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Richard Nixon Administration: Toasts at a State Dinner in Jerusalem

(June 16, 1974)

Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, and all the very distinguished guests on this very great occasion:

I say it is a very great occasion, because for Mrs. Nixon and for me, for Secretary Kissinger and all of your American guests, it is a great moment for us to be entertained here in this place which means so much to this country, which has won our admiration and affection and respect over the years and also because of the very gracious and eloquent remarks that have been made by the President in proposing the toast to the President of the United States.

To President Katzir, of course, I will propose a toast in response. But it is the prerogative of presidents sometimes to break precedents. Normally, there is only one toast in an evening, particularly a state dinner.

Tonight, I would like to propose a second toast and propose it first, not in derogation of your President, but because I discussed the matter with him and have his permission.

I have had the great privilege over the past 27 years to travel to over 80 countries. I have met most of the leaders of the world. Some were called great, some near great, and some were called things much worse than that. I also have had a chance as President to meet, talk to, and evaluate most of the leaders on the current scene today and those who have been on it over the past 5 years.

And I can say to this audience here gathered in the Knesset in Israel that no leader I have met, no president, no king, no prime minister, or any other leader has demonstrated in the meetings that I have had with that leader greater courage, greater intelligence, and greater stamina, greater determination, and greater dedication to her country than Prime Minister Meir.

The President has informed me that this is the first state dinner that has been held in this room, this great hall, since she left that post, and consequently, I thought that I, having worked with her, having become her friend, and she has been my friend, that I might have the honor and the privilege to ask you to join me in a toast to the former Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Golda Meir. To Golda.

MRS. MEIR. As President Nixon says, presidents can do almost anything, and President Nixon has done many things that nobody would have thought of doing. All I can say, Mr. President, as friends and as an Israeli citizen to a great American President, thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. In responding also to the very eloquent remarks of President Katzir, it gives me an opportunity to reflect for a moment on the contribution that has been made to my country, the United States of America, by those of Jewish background. I could mention them in many fields, and the names are legion. Their accomplishments in many cases certainly exceed those of any group that we could possibly imagine. And I suppose that sometimes those who do not know America and do not know our system wonder how it happens.

We have no quota system. We don't do it because we are trying to recognize people, because they happen to represent a particular group in the society. Oh, there is some of that in politics, there always is. But just to give you an idea as to the standard that most of us, as Americans, have applied and that I have tried to apply, I recall that when I made the appointment of Dr. Kissinger as Secretary of State, much ado was made about it, and they said, "Well, President Nixon has appointed the first Jewish Secretary of State."

And I can say to this audience here, I appointed him not because he happened to be of Jewish background, I appointed him because he was absolutely the best man for the job, and he has proved to be the best man for the job.

And when we speak of the programs for peace to which the United States is dedicating itself now and to which we have been dedicated throughout this Administration, a great deal of the credit goes to this man, one who worked long and hard when he was an Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and now who works twice as hard when he holds that position and the position of Secretary of State and three times as hard since he is also now married.

The other point that I thought was appropriate to touch upon in responding to the toast by the President of Israel was for me to pay a tribute to those who have served in the armed forces of this country. I had an opportunity, as I pointed out when I arrived at the airport, to see some of them at the conclusion of the war in 1967. Some of them had been wounded and some of them, of course, most of them, were well, all of them were enormously impressive.

I saw an honor guard today, and I can see, as I look here at the present chief of staff, that the quality of the Israeli Armed Forces is as high now as it was then.

Throughout the world, Israeli soldiers, airmen, sailors have earned respect for their courage, for their discipline, and of course, for their enormous effectiveness in the battles that they have had to fight. And one of the reasons that Israel has survived is that in addition to having the arms which they have had, that they have had the personnel, the skilled personnel, the dedicated personnel, the patriotic personnel that could use those arms effectively in defense of their country.

And as I think of those armed forces and what they have done, I would like to reiterate what has been American policy not only in this Administration--it was in the previous ones and ever since Israel became a modern state, and it will be, I think, in the next Administration, whatever the outcome of the next election may be--to reiterate the fact that the United States and Israel are friends, that the United States has responded when Israel has had problems involving its defense. We have tried to respond as generously and effectively as we can.

We have known that when we have responded, that whatever help we have been able to give will be used well. And that is a tribute to the men and the women who serve in the armed forces, the men and women who led them, and certainly in this respect, Israel can be proud of those in uniform who have had to go to war too often, but necessarily, in order to see that this state survived.

Now, I suppose many of you wonder what a tribute to the Armed Forces of Israel has to do about talking concerning the Secretary of State who has worked for peace and of responding to a toast by the President of Israel which is concerned about peace.

Very simply, I would like to tell you how I felt as I drove through the streets of this city today. I saw many people, and of course, as an American I was proud to see so many with the American flags and the Israeli flags, their friendly welcome.

But as is often the case as I travel through cities with my wife and we see people along the sides of the street, knowing always that they are there not to welcome us personally so much as to perhaps to pay their respect to the great nation that we are proud to represent, what impresses me the most always are the children. They are so young, they are so full of hope, they are so full of life, and they deserve, I think, a better chance than we had, not that we have any complaints.

All of us who live in these times should recognize that whatever our hardships are, these are great times, great times because they are times in which we are changing the world, and we are changing it, we trust, for the better.

But what we are all trying to do in our governments, be they large or small, what we are all trying to do in serving our countries, whether proudly wearing the uniform or in the Foreign Service, as the case might be, or as a member of the Parliament, we are trying to create a better nation and a better world for those thousands of children we saw on the streets here, yes, and the thousands of children I have seen in the streets of Cairo, Leningrad, London, Japan--all over the world.

This may sound rather idealistic and overly simplistic, but I am convinced that what motivates the great majority of the leaders of the world today, whatever their differences may be on major matters, is a desire to have progress within their countries and is a recognition that without peace there cannot be sustained progress.

And so we now come to the problems we confront in building that kind of peace. It takes courage, and great courage, to fight in war, and we admire that courage. And I pay tribute particularly tonight to those in the Israeli Armed Forces who have shown courage far beyond the call of duty in their service to their country every time they have been called to serve.

It also takes courage, a different kind of courage, to wage peace. It requires risks, just as war requires risks, and the stakes are high, just as the stakes in war are high. And so, this is what has characterized our foreign policy which has been subject perhaps to some legitimate criticism, because we have taken risks, the opening, for example, of relations on a new basis with the People's Republic of China, not because there was any difference in our attitude toward their system of government or their attitude toward ours, but because the leaders of the People's Republic of China had one-fourth 'of all the people in the world, and unless the United States of America, as the most prosperous nation in the world today, finds a way to start a dialog with the most populous nation in the world today, 15, 20, 25 years from now, the whole human race may pay a very great price.

And so, we began. All differences are not ended. But the dialog is begun, and peace in the Pacific has a better chance to survive as a result of that risk we took.

Our dialog with the Soviet Union has been subjected, as we know, to some rather sharp criticism. It also contains risks for us, perhaps for them as well. But the alternative to negotiation, of course, is confrontation, and the alternative to talking is to return to the cold war where there would be no influence whatever of the United States on their policies, or theirs, for that matter, on ours, where they might come into armed confrontation.

And it is in that spirit that we will go to Moscow again, just a week after returning from the Mideast, on June 27, go there to continue a dialog between the two strongest nations in the world, but to continue it recognizing that under no circumstances, will we negotiate at the expense of any other nation, large or small.

We believe that is in the interest of peace, because if the two strongest nations are unable to find a way to live together in peace, uneasy, competitive, call it what you will, the chances for civilization to survive, the civilization which we feel so strongly as we stand in this place here tonight, the chance for that civilization to survive is infinitely less.

And that brings us, of course, to the area of the Mideast. I would be, as a pragmatist, and my colleague, Dr. Kissinger, also as a pragmatist, would agree that when we talk about bringing an era of peace to the Mideast, we do not consider this to be a simple task, an easy task, or even one in which the goal can surely be achieved. But we do know that we must try. We do know that we must begin. There have been four wars in a little over a generation in this area, and unless we change the situation some way, somehow, there will be another war and another one, and each one, of course, is terribly costly to the nations involved and particularly to this nation, of course, since you feel it, since you are here, and also potentially very dangerous to the peace of the world.

What is the U.S. role? Let me state it very simply: Under no circumstances does the fact that the United States is seeking better relations with some of Israel's neighbors mean that the friendship of the United States and the support for Israel is any less. What it simply means is this: We feel that if by creating a different relationship, by bringing a new element into the discussions that may take place in this area, by bringing perhaps some new ideas to the attention of those other nations in the area who have been involved in war over these past years, that there is a chance that the process that has begun, the two disengagements with which you are familiar can be and will be continued, and that eventually we can achieve the goal of a just and enduring peace for this area.

And that brings me, finally, to the leaders in this room--and they are leaders of very great quality. And if those in the diplomatic corps and those in the American community who are guests will forgive me for a moment, let me address these remarks only to those who are here from our host, from Israel. There is a new Prime Minister and a new government. I know the new Prime Minister well. He is, as we know, one of Israel's and one of the world's most famed military men. He was a man of great courage, great discipline, and unusual ability, a leader in war.

And then he demonstrated that he could be a diplomat when he came to Washington, and after having met him first briefly in 1967, I learned to know him very well when he was there serving in Washington. And now he succeeds Golda Meir as head of government of this nation. And as I think of him, I think of the members of Parliament, I think of the members of his government, there are two courses that are open to them. The one is an easy one, an easy one particularly politically, I suppose, and that is the status quo. Don't move, because any movement has risks in it, and therefore, resist those initiatives that may be undertaken, that might lead to a negotiation which would perhaps contribute to a permanent, just, and durable peace.

But there is another way. The other, I believe, is the right way. It is the way of statesmanship, not the way of the politician alone. It is a way that does not risk your country's security. That must never be done. But it is a way that recognizes that continuous war in this area is not a solution for Israel's survival and, above all, it is not right that every possible avenue be explored to avoid it in the interest of the future of those children we saw by the hundreds and thousands on the streets of Jerusalem today.

And so, for that reason, let me say that we have been honored and proud to work with Israel and to support Israel in times when Israel found it necessary to go to war.

And now, we hope and trust that this great creative ability, which is here in such great abundance in this room and in this nation, will be used to the works of peace in the same dedication as has been shown whenever war was concerned. Because with that kind of intelligence, that kind of dedication, I am confident that together we can find a way in this very difficult area of the world, where the hatreds go back over many years, where the differences seem insoluble, where nations many times are unstable, that we can find a way to build a permanent, just, and durable peace.

I would simply close my remarks on this point by saying it is more difficult, perhaps, than the opening to China was, and that was a difficult mission and venture, but worth taking the risk. It is more difficult than our bringing America's longest and most painful war to an end and bringing it to an end in the right way so that America would remain respected in the world, respected by its allies and its adversaries alike.

It is more difficult perhaps even, some would say, than the continuing dialog between the two strongest nations in the world which must go forward if we are to have any chance for a peaceful world. Here, where civilization began, we have the greatest challenge, but also the greatest opportunity to make sure that civilization continues. This is the cradle of civilization. We must make sure that it does not become its grave.

And it is that challenge that I am confident that the leaders of Israel will join with us in trying to seek those solutions to those differences which remain, so that we can build that permanent peace that we want in this area, because peace for Israel, peace for the Mideast, will mean that the whole world has a better chance for peace.

And, Mr. President, I know from having talked to you that you are dedicated to such ideals, and consequently, in proposing this toast to the people of your country, the people of Israel, I suggest that we raise our glasses to the President of Israel.

President Katzir.

NOTE; The President spoke at approximately 11:15 p.m. in the Knesset, the Irsaeli Parliament building, in response to a toast proposed by President Katzir.

President Katzir's remarks were as follows:

Mr. President, Mrs. Nixon, Secretary Kissinger, honored guests:

We meet this evening in the great hall of the Knesset, the legislative body of the State of Israel, heir to the tradition of the great Knesset of close to 2,500 years ago. The great Knesset came into being during the first return to Zion after the destruction of the first temple, and it was the great Knesset which continued the prophetic tradition and laid the foundations for the democratic life of the Jewish people. The modern Knesset, too, has come into being during a period of return to Zion, the second return, realizing the 2,000 year old dream of the Jewish people.

A generation ago, a battered people emerged from the valley of the shadow of death into the light of liberty. Here, where Jewish peoplehood was born, where our lawmakers proclaimed the Biblical ethic, where the prophets spoke their immortal message, here did we, the surviving sons of that people, rekindle the torch of national independence, thereby ending 20 centuries of exile. Israel's history records that the first country to welcome us back into the family of sovereign nations--literally 5 minutes after our declaration of independence--was the United States of America. From that day to this, a fabric of friendship has become closely interwoven between our peoples.

Mr. President, welcome to you and to all your distinguished fellow Americans who are with you.

Your presence here tonight is a magnificent personal expression of that understanding and friendship, making this an exalted moment in the history of the American-Israeli relations.

You come to an ancient land, to Jerusalem, City of David, whose Jewish memories run 4,000 years deep. You come to a small people, poorly endowed in geography, but alive with passion of creation. And whilst the differences between our countries in size and age are great, this has not hindered the intimacy of our peoples. This is surely so because our human purpose as nations rests upon deep affinities of ideals and experience.

Both our lands are built upon immigration. Our founding fathers, yours and ours, had a vision of a haven for the homeless and the helpless. At the entrance to your major harbor stands the Statue of Liberty and at the entrance to ours, a refugee immigrant barge. Both are symbols of the concept of countries built by those who entered destitute, by the oppressed and the persecuted. The American people can surely grasp the meaning of our ingathering of exiles and the intensity of our compulsion to create here, in the land of our heritage, a small place under the sun where we may live our own lives in freedom, according to our own needs, our own will, and our own choice.

We share, too, a common heritage of pioneering of the arduous fight against nature, of pushing back deserts and marsh, of sacrificing in order to build and sow and reap. Our geographies differ vastly, but not the spirit of our pioneering tradition rooted in the imagery of the Hebrew prophecy of men who "went into the wilderness, in the land that was not sown."

The edifice in which we are here assembled this evening--the Knesset--symbolizes what is most significant in our common traditions: our democracies. Their paths lead back to these ancient hills and city--holy to three great faiths--where man first proclaimed the dignity of man created in the image of God, where human life was declared a sacred absolute, where nations were urged to beat swords into plowshares, where man was enjoined to work to earn his bread but should not live by bread alone, and where the rights of all men were respected. How consciously did the American fathers of the Revolution dedicate themselves to this moral system to which the land of our ancestors gave birth. American democracy and Israeli democracy are alive and vibrant because they cling tenaciously to these eternal truths of social and international justice.

Central to our common vision is a doctrine of universal peace. You, Mr. President, have left no stone unturned in your pursuit of it. Under your leadership, the United States of America has written an impressive new chapter in the diplomatic chronicles of our times. Your very visit to our region--which is so unprecedented and which we in Israel so greatly welcome--dramatically illustrates your determination to advance the cause of reconciliation.

Peace, Mr. President, was and remains our cherished goal. We are not a martial people. Our legendary heroes are prophets and scholars. We are the authors of mankind's oldest pacific tradition. Make peace and pursue it, declared the psalmist. I can, therefore, assure you, on behalf of the government and the people of Israel, that we are eager to pursue the path of dialog and negotiations which you are endeavoring to bring about between ourselves and our neighbors.

May your effort prove to be a new and shining chapter in the 'history of our relations which stretches back to the earliest days of our struggle for freedom, of our self-defense, and of our striving to build in peace. The name of the great American people is written large in the drama of this nation's rebirth. I here must make mention of the Jewish community of the United States with whom we share profound ties of faith and spiritual attachment, a community that has generously assisted us in meeting the welfare needs of our homecoming people.

Mr. President, we have had to do so much in so little time. And while we have been building, we have had to sacrifice much to safeguard our freedom. Certainly in this we shall never falter. At the same time, in our quest for peace with security, we shall always remember the moral and material support we received from the greatest democracy in the world, the United States of America. Therefore, Mr. President, Israel salutes you. It does so in gratitude and appreciation. It does so because of your special, historic role in giving strength to an historic people. True friendship is tested in times of trial, and you, Mr. President, have demonstrated this magnificently. Your understanding, your concern, your deeds in support of our defense and our freedom have contributed greatly to the strength of Israel to defend herself through her own efforts. And a strong Israel is in itself a component of the peace and stability in our area to which your mission is dedicated.

May God grant you ultimate success in this, your great mission of peace for the sake of all the people of our region and the world as a whole.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to raise your glasses to drink to the health of an outstanding statesman and world leader whose contribution to build a better world and to bring peace has brought hope to our whole generation.

To the President of the United States of America and to the great people of America.

Lechayim U' L'shalom--all the best. Lechayim--all the best.

Earlier in the day, the President and Mrs. Nixon called on Mrs. Golda Meir at her residence in Jerusalem. Mrs. Meir was Prime Minister of Israel from March 1969 to June 1974.

Sources: Public Papers of the President