served them well. Then, if I may paraphrase, it concludes with this one thought: that there was peace in the land for 40 years.

Madam Prime Minister, as we welcome you here at this dinner, and as we meet with you today and tomorrow on the occasion of this visit, what is really deepest in our hearts is the hope that history will record that after your service as Prime Minister there was peace in the land for 40 years and longer.

When we think back on your people, a war every 10 years; when we think back on your people going back through the century, how they have suffered, we know how much the word "peace" means.

We can say to you that while it is fashionable in the great councils of the world to talk rather casually about peace, and while it is, of course, expected that at events like this we use that term almost in an offhand way, that we feel it very deeply here. We feel it because the people of Israel deserve peace. They have earned peace, not the fragile peace that comes with the kind of a document that neither party has an interest in keeping, but the kind of peace that will last, one that will last for 40 years or even longer.

I say that for another reason, too. I have had the privilege and I know that many of our friends around this room have had the privilege of .seeing what the people of this very small country have done in Israel, and it is a remarkable story.

With this immense military burden, with this tremendous budget that they have to bear in that respect, how they have made that land bloom, how they have made it productive. But also I have seen what the people of this country have done in other lands, in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America. People have gone from the State of Israel to these other lands in their own programs of assistance and advice and this kind of genius, this kind of ability, is very rare in the world. It is desperately needed in the world. It is desperately needed for the works of peace.

And for these and for so many other reasons, we simply want to say that we are very honored to have the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and others in this distinguished party here in this room tonight. We are honored to pay tribute to a very brave and courageous people. We hope that as a result of our meeting that we will have taken a significant step forward toward that peace which can mean so much to the people of Israel, to the people of all the Mideast, and also to the people of the world.

Now I would like to ask you, in affirming that sentiment, to rise and raise your glasses with me to the Prime Minister.

Note: The President proposed the toast at 9:53 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

See also Items 371 and 376.

Prime Minister Meir responded as follows:

Mr. President, Mrs. Nixon, Mr. Vice President, friends:

There is no use my trying to hide the fact that this has been an exceptional day in my life. One reads sometimes that representatives of big powers get together, try to solve problems, make certain decisions. We know it is important.

Then one sentence reads that representatives of little countries, not very powerful, not very much, not very able to give each to the other, one has a feeling; well, they got together; they at least shared their troubles and problems; they at least feel sorry for each other. That helps sometimes.

But I think that this world would be entirely different if there was a possibility of meeting between the big and powerful and the small, in an atmosphere and a feeling not of one asking for something and one giving something, but in an atmosphere that in this world there must be a real partnership between large powers and small, rich and poor.

This world has become too small and too full of problems and troubles for any one of us to feel that he, by himself, can either separate himself from the world and be happy in his home, isolated because he is powerful, or that it doesn't matter.

There can be some that are secure and strong and resourceful and there are others that are small and poor and troubled, as though it did not affect all of us, what happens in any corner of the earth.

We have become too advanced in science. If any trouble is discovered in the moon, Mr. President, I am afraid it will affect us on earth. We are all a part of everything that is good and everything that is dangerous.

To me this has been a great day, not because I have come representing a people that has no worry in the world, that has no problems, that needs nothing. But this is a great day for me because I represent a small country, a small people. I represent a people that throughout its history for 2,000 years has known persecution, has known discrimination, has been driven from place to place. And for 2,000 years this people has refused to give up a dream, an ideal that some day it will come back to its home and rebuild it.

It is tragic that this happened when six million of our people were gone. Those six million in Eastern and central Europe--those were the centers of culture, of religion, of Zionism, of faith--withstood everything, all hardships, and did not give up their faith. They are gone.

Every one of us feels that he has to make up and he owes it to them, not only to those who are alive, those remnants that have remained, but owes it to them who are gone.

Those who went to the gas chambers went singing, "I believe the Messiah will come." They knew that they were going to their death, and we feel that they left us a legacy that we must implement and put into life, that which they believed in and that for which they died. It is not simple in this world, in the neighborhood in which we live.

When I say this was a great day for me, Mr. President, I shall remember it always, because you made it possible for me to speak to you, to bring before you all our problems, all our worries, all our hopes and aspirations; and if you will forgive me, I did not have a feeling for one single moment that I, representing little, tiny Israel, was speaking to the President of the great United States.

I felt I was speaking to a friend who not only listens in Hebrew we have two words, a word that means only listening, and a word that means that it really is absorbed--and I have a feeling that you were not merely kind to listen to me, but you shared what I was saying, what our worries are.

We discussed the problems of Israel as though they were our common problems. This means a lot. Israel has known in its short number of years too many hours when we felt we were all alone. And we made it.

In 1948, when we were attacked by six Arab armies and had nothing to fight with-but thank God we did not lose our sense of humor--we said, yes, but we have a secret weapon and our secret weapon is: no alternative, we must win because we have nowhere to run to except the sea. Therefore, we chose to fight and to fight it out and win. We had no alternative. We had known many hours that were dark, the hours before the 5th of June in 1967, none of us will ever forget them.

But we believe. We have not lost our confidence. We have faith, not only in the life and existence and development of Israel; we believe honestly and sincerely that the day will come when there will be peace in the area. The day will come when across the borders there will not be tanks and one will not listen only to the shelling, to the shells that will be sent from across the borders into villages, killing men and women and children. But I am convinced that the day will come when farmers from Israel, young men and women who have left their homes and left their towns and went to the desert and went to the hills at Galilee and brought life to the desert when nothing has bloomed for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, and have brought forests to the hills and have absorbed human beings shattered in body and spirit after the Second World War, and made them alive again, and they straightened their backs, and the children who came to us with eyes full of fear are happy now and they sing.

These men and women and these scared children who have now become young men and women have made it possible for us to develop the desert, to do what we have done, and there is song on their lips and they teach and they study and they farm and they build.

No greater day can we envisage than when these people merely step across the border and with a farmer of Jordan and with a farmer in the Nile Valley and with a farmer in Syria, not when we are on the Golan Heights--we see what was not done in the villages of the Golan Heights--and we will just step across the border and bring with us not only the fruits of our experience but the joy in being alive together, we and they, and making it possible for their children, too, to live as human beings and to hope for a life where one will bring joy to everyone around and where we can erase from the minds of young people, where we can erase the horror of mothers that they bring children into this world and, who knows, maybe when they are just beginning their life they will be sent into the battleground.

We believe in that, Mr. President, honestly and faithfully. We are a people who for 2,000 years believed in the impossible. And here we are, a sovereign state, accepted in the family of nations, with many problems, many troubles, but here we are.

And here we are speaking in the United States. Here I am as a guest of the President of the United States, having full understanding of what this day means, and yet I will come home and I will tell my Cabinet and I will tell my people and I will tell our children and our young people: Don't become cynical, don't give up hope, don't believe that every. thing is just judged only by expediency.

There is idealism in this world. There is human brotherhood in this world. There is the great and powerful country, the United States, that feels that the existence of Israel is important to it because it is important that all live and all exist, no matter how small how troubled we are.

Mr. President, thank you, not only for wonderful hospitality, not only for this great day and every moment that I had this day, but thank you for enabling me to go home and tell my people that we have a friend, a great friend and a dear friend. It will help. It will help us overcome many difficulties.

When the great day comes when this dream comes true, you will have had a great share in it.

Thank you very much.

To the President of the United States.

Richard Nixon, Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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