Jimmy Carter photo

World Jewish Congress Remarks at the Meeting of the General Council.

November 02, 1977

Chairman Phil Klutznick and President Nahum Goldmann, members of the World Jewish Congress:

As my friend Phil Klutznick pointed out, sometimes praise is not forthcoming for a Democratic President, and I want to thank you especially for that warm welcome, which I haven't heard in quite a long time. Thank you very, very much for it.

I'm deeply honored to receive this medal. I accept it with a sense of gratitude because of the organization from which it comes and because of the man for whom it is named. For more than half a century, Dr. Nahum Goldmann has been a scholar and a political leader and a fighter for the rights of all people. His career is proof that a man who is outspoken and sometimes controversial can still be a brilliant and an effective statesman. As the head of this organization and many others, he has played a more significant role in world affairs than have many heads of state. He's stepping down now as president of the World Jewish Congress, but his presence will remain, for he is the kind of man whose moral authority transcends any title or any office.

The World Jewish Congress has always sought to promote human rights in a universal way. In this, it is faithful to the ethical traditions from which it springs, for Jewish teaching has helped to shape the consciousness of human rights that is, I believe, now growing throughout the world.

In large measure, the beginnings of the modern concept of human rights go back to the laws and the prophets of the Judeo-Christian traditions. I've been steeped in the Bible since early childhood, and I believe that anyone who reads the ancient words of the Old Testament with both sensitivity and care will find there the idea of government as something based on a voluntary covenant rather than force--the idea of equality before the law and the supremacy of law over the whims of any ruler; the idea of the dignity of the individual human being and also of the individual conscience; the idea of service to the poor and to the oppressed; the ideas of self-government and tolerance and of nations living together in peace, despite differences of belief. I know, also, the memory of Jewish persecution and especially of the holocaust lends a special quality and a heartrending sensitivity to your own commitments to human rights.

This organization has made a major contribution to ensuring that human rights became part of the Charter of the United Nations as one of its three basic purposes, along with the preservation of peace and social and economic progress. The principal authors of Universal Covenant on Human Rights were Eleanor Roosevelt, an American Protestant, Charles Malik, a Lebanese Catholic, and Rene Cassin, a French Jew. Because of their work and the work of others, no government can now pretend that its mistreatment of its own citizens is merely an internal affair.

These accomplishments have helped start a process by which governments can be moved forward, exemplifying the ideals which they publicly profess. Our own actions in the field of human rights must vary according to the appropriateness and effectiveness of one kind of action or another, but our judgments must be made according to a single standard, for oppression is reprehensible whether its victims are blacks in South Africa or American Indians in the Western Hemisphere or Jews in the Soviet Union or political dissidents in Chile or Czechoslovakia.

The public demonstration of our own Government's commitment to human rights is one of the major goals that my administration has set for United States foreign policy. The emphasis on human rights has raised the level of consciousness around the world and is already beginning to help overcome the crisis of spirit which recently has afflicted the nations of the West.

We are also trying to build a more cooperative international system. We are consulting more closely with our own allies, and we place special emphasis on better relations with people in South America and in Asia and in Africa. And we are searching for new areas of cooperation with the Soviet Union, especially in the area where we and the Soviets now most intensely compete--in the race for nuclear weapons.

We must halt that race. In the last few months, we've tried to work closely with the Soviets to eliminate the testing of peaceful nuclear explosives. And just in the last 24 hours, Mr. Brezhnev, President Brezhnev, has announced that the Soviets are finally coming to agree with us. And we have good hopes that we might, without too much delay, realize a comprehensive test ban that would eliminate this threat from the Earth. We hope so.

But at the same time we seek cooperation, we recognize that competition is also part of international life, and we will always remain capable of defending the legitimate interests of our people. We are addressing other global problems which threaten the well-being and the security of people everywhere. They include nuclear proliferation, the excessive sales of conventional arms, food supplies and energy, and the quality of the environment. These things affect all nations of the world. And we are also seeking solutions to regional conflicts that could do incalculable damage, if not resolved.

Our efforts toward a new treaty with Panama are one example. Bringing about peaceful change in southern Africa is another. But none is more important than finding peace in the Middle East.

Sixty years ago today, November 2, 1917, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour---

[At this point, the President was interrupted by demonstrators. Alter making the following comment on the interruption, he continued his remarks.]

One of the basic human rights that we cherish in our country is the right to speak, and I have no objection to it.

As I was saying, exactly 60 years ago today, November 2, 1917, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, informed Lord Rothschild of his government's support. for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. At that time, the idea seemed visionary and few dared to believe that it could actually be translated into reality. But today Israel is a vital force, an independent and democratic Jewish state whose national existence is accepted and whose security is stronger today than ever before.

We are proud to be Israel's firm friend and closest partner, and we shall stand by Israel always.

I doubt that anyone in the history of our country tins traveled more than I have in my campaign for President, nor talked to more groups, nor listened to more questions, nor heard more comments. And when I say that we will always stand with Israel, I speak not only for myself as President, not only for our Government, all three of its branches, but I speak not just for American Jews but for all Americans. This is one of our deepest felt commitments, and I have no doubt that I speak accurately for the overwhelming portion of the American people, now and forever.

Despite its great accomplishments, however, Israel has yet to realize the cherished goal of living in peace with its neighbors. Some would say that peace cannot be achieved because of the accumulated mistrust and the deep emotions which divide Israelis from Arabs. Some would say that we must realistically resign ourselves to the prospect of unending struggle and conflict in the Middle East. With such an attitude of resignation, Israel would never have been created. And with such an attitude now, peace will never be achieved. What is needed is both vision and realism so that strong leadership can transform the hostility of the past into a peaceful and constructive future.

This was a vision of the Zionist movement in the first generation after the Balfour declaration, and it can be the achievement of Israel in its second generation as an independent state.

Since becoming President, I've spent much of my time in trying to promote a peace settlement between Israel and her Arab neighbors. All Americans know that peace in the Middle East is of vital concern to our own country. We cannot merely be idle bystanders. Our friendships and our interests require that we continue to devote ourselves to the cause of peace in this most dangerous region of the world.

Earlier this year, I outlined the elements of a comprehensive peace--not in order to impose our views on the parties concerned, but rather as a way of defining some of the elements of an overall settlement which would have to be achieved through detailed negotiations.

I continue to believe that the three key issues are, first, the obligations of real peace, including the full normalization of political, economic, and cultural relations; second, the establishment of effective security measures, coupled to Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, and agreement on final, recognized, and secure borders; and third, the resolution of the Palestinian question.

These issues are interrelated in complex ways, and for peace to be achieved that's permanent and real, all of them will have to be resolved. Recently, our diplomatic efforts have focused on establishing a framework for negotiations so that the parties themselves will become engaged in the resolution of the many substantive issues that have divided them so long. We can offer our good offices as mediators, we can make suggestions, but we cannot do the negotiating.

For serious peace talks to begin, a reconvening of the Geneva conference has become essential. All the parties have accepted the idea of comprehensive negotiations at Geneva. An agreement has already been reached on several of the important procedural arrangements. Israel has accepted, for Geneva, the idea of a unified Arab delegation, which will include Palestinians, and has agreed to discuss the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with Jordan, with Egypt, and with Palestinian Arabs. This can provide the means for a Palestinian voice to be heard in the shaping of a Middle East peace, and this represents a positive and a very constructive step.

Israel has also repeated its willingness to negotiate without preconditions and has stressed that all issues are negotiable. This is an attitude that others must accept if peace talks are to succeed.

For their part, the Arab states have accepted Israel's status as a nation. They are increasingly willing to work toward peace treaties and to form individual working groups to negotiate settlement of border issues and other disputes. No longer do they refuse to sit down at the negotiating table with Israel, nor do they dispute Israel's right to live within secure and recognized borders.

That must be taken as a measure of how far we have come from the intransigent positions of the past. The procedural arrangements hammered out at the 1973 Geneva Conference can provide a good basis for a reconvened conference. Even a year ago--just think back--the notion of Israelis and Arabs engaging in face-to-face negotiations about real peace, a peace embodied in signed, binding treaties, seemed like an illusion; yet, today, such negotiations are within reach. And I'm proud of the progress that has been achieved by all nations concerned to make this dream at least possible.

But to improve the atmosphere for serious negotiations, mutual suspicions must be further reduced. One source of Arab concern about Israeli intentions has been the establishment of civilian settlements in territories currently under occupation, which we consider to be a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. On the Arab side, much still needs to be done to remove the suspicions that exist in Israel about Arab intentions. It was not so long ago, after all, that Arab demands were often expressed in extreme and sometimes violent ways. Israel's existence was constantly called into question. The continuing refusal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to accept U.N. Resolution 242 and Israel's right to exist, along with the resort to violence and terror by some groups, provides Israelis with tangible evidence that their worst fears may in fact be justified.

Differences naturally exist not only between Arabs and Israelis but among the Arab parties themselves. And we are actively engaged in an effort, a very difficult effort, to narrow these differences so that Geneva can be reconvened. And we've called on the other cochairman of the Geneva conference, the Soviet Union, to use its influence constructively.

We will continue to encourage a solution to the Palestinian question in a framework which does not threaten the interests of any of the concerned parties, yet respects the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. The nations involved must negotiate the settlement, but we ourselves do not prefer an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank.

Negotiations will no doubt be prolonged and often very difficult. But we are in this to stay. I will personally be prepared to use the influence of the United States to help the negotiations succeed. We will not impose our will on any party, but we will constantly encourage and try to assist the process of conciliation.

Our relations with Israel will remain strong. Since the war in 1973, we have provided $10 billion in military and economic aid to Israel, about two-thirds of which was direct grants or concessional loans. The magnitude of this assistance is unprecedented in history. It's greatly enhanced Israel's economic and military strength. Our aid will continue.

As difficult as peace through negotiations will be in the Middle East, the alternative of stalemate and war is infinitely worse. The cost of another war would be staggering in both human and economic terms. Peace, by contrast, offers great hope to the peoples of the Middle East who have already contributed so much to civilization.

Peace, which must include a permanent and secure Jewish state of Israel, has a compelling logic for the Middle East. It would begin to bring Arabs and Israelis together in creative ways to create a prosperous and a stable region. And the prospect of coexistence and cooperation would revive the spirits of those who, for so long, thought only of violence and of struggle for survival itself.

Peace would lift some of the enormous burdens of defense and uplift the people's quality of life. The idea of peace in the Middle East today is no more of a dream than was the idea of a national home for the Jews in 1917. But it will require the same dedication that made Israel a reality and has permitted it to grow and to prosper.

We may be facing now the best opportunity for a permanent Middle East peace settlement in our lifetime. We must not let it slip away. Well-meaning leaders in Israel and in the Arab nations, African, European, South American, North American, all over the world, are making an unprecedented and a concerted effort to resolve the deep-seated differences in the Middle East.

This is not a time for intemperance or partisanship; it's a time for strong and responsible leadership and a willingness to explore carefully, perhaps for the first time, the intentions of others. It's a time to use the mutual strength and the unique friendship and partnership between Israel and the United States and the influence of you and others who have a deep interest and concern to guarantee a strong and permanently free and secure Israel, at peace with her neighbors and able to contribute her tremendous human resources toward the realization of human rights and a better and more peaceful life throughout the world.

The Old Testament offers a vision of what that kind of peace might mean in its deepest sense. I leave you with these lines from the Prophet Micah--who's still one of my favorites--lines and words which no summary or paraphrase could possibly do justice. It's from the Fourth Chapter and the first five verses:

"But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow into it.

"And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: and the law shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

"And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

"But' they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.

"For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever."

However we may falter, however difficult the path, it is our duty to walk together toward the fulfillment of this majestic prophesy.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 8:45 p.m. at the Capital Hilton Hotel. Prior to his remarks, he was presented with the Nahum Goldmann Medal.

Jimmy Carter, World Jewish Congress Remarks at the Meeting of the General Council. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242474

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