There is a price Israel and India pay for being two pluralistic democracies with proud pasts who openly embrace the future. Our two countries are attacked by radical terrorists who think that our freedoms threaten them and their world views.
Following is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the special Knesset session in Honor of President of India Pranab Mukherjee:
Welcome to Israel and to Jerusalem. This is an historic visit. For the very first time, an Indian President has come to Israel – the president of the largest democracy in the world coming to the only democracy in the Middle East. We are all impressed, Mr. President, by the changes India is undergoing in the last few years – its growing economy, hundreds of millions leaving the cycle of poverty, extraordinary development.
India is a vast country and Israel is a tiny country, but together we are doing very big things – in science, technology, commerce, cyber, agriculture, energy, water and also in security.
The new world is changing at a speed unprecedented in human history and it presents us with huge potential and diverse partnerships. Mr. President, the future belongs to those who demonstrate their ability to invent and innovate, and both our peoples excel in that. We are working together to realize this innovative potential to improve well-being and bring prosperity to our countries – much more well-being, much more prosperity, because the potential is absolutely limitless.
The differences between India and Israel in size and population are enormous, but at the same time there are obvious similarities that bind us together. The first such connection is cultural. Our two cultures are among the most ancient cultures in the world, and that is the true foundation through which we embrace the future together. They are cultures built on philosophy, wisdom, literature, the pursuit of truth and the quest for the secret of life and the secret of the universe.
My late uncle Elisha Netanyahu, who was a mathematics professor at the Technion, used to talk admiringly about the genius of Indian mathematicians. We, the Jews, have Einstein. He was a physicist. You, the Indians, have Ramanujan and other mathematicians and physicists.
Long before our countries gained independence from British rule at more or less the same time, there were those among us who were fascinated by the other’s culture and the other’s efforts to gain independence, which you took part in, Mr. President. As early as 1930, our first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, spoke about the great desire of the peoples of India for independent national and political expression – and on the other side, the famous Indian poet Tagore, the 1913 Nobel Prize laureate for literature, declared that Zionism was one of the foundations of world peace and justice. Tagore saw our people as a bridge between East and West, concurring with the Father of Zionism, Herzl, who emphasized that the Jewish state would function as a bridge between Asia and Europe, which is actually happening today.
The second connection between us is our commitment to democracy. Democracy is not only a form of government; it is a way of life and expresses the deeply-held values of freedom and opposing tyranny. Indeed, even in the face of the great challenges of fanaticism and war and terrorism that have befallen both countries, Israel and India have maintained exemplary democracies for seven decades.
And Mr. President, you are very knowledgeable about the complications related to democracy. We had a chance to talk a little in the office of the Speaker. You also served as Minister of Finance, and certainly anyone in this house who has been a minister of finance is familiar with the difficulties and stumbling blocks in any democratic process. Democracy is sometimes frenetically dynamic and some say it is not effective. I say it is the most effective system of management for small nations and big nations alike, as it channels the creative agency in each and every citizen; and it allows for solving disputes through discussion and debate and ultimately at the ballot box.
This cultural democratic connection between us is a very powerful bond. But there is a third connection too, which you referred to, and that is the technological-scientific connection. When I was studying at MIT in the USA, I met many students from India and was impressed by their talent and skill. Finance Minister Kachlon just told me that when he attended a course not far from there, at Harvard University, seven of every ten professors were Indian. I have heard that in certain areas of Silicon Valley one can hear two main languages – Hebrew and the various dialects of Hindi, and every once in a while one can hear some English too. This is of course hyperbole, but the point is that the time has come for our technologists and entrepreneurs, not only in academia, to meet each other much more often, not in California, but in our own countries, in our Silicon Wadi and in your Bangalore.
Mr. President, as you mentioned, we are promoting Israel as the leading country in cyber security. We are creating a very large center; it is already open and is still being built in Be’er Sheva, at Ben Gurion University, with an industrial park to which all the biggest companies in the world are coming. We would be very happy, Mr. President, if Indian mathematicians and entrepreneurs would come and collaborate with us in this Silicone Valley, and I promise to send reciprocal delegations to Bangalore. This is extremely important.
The Prime Minister of India, my friend Narendra Modi, and I have agreed on economic and technological cooperation between Israel and India on an unprecedented scale, and it is taking place already. First and foremost is implementing the Four-Colour Revolution which he has set as a national objective – the four colors of the Indian flag: orange for solar energy, green for agricultural development, white for the development of the dairy industry and blue for improving water quality.
Prime Minister Modi told me – we speak on the phone frequently and we met recently at the UN – he told me in our latest conversation: “We want Israel.” He said: “We cannot implement the Four-Colour Revolution without you.”
Mr. President, I take this as a huge compliment for our country. Israel is happy to get on board with this project. We have a sunny country and we are developing advanced solar systems. The invention of drip irrigation has enabled us to irrigate arid areas and successfully fight desertification. We have agricultural innovations that help us increase crop yields and improve their quality. The average yield of an Israeli dairy cow is the highest in the world – more than a Dutch cow, a French cow or any other cow. We have built huge desalination plants, which are dramatically improving our water economy in general and in arid areas in particular.
Mr. President, our output from rainwater is down by half; in our 67 years of independence, our population has grown tenfold; our GDP per capita is 40 times higher; but we do not have a water problem – we’ve solved it by recycling water and using other technologies in which we are leaders, and we will gladly give India these technologies to use.
Mr. President, there is a price Israel and India pay for being two pluralistic democracies with proud pasts who openly embrace the future. Our two countries are attacked by radical terrorists who think that our freedoms threaten them and their world views. The plague of terrorism is a challenge that your country and our country have been dealing with for many years. We face it alone and sadly together, like when the horrific terrorist attack took place in Mumbai seven years ago, and the Chabad House was one of its targets.
Murderous terrorism, which targets innocents, has no moral justification. It should be fought with all our might, and that is what we are doing now at a time when Israel’s citizens are being attacked by incited rioters. While we strive for coexistence and peace, I would say that in order to achieve coexistence and peace, we must make it clear to our enemies that terrorism will not defeat us, it does not pay, not even suicide terrorism. Therefore, we decided at the Cabinet meeting yesterday that in addition to demolishing the homes of terrorists, we will not allow new houses to be built where houses were torn down. We will confiscate the property of terrorists who have carried out attacks. We will revoke permanent residency status from terrorists and we will use IDF soldiers to reinforce police forces in cities and along roads. This is our duty as a responsible leadership to stand strong when faced with terrorists who have no qualms about taking human life.
In addition, we will fight the inciters who spread blood libels to provoke murderous attacks against us. They are doing this increasingly over the internet. The massive wave of fundamentalism that is flooding the Middle East and the entire world is aggravated by the link between radical Islam and Facebook. Ignorance, the return to early Medievalism, meets technology and harnesses it for its needs. This is how hordes of youngsters are swept up in the murderous and distorted delusions of ISIS, and this is how hordes of Palestinian youngsters and children are swept up in the murderous and distorted delusions of the radical Islamists around us and unfortunately among us, who spread fabrications, like that we want to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque or disturb the status quo on the Temple Mount. That is a lie, and a big one at that. We are the ones who faithfully protect the sacred sites of all religions, in Jerusalem and anywhere else in our country.
We respect all religious beliefs, just as in India people of many different beliefs coexist, and any effort you make to safeguard mutual respect is made by us as well. But when religious incitement ignites a religious conflagration, and the gospel of fundamentalism inspires horrible violence, we must say “no more.” We will not allow the radicals to destroy what was built over generations through hard work. I can see the efforts by the heads of local councils, public leaders in the Israeli Arab population who are trying to restore coexistence. It is not quite enough yet, but they bravely stand up and they have started to say: “Don’t destroy our country, don’t ruin the coexistence”.
I appreciate what I hear and I hope, for the good of everyone, that we will hear more of it because religious fanaticism has been eroding the entire Middle East over the last few years. It is pulling countries apart, triggering massacres of hundreds of thousands of people and the exile of millions, and it is important to fight against it in any way possible. Fanatics are destroying ancient cultural treasures and historical sites that have stood for decades and millennia. Imagine, Mr. President, that someone would maliciously ruin the famous temples of India or the Taj Mahal. This is what is actually happening all around us.
And in the face of this wave of mass murder that is washing over our region, Israel is an island of stability even during this time of turbulence. We are facing terrorism, we are facing ongoing threats to annihilate our country, and we will overcome. They will not accomplish what they seek. We are determined to respond.
Mr. President, the terrorists are trying to do all they can to thwart any effort to reach reconciliation and to restart the peace process. I am telling you: Israel wants peace. I want peace. I want renewed peace talks with our Palestinian neighbors immediately, with no preconditions. And it will be a difficult negotiation because in order for us to achieve peace, terrorism must stop and we must have real security arrangements on the ground. Above all, in order for us to achieve peace, the Palestinians will finally have to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a nation state. They want us to recognize their nation state, they should be so kind as to recognize ours. The peace we wish for must be a real peace, a secure peace and an everlasting peace.
Mr. President, I know that you share our desire for peace and security, and I must tell you that we feel the great empathy and affection India has for the Jewish people. The wonderful Bnei Menashe people, whose members have come and are coming from India to Israel, serve as a living bridge between us, and with their love for Israel and their great humility and through impressive efforts, they are absorbed into Israeli society, but they also create that living bridge between our two peoples.
As you know, India is a favorite destination for Israeli backpackers. Tens of thousands of Israelis visit India every year, mostly newly discharged IDF soldiers, but also many adults and entire families. And there are entire villages in India where the signs are in Hebrew, helping these tourists feel more at home. They come home captivated by your country, which is characterized by cultural richness and infinite sights and colors.
But there is one event related to these tourists that symbolizes the special bond that is becoming ever stronger between India and Israel. During the recent earthquake that struck Nepal, it was India and Israel that sent the largest search-and-rescue delegations to help the Nepalese people during its time of need. Not only did we send search-and-rescue teams, but they worked in cooperation. I telephoned my friend Prime Minister Modi to thank him for his cooperation. He provided aircrafts and airports for our teams’ use. And he told me something very important: “I see the cooperation between us, between India and Israel, for the benefit of the Nepalese people, as a shining example of friendship between nations.”
Distinguished President, I see your visit to Israel as an historic milestone in the advancement of the friendship between our two nations. This is demonstrated in everything I have described; it finds expression in the shift in India’s traditional voting pattern in international forums which conveys what is actually taking place between our peoples, between our governments, between our countries. This can be not only a shining example of friendship between nations, but also a sign for the future – what goodwill, human genius and the mobilization of nations can do for the benefit of all humanity.
Welcome to Israel,
Welcome to Jerusalem,
Welcome, our true friend.