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Ronald Reagan Administration: Press Conference With Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel

(February 18, 1987)

President Reagan. Mr. President, Mrs. Herzog, distinguished guests, shalom [hello]. I am very pleased and honored to extend a warm welcome to you, Mr. President, and to Mrs. Herzog on this historic occasion: the first state visit ever by a President of the State of Israel to the White House. Your visit is also a special event, because it takes place during the 40th anniversary year of the independence of the State of Israel. Americans are proud, indeed, that on May 15, 1948, the United States was the first country to extend diplomatic recognition to the State of Israel. Your visit emphasizes the close and special relationship between our two countries.

Mr. President, modern Israel was born in the aftermath of the tragedy of the holocaust and the calamity of the Second World War. It was created to fulfill the longstanding dream of the Jewish people to return to the home of their biblical origins. This dream came true because of the courage and determination of the Jewish people, both those already resident in Palestine and those who survived the Nazi death camps in Europe. The hopes for freedom, for independence, for an end to centuries of persecution were instilled in the State of Israel.

Mr. President, Israel and the United States have been partners for 40 years. We are brought together by a shared commitment to democracy, to an open society, to individual achievement and economic progress, and to dignity and worth of each and every individual. And we stand together in the defense of these values against those who would destroy them. Our strategic cooperation is proof of that.

Today these values are reflected in the search for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. We share the conviction that Israel can be secure and realize its full promise and genius only when security and lasting peace are achieved. The United States remains undeterred in the quest for such a peace, a negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict that would assure the security and well-being of the people of Israel and its Arab neighbors. That goal will be realized when people of good will from all sides find a way to bridge a crevasse of hatred and distrust. The United States is ready, as ever, to help build that bridge.

We're encouraged by the progress that has been made in this noble endeavor. It was 10 years ago this month that President Sadat visited Jerusalem. Peace between Israel and Egypt created a new reality, proving that reconciliation between former enemies is possible. The past decade has shown the benefits of this peace to the peoples of Egypt and Israel. We want to work with Israel and its other neighbors to expand the horizon of peace and find a just solution for the Palestinian people. We want to see an end to the scourge of international terrorism. We want to see an end to the conflict in the Persian Gulf, and to the war between Iran and Iraq.

Mr. President, we know that the people of Israel share these desires with the people of the United States. Together we also share a commitment to create better lives for all peoples of the world. Israel has provided leadership in harnessing science and technology to human needs, as is reflected in the great strides you've made in agriculture and industry.

We're united by a common commitment to the universality of human rights. This is why America has championed the cause of Soviet Jews in their struggle for religious freedom and right, if they wish, to emigrate. We have rejoiced with you in the release of Natan Scharanskiy, Ida Nudel, Vladimir Slepak, and others. Yet we know that many others, less well-known but equally entitled to enjoy these basic liberties, remain behind, still constrained by the Soviet system. I pledge to you that we will persevere in our efforts to persuade the Soviet Union to meet its international obligations under the Helsinki accords not just to Soviet Jews but to all the citizens of the Soviet Union.

Mr. President, we cannot meet on this day without noting the special significance it has for the Jewish people. On November 10th, 1983, a half-century ago—1938, I should say, a half century ago, the Nazis let loose a reign of terror against the German Jewry that is remembered as the infamous "crystal night." And on November 10th, 1975, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed an obscene resolution equating Zionism and racism. Both of these ugly actions share a common denominator: anti-Semitism; but there is a major difference between them. In 1938 the State of Israel did not yet exist. In 1975 a proud and resolute Israeli Ambassador rose up in the United Nations to uphold the honor of Israel and the high principles on which the United Nations is founded.

The Ambassador, of course, was you, sir, and it will always be a source of pride for all Americans that on that day our own Ambassador to the United Nations stood squarely at your side. That's how it was, Mr. President, and that's how it will be. For the people of Israel and America are historic partners in the global quest for human dignity and freedom. We will always remain at each other's side.

Mr. President, it is a special honor and privilege to welcome you to the White House.

President Herzog. Mr. President, as I stand here on this momentous occasion, I can sense the movement of the wings of history. I arrive here on the occasion of the 40th anniversary year of our establishment as a free and independent state, an event which righted an historic wrong to our people over the centuries.

Surely, Mr. President, at moments such as these, words are inadequate in which to express the sense of gratitude which the citizens of Israel feel towards this great country for its ongoing support in our struggle.

Like the United States, our small country, too, acquired its independence in bloody battle and gained its strength by providing a haven for the poor, the downtrodden, and the homeless. Despite the enormous differences in size and population, we are bound together in a partnership of such profound significance, a partnership which transcends the normal friendship existing between friendly nations. For ours is an alliance born of an identity of purpose and the principles of democracy, which are the cornerstones of our two societies.

I stand here and see the work of the hand of providence. For this year, as you have mentioned, sir, marks the anniversary—49 years ago—of the Nazi onslaught on the Jewish people in Germany in "kristallnacht," the "night of the crystals," in which synagogues throughout Germany were put to fire. The Holy Bible and the scrolls of our Holy Torah, recording the five books of Moses, bearing the message of civilization and humanity, were burned in bonfires, ignited by barbarians outside the burning synagogues. The streets of Germany were covered in a film of crystals, created by the broken glass of Jewish synagogues, schools, homes, and stores, marking the headlong rush of Europe toward the abyss which led to the darkest years of the eclipse of civilization. In those nightmare years, one third of the Jewish people were destroyed in the most terrifying holocaust ever seen in the history of mankind.

I stood moments ago and received the honors accorded me as the head of the State of Israel and thought of the day of infamy at the United Nations 12 years ago today. I had the privilege then, as you mentioned, sir, of defending my people against the scurrilous and despicable attack on Zionism, which was mounted by a contemptible coalition of totalitarian states not only against our small country but against all that the Jewish people and their traditions stand for in human dignity and experience.

As one recalls these events which occurred on this very day, on this solemn and moving occasion marking the first State visit from an Israeli head of state to the United States of America, with all that it implies, the significance of the reemergence of Israel must surely be in the forefront of our consciousness.

Mr. President, at this moment, as I stand here as the President of a country born of the prayers of a nation over the centuries and a 2,000-year-old struggle against adversity, and view this event in its true perspective against the background of our long history, I cannot but give expression to the age-old Jewish prayer: "Thanks to the Almighty for having kept us alive and maintained us to reach this time."

Mr. President, Israel has been devoted to the cause of peace since we held out our hand to our Arab neighbors in our declaration of independence, and has over the years exerted every effort to achieve it. Under your inspired leadership and with the active support of your administration, we continue these efforts to achieve the peace for which we, and I believe all the peoples in the Middle East, yearn.

Ten years ago next week, we crossed a major watershed with the historic arrival of President Sadat in Jerusalem and the enthusiastic and warm welcome accorded him by the then Government of Israel, by the Knesset, and by the people of Israel. That visit led, thanks to the active involvement in subsequent negotiations of the President and the administration of the United States, to the first peace treaty signed by Israel with an Arab State—indeed, a leading State in the Arab world. That treaty, which concluded the first phase of the peace-making process in the Middle East, was signed here on this very site. Israel is prepared, as you are well aware, Mr. President, to move forward with your involvement to a further phase of this process.

I thank you, Mr. President, for your invitation and your welcome. I come to you representing a friend and an ally. Our two peoples are committed to the same principles and values which our Bible gave to the world. We acknowledge and appreciate the generous support of the American people extended to us in the mutual interest of our two countries to ensure the advancement of the cause of peace and stability in our area and, indeed, the peace of the world.

Your aid maintains the strength of a close ally which is committed to the defense of the cause of freedom and democracy in an area in which the longest war in this century is taking place, a brutal, bloody war fired by the fanatic extremism of religious fundamentalism which threatens the stability of so many countries in our area. A glance at the map of our area and a realization of the implications of the waves of fanaticism which are sweeping across it must surely give added emphasis to the significance of your alliance with Israel, with all that it implies.

Mr. President, on behalf of the people of Israel, I salute you, the leader of the free world, and Mrs. Reagan, and I extend to the people of the United States of America our prayers and profound wishes for the welfare of this great people and this unique country.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Sources: Public Papers of the President