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Remarks by Secretary Cohen at Dinner hosted by Minister Mordechai, Israel

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 20, 1998 12:00 PM EDT
The Knesset, Jerusalem, April 20, 1998
at Dinner Hosted by Israeli Minister of Defense Yitzhak Mordechai

COHEN: Minister Mordechai, Kochi, Ambassador Walker, distinguished guests: As many of you may know my father was a baker, so let me say: "Baruch Ata Adunei Aluheinu Melekh Haolam Hamotzeh Lechem Mi Ha'aretz." (Applause)

Now there are so many people that I recognize here tonight that I met so many years ago, Moshe Arens, that we first met back in the mid-70's, Shimon Peres, about the same time, and Natan Sharansky, later when you came to Washington. There are so many individuals that I recognize and have had such admiration for this evening. But I might say, in addition, Ariel Sharon -- as a matter of fact when he was Minister of Agriculture, I never understood what he was growing -- (laughter) but I met him when he was Minister of Agriculture. But if I were a rich man, I would have invited Haim Topol -- but since I am not a rich man, I called upon one of the most powerful men in Israel to do the work for me, and thanks to the intervention and the Minister of not Defense -- but offense - - my friend Yitzhak. We now have Topol who is here this evening, and it is special. It is special because my wife Janet interviewed him back in 1972 when she was just five years' old. I am lying at least a little bit. But she, I think, was his very -- her very first interview when she was a television personality in the city of Chicago and we happened to be mentioning your name today as we were coming from Yad Vashem and Minister Mordechai intervened immediately, got on the phone and here you are. So I need not be a rich man to have you here this evening but we are delighted to see you.

Ten days ago, the Jewish people everywhere gathered in celebration of the Passover. Children began their Seder by asking the proverbial question: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Well, tonight we gather amidst another celebration where one might ask, "why is this year different from all other years?" The answer is that each month begins and brings another anniversary and another reminder how fifty years ago the courage and the vision of spirited souls gave rise to a new nation called Israel. I sensed that spirit just a few hours ago when I laid a wreath at the grave of Prime Minister Rabin and I walked among the headstones of Mount Herzl, that sacred shrine of Israel's soul. And at Yad Vashem I sensed the memory of those who Israel remembers this week and of those who, after enduring the darkness of the sho'a braved their way to the light of Israel. One can sense the founding spirit throughout Mount Herzl and the hilltop tomb of Theodore Herzl himself overlooking the land that he envisioned for his people. One can sense it at the graves of the statesmen who built Herzl's dream into a nation. The comrades and the contemporaries of Weizman and Begin and Yadin and Ben Gurion. Finally, one can sense it at the graves of all of the brave soldiers who have served that nation with honor.

Another brave soul who has served his country with honor is the soldier turned statesman, who hosts us this evening: My friend Yitzhak. Our friendship is just another flower rising from the roots that began forming 11 minutes after Israel declared Independence -- when the United States became the very first nation to recognize her. For one of my predecessors, Clark Clifford, the recognition symbolized everything that America should represent. And for President Truman it was simply the right thing to do because he said everyone else who has been dragged from his country has someplace to go back to. Indeed, the people of Israel have had much to lose if they did not succeed. That's why the Israelis fought as hard and with such ferocity and courage once independence was declared. As Golda Meir said: "It's very simple; we have nowhere else to go." Golda Meir's resting place like so many on Mount Herzl is topped by the stones left by admirers and friends and family. I think those stones are a fitting tribute for like the legacy of those who rest there in the grateful nation they served, stone is forever. Stone endures the heavens, the hells, the extremes, the hottest fires, the most bitter frost. Like Jacob's pillar of stone in the Torah, it makes the best foundation.

A year ago this month when I began my friendship with Yitzhak, I quoted for him the American Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior, who said that a thought is often original, even though you uttered it a hundred times. Many more than a hundred times in those fifty years, America and Israel have stood together and we have uttered them. Tonight, I would like to utter it again: That America's commitment to the safety and the security of Israel is like Jacob's pillar of stone. It is the foundation of our partnership, strong and sturdy, unshakable and unending. This thought always seems to strike the ear, however, as original. But although times and circumstances continue to change, what has not changed is the Israeli-American friendship. It is built upon our common bonds, it is vested in our common values, and it's carried on by our common commitment to a just, lasting, comprehensive and secure Middle East peace.

Truly, the struggle for Israel's lasting independence and security did not end when the guns fell silent back in 1949. So, as we face the challenges ahead, we need to remember that we can only ring the bells of the future with the ropes of the past, and that our dreams of peace and security for Israel can only be achieved through determination and bravery. And it will take the same kind of determination that the world witnessed fifty years ago when the settlers from Dagania in the north and Yad Mordechai in the south stood up against overwhelming odds. It will take the kind of bravery that we saw when Israeli soldiers triumphed atop Ammunition Hill, or when they raised Israel's flag above today's Eilat. It will take the virtues captured by Jonathan Netanyahu in a letter to his brother Benjamin when he wrote: "Don't forget -- strength, justice, and staunch resolution is on our side, and that's a great deal."

And finally, lasting peace and security will also make the American-Israeli partnership a partnership not only of history, but one of the heart. It's a partnership that is captured in the verse that both hallows Israel's 50th jubilee year and that is also emblazoned on America's liberty bell: ' Proclaim liberty throughout the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof.' So yes, this year is different from all the others, and as I thought on how I might express my sentiments on this occasion, I wandered back to a famous passage written by Thuccides, an ancient Greek historian almost 2500 years ago, in which he describes the funeral oration of Peracles paying tribute to Athens. If you simply replace the word "Athens" with "Israel," it is remarkable how true the words still ring today line after line. So in the celebration of Israel's Independence, let me pay tribute to my host and the State of Israel with these timeless words of Thuccides: "Fix your eyes on the greatness of Israel as you have it before you day by day. Fall in love with her and when you feel her greatness remember that this greatness was one by those with courage, with knowledge of their duty, with a sense of honor in action. So they gave their bodies to the commonwealth and received each for his own memory praise that will never die. And with it the grandest of all sepulchers, not that in which their mortal bones are laid, but a home in the minds of men with their glory, remains fresh to stir it to speech or action as occasion comes by. For the whole earth is a sepulcher of famous men and their story is not graven only on stone over their native earth, but it lives on far away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men's lives. For you, now it remains to rival what they have done, and know the secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is a brave heart.

Shalom, and to the Jubilee, Le'Haim.