Ambassador to the UK – Daniel Taub
Harvey, your Excellency Ambassador Wlachovsky, General Shkedy, Colonel Miri Eisen, Alan Aziz, Ladies and Gentlemen.
You know its six months since I took up my post here in the UK and there have been quite a number of remarkable and moving moments for me. But one of the most moving moments took place on the 2nd November in the Lacarno Suite in the Foreign Office. To the be there, on the very date, in the very room, where the Balfour Declaration was signed; at an event under the hospices of the Zionist Federation, the only organisation mentioned in the Balfour Declaration, and to stand and sing the Hatikvah together was very moving indeed.
And I think that one of the reasons why it was so significant was a sense that, the mission is not yet fully over. Sadly, 95 years after the Balfour Declaration, 64 years after the establishment of the State of Israel that goal …to be a free people in our land still needs work to be fully realised.
It’s not easy to be an advocate for Israel in the current climate. There are many misconceptions and beyond that the reality itself is very complicated. There’s an old Jewish story that dates from the time of the emancipation, when the Jewish world first started opening up to Western culture and it tells of a Jew from the shtetl who went to visit one of the big cities and when he came back to the shtetl all the other Jews gathered around him and said, “What did you see there?” And he said, “I saw some amazing things. I saw a Jew who was a great Talmudic scholar and I saw one who was a complete heretic. I saw somebody who was a wealthy capitalist and I saw somebody who was a radical revolutionary. I saw a soldier and I saw a poet.” The villagers were disappointed. They said, “But we have all of those people here in our shtetl.” And he says, “But you don’t understand, they were all the same person!” And I think when we look at Israel today it can be confusing. Are we talking about a land of high tech innovation or are we talking about thousands of people in the streets campaigning for social justice? Are we talking about an embattled Island in the Middle East or are we talking about the people who are first on the ground to help after disasters in Haiti? Are we talking about the land of archaeology, theology or technology? And the answer, of course, is that’s its all of these things. But it’s a complex image to convey and when I speak to organisations and groups involved in advocacy for Israel the recurrent theme is that we need to give context; we need to give new answers and convey the complexity and, of course, they are right.
But there are also situations when what we need is actually forceful moral clarity - When we see the unspeakable hatred in Toulouse this week; when we hear European leaders who are incapable of distinguishing between that brutal terrorism and Israel defending itself from missile attacks from Gaza which it pulled out of every inch should be urging of the international community.
When we look at the situation in our region, we see the massacres and the torture and then we see the Human Rights Council in Geneva that is convinced the core of all the ills of our region is building homes in the West Bank. Then we need unambiguous clarity. We need the moral force epitomised in people like General Elyezer Shkedy, a true modern hero of the people of Israel and expressed by Miri Eisen, truly one of the most powerful and humane voices of the soul of Israel. And then we need the conviction that enables us to tell the simple and powerful truths. And it is harder to think of a voice that does this more clearly and more resiliently then the voice of the ZF. Thanks to the leadership and the passion of your remarkable Chairman Harvey and your equally remarkable Director Alan Aziz.
The ZF does it through its Ambassadors Programme. It does it through its European Young Leaders Programme and it does it, perhaps most of all, by the fact that whenever a voice is required, whenever it’s required that somebody stand up and speak for Israel the ZF is always there. The very first. Right on the front line. And to my mind it is absolutely no coincidence that those who are opposed to the State of Israel chose your website to attack and to hack in an attempt to silence your voice. They know where the power is. They know where the passion is and it’s truly a mark of honour and one that you should be proud of.
You know, a lot of groups supporting Israel like to quote Theodore Herzl ‘If you will it, it is no dream’ and then tend to put the emphasis on the ‘dream.’ But I think the success of the ZF is due to the fact that they put the emphasis where it needs to be; on the ‘will’. And it’s that passion and that commitment that makes you so affective. And the stronger your voice is the more you will give confidence to others to raise their voices and to say the things that they truly believe. And in doing that I think you are heir to a long standing Zionist tradition.
With Pesach approaching I cannot help but conclude by recalling Ben Gurion speaking before the Peel Commission and this is what he said, “Three hundred years ago there came to the new world a boat. And its name was The Mayflower. The Mayflower’s landing on Plymouth Rock was one of the great historical events in the history of England and the history of America. But I would like to ask the members of this Commission what date did the Mayflower set sail? How many people were on the boat? Who were their leaders? What kind of food did they eat? And yet more than 3,300 years ago long before the Mayflower our people left Egypt and every Jew in the world, wherever he is, knows what day they left and he knows what food they ate. And we still eat that food every anniversary, and we know who our leader was and we sit down and we tell the story to our children and our grandchildren in order to guarantee that it will never be forgotten. And we say now we may be slaves but next year we will be a free people.
To the ZF I say thank you for your passion. Thank you for your voice and thank you for continuing to tell that story.
25th March 2012