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Ronald Reagan Administration: Speech to B'nai B'rith

(September 6, 1984)

Thank you. Max Fisher, if I'd be really smart, I'd just sit down and leave your introduction do it, and I wouldn't speak. I thank you very much. He's a longtime friend.

And I thank all of you. It's a deep honor for me to speak to you, the members of one of the oldest and largest Jewish organizations in America. For more than 140 years, B'nai B'rith has sponsored religious, cultural, and civic programs, conducted studies of vital issues, combated bigotry, and worked tirelessly to advance the cause of tolerance and humanity. And because of your efforts, today our country has a bigger heart, a deeper sense of the generosity of spirit that must always define America. And on behalf of all Americans, I thank you.

Four years ago, as a private citizen, I argued that the strength and well-being of the United States and Israel are bound inextricably together. ``No policy,'' I asserted, ``no matter how heartfelt, no matter how deeply rooted in the humanitarian vision we share, can succeed if the United States of America continues its descent into economic impotence and despair.''

Well, today, as President, I come before you to report on the progress that we've made together during these past 4 years. Once again, I want to talk about American policy toward Israel -- today's new policy of deepened friendship and strengthened support. But first, permit me to share with you my view of how working together the American people have replaced our own nation's descent into impotence and despair with the rebirth of freedom, prosperity, and hope.

Four years ago, we saw the first years of back-to-back, double-digit inflation since World War I. The prime interest rate was rising sharply, and in December 1980 it reached a point not seen since the Civil War. In just 4 years, taxes roughly doubled, and average monthly mortgage payments more than doubled, and the real after-tax income of the average American actually began to decline. It all added up to the worst economic crisis our country had faced since the Great Depression.

In foreign affairs we had lost the respect of friend and foe alike, and our willpower had grown weak and soft, undermining commitments to allies like Israel. Our leaders seemed to have lost faith in the American people and in America's future. They spoke of a national malaise. On television, we saw the Stars and Stripes being burned in foreign capitals. And from Afghanistan to Grenada, the Soviets were on the march. Seldom in all its proud history had the United States of America reached such a pathetic state of apparent impotence.

Well, today, just 4 years later, we're seeing not humiliation but well-justified pride -- pride in our country, our accomplishments, and ourselves. On the economic front, from New York Harbor to San Diego Bay, a vast and vigorous economic expansion is taking place. Inflation has plummeted to just 4 percent, and the prime interest rate has fallen by almost 9 points.

Productivity is up, consumer spending is up, housing starts are up, and take-home pay is up. Our tax rate reductions have restored incentives to the American people, and when tax indexing goes into effect this January, they'll get more help in the form of long overdue protection against the unfairness of bracket creep.

The best news of all: During the past 19 months, 6\1/2\ million men and women have found jobs that we've created -- on an average, each month, more jobs than all the Common Market countries combined created in the last 10 years. Europe is calling our success the American miracle.

Well, as we've worked to promote economic growth we've made certain that the safety net for the truly needy has remained in place. Indeed, after correcting for inflation, under our administration average food stamp payments, medicare payments, medicaid payments, have all risen. We can and are promoting economic vitality, while showing the disadvantaged genuine compassion.

On civil rights, we have enforced the law with new determination. The Justice Department, since we took office, has filed more criminal charges on civil rights violations, brought more violators to trial, and achieved more civil rights convictions than ever before. So, let no one doubt our commitment. As President, I will enforce civil rights to the fullest extent of the law.

Yet, at the same time, we remain unalterably opposed to an idea that would undermine the very concept of equality itself -- discriminatory quotas. Ours is a nation based on the sacredness of the individual, a nation where all women and men must be judged on their own merit, imagination, and effort; not on what they are, but on what they do. Now, you know, I can remember a time -- I'm old enough to remember a time -- when America did have quotas, and they were used in an attempt to make discrimination legitimate and permanent, keeping Jews and other targets of bigotry out of colleges, medical schools, and jobs. And I can't state it too forcefully: This type of thing must never happen again.

To combat crime, our administration has increased the law enforcement budget by more than 20 percent, established 12 regional drug task forces around the country, and hired more than 1,900 new investigators and prosecutors. We've also reasserted some very basic values -- values that say there is such a thing as right and wrong, that the innocent victim is entitled to as much protection under the law as the accused, that individual actions do matter, and that, yes, for hardened criminals preying on our society, punishment must be certain and swift.

And now that we're getting back to these fundamentals of our Judeo-Christian tradition, the will of the people is at last being done. In 1982 reported crime dropped 3 percent -- the first decline since 1977. And last year reported crime dropped 7 percent, and this is the first time the serious crime index has ever shown a drop for the second year in a row, and the sharpest decline in crime statistics since 1960.

In the Armed Forces, our troops have newer and better equipment, and their morale has soared as we've begun to give them the pay, the training, and the respect they've always deserved. And in foreign affairs, our country is being respected again throughout the world as a leader for peace and freedom. We've strengthened our relations with Asian allies like Korea and Japan, deepened our friendship with China. In Europe, we and our NATO allies went through months of Soviet attempts to divide us and emerged more firmly united than ever. And in Central America, we're supporting the free nations of the region against the threat posed to them by the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

In July of 1983 it was my privilege to meet a brave refugee from Nicaragua, Isaac Stavisky. He told me about the 50 Jewish families who had emigrated to Nicaragua from Eastern Europe since the 1920's, and about the tragedy that befell them. But let me read you Isaac's own words:

``Nicaraguan Jews never encountered anti-Semitism until the Sandinistas started their revolution . . . Graffiti by Sandinistas was widespread, with attacks on Jews and their religion. One was, `Death to the Jewish pigs.' In 1978 the Sandinistas sent a strong message to the entire community when the synagogue was attacked by five Sandinistas wearing face handkerchiefs. They set the building on fire by throwing gasoline in the main entrance doors, shouting PLO victory slogans and anti-Jewish defamatory language . . . Once the Sandinistas came to power . . . they moved swiftly against Jews. Jewish-owned properties were among the first to be confiscated and Jews were forced into exile.''

Permit me to add that on the first anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, Yasser Arafat visited Nicaragua and spoke these words: ``What the Nicaraguan people did in Nicaragua will be done by the Palestinians.''

Well, today some in our national life would have America take a position of weakness in Central America or, through callous indifference, withdraw from that region altogether. These politicians would give free reign to Marxist-Leninists who would persecute Central American Catholics and Jews, leaving them defenseless against Sandinista intolerance.

We stand foursquare on the side of human liberty. And I pledge to you that we will maintain that stand as long as I am in this office.

Anyone who has contemplated the horror inflicted on Jews during World War II, the deaths of millions in Cambodia, or the travail of the Mesquito Indians in Nicaragua must understand that if free men and women remain silent in the face of oppression we risk the destruction of entire peoples. I know that B'nai B'rith has been among the most concerned of the groups advocating American support for the Genocide Convention. With a cautious view, in part due to the human rights abuses performed by some nations that have already ratified the documents, our administration has conducted a long and exhaustive study of the convention. And yesterday, as a result of that review, we announced that we will vigorously support, consistent with the United States Constitution, the ratification of the Genocide Convention. And I want you to know that we intend to use the convention in our efforts to expand human freedom and fight human rights abuses around the world. Like you, I say in a forthright voice, ``Never again!''

Now, there's one final aspect of our national renewal that I must mention: the return that millions of Americans are making to faith -- faith as a source of strength, comfort, and meaning.

This new spiritual awareness extends to people of all religions and all beliefs. Irving Kristol has written, ``the quest for a religious identity is, in the postwar world, a general phenomenon, experienced by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. It does not seem, moreover, to be a passing phenomenon, but rather derives from an authentic crisis -- a moral and spiritual crisis as well as a crisis in Western, liberal-secular thought.''

In our country, Kristol asserts, ``Ever since the Holocaust and the emergence of the state of Israel, American Jews have been reaching toward a more explicit and meaningful Jewish identity.'' And according to Rabbi Seymour Siegel of the Jewish Theological Seminary, this trend among American Jews is illustrated by a growing interest in Jewish history and the Hebrew language, and by the rise of -- and I hope I get this right -- Baal Teshuva movement -- a powerful movement of Jews, young and old, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed, returning to the ancient ways of the faith.

As Americans of different religions find new meaningfulness in their beliefs, we do so together, returning together to the bedrock values of family, hard work, and faith in the same loving and almighty God. And as we welcome this rebirth of faith, we must even more fervently attack ugly intolerance. We have no place for haters in America.

Well, let me speak plainly: The United States of America is and must remain a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. Our very unity has been strengthened by this pluralism. That's how we began; this is how we must always be. The ideals of our country leave no room whatsoever for intolerance, anti-Semitism, or bigotry of any kind -- none. The unique thing about America is a wall in our Constitution separating church and state. It guarantees there will never be a state religion in this land, but at the same time it makes sure that every single American is free to choose and practice his or her religious beliefs or to choose no religion at all. Their rights shall not be questioned or violated by the state.

During the dark days of World War II, legend has it, an event took place that I believe is a timeless symbol of regard for our fellow men that true tolerance and brotherhood demand. Soon after the Nazis invaded Denmark in 1940, they published an edict that all Jews identify themselves by wearing an armband showing the Star of David. Well, the next day the Christian King of Denmark appeared in public. He was wearing a Star of David. I was told on my one visit to Denmark there, that after he had done that every citizen of Denmark, from then on, appeared in the streets wearing the Star of David.

We in America have learned the lesson of the Holocaust; we shall never allow it to be forgotten. Oppression will never extinguish the instinct of good people to do the right thing.

In America, Jew, Christian, Muslim, believers of all kinds, and nonbelievers, too -- as George Washington wrote to a Jewish congregation in Rhode Island -- each ``shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.''

A renewal of faith and confidence, a resurgent economy, a rebirth of strength and purposefulness in our foreign relations -- yes, we Americans have made a new beginning, just as 4 years ago I said that we must. And this new beginning is good not only for us but for our allies. And now, it is to our relations with Israel that I would like to turn.

The first step in understanding American-Israeli relations is to recognize our common values, aspirations, and interests. This has fundamental consequences for our diplomacy in an environment of widespread hostility to Israel. Nowhere does this hostility appear more clearly than in that international institution that should be a citadel of good will, but that all too often becomes a platform for propaganda -- the United Nations. From the 1970's on, the United Nations has too often allowed itself to become a forum for the defamation of Israel.

In 1975, for example, the United Nations Third Committee proposed an anti-Semitic resolution that condemned Israel as racist. The American delegate, Leonard Garment, objected forceably, arguing that the resolution used the word racist not as a term for ``a very real and concrete set of injustices, but merely an epithet to be flung at whoever happens to be one's adversary.'' Those were his words.

Nevertheless, the resolution passed by 70 votes to 29, with 27 abstentions. The resolution then went to the United Nations General Assembly which ratified it by a vote of 72 to 35. The words that our Ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, spoke at that moment of shame were forthright and courageous. ``The United States rises to declare before the world that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, and it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.''

Well, sadly, in the years thereafter the United States did not always give Israel such steadfast support. American policy toward Israel was often weak and muddled. It reached a low point on March 1, 1980. That day the American delegate to the United Nations actually voted in favor of a resolution that repeatedly condemned Israel. Some 48 hours later, President Carter disavowed the vote and announced to the press that it had all been a mistake -- a bad mistake. And it certainly had.

Well, since taking office our administration has used every effort to reaffirm before the world our unwavering support for the State of Israel. And in the United Nations, our stand has been made unmistakable by our Ambassador and your good friend, Jeane Kirkpatrick. Just 3 weeks ago at the United Nations Population Conference in Mexico City, we joined Israel in opposing and voting against a resolution that attacked the State of Israel. And let me make it plain to the friends and enemies of Israel alike that what Max Fisher just told you is absolutely true and still the policy of this Government, and that if ever expelled, yes, Max, and all of you, we walk out together with Israel.

In concrete terms, our administration has strengthened the American-Israeli alliance in three crucial ways. First, we have upgraded and formalized our strategic cooperation. For the first time in history, under our administration, the United States and Israel have agreed on a formal strategic relationship. The American-Israeli Joint Political-Military Group has already begun regular meetings. Together, we're developing plans for joint efforts to counter the Soviet threat to our mutual interests in the Middle East.

Recently, we renewed an American-Israeli memorandum of agreement that provides for cooperation in military research and development, procurement, and logistics. Under the terms of the agreement, the United States has already purchased Israeli-manufactured radios, remotely piloted vehicles, antitank weapons, and components for sophisticated aircraft. We, in turn, are making available the latest technology for the development of the Israeli-designed LAVI fighter aircraft and for a new class of missile attack boat, the SAAR 5.

Second, we've markedly increased our economic assistance to Israel. From 1981 to 1984, we provided Israel with aid amounting to nearly $9\1/2\ billion, more than has been provided by any previous administration over a comparable time. Just as important, we have restructured the form of our assistance. Indeed, in 1985 our entire $2.6 billion in aid to Israel will take the form not of loans, but of grants.

And third, we have begun formal negotiations with Israel for a free trade area agreement. When signed and ratified, this agreement will allow the duty-free entry of Israeli products into the United States and will at the same time completely open the Israeli market to American goods. Over the past 5 years, our trade with Israel has been growing at an average annual rate of some 10 percent. This free trade agreement will enable that vital economic partnership to grow even more quickly in years to come.

These measures have made our relations with Israel closer and our friendship stronger than at any time in the history of our two nations. Indeed, Prime Minister Shamir recently described American-Israeli relations as having never been better. And that warm relationship is crucial as we strive together for peace in the Middle East. So, let me outline our work in this regard.

America's peace efforts still stand on the foundation of the Camp David accords. Those accords, which established peaceful relations between Israel and Egypt, led to the return of the Sinai to Egypt by Israel in April of 1982, and the United States was proud to play a central role in achieving this step of the Camp David process. Then on September 1st of 1982, I set forth a set of fair and balanced positions on the key issues -- issues which the negotiating parties must deal with to achieve a lasting peace. The positions I outlined included our firm opposition to the formation of any independent Palestinian state. Today those positions remain fully valid, and they represent the foundation of our continuing labors.

And let me assure you, we will never attempt to impose a solution on Israel, nor will we ever weaken in our opposition to terrorism by the PLO or by anybody else. As I said when I addressed you in 1980, terrorists are not guerillas or commandos or freedom fighters or anything else. They're terrorists, and should be identified as such. We will go on working with all our hearts to help the people of the Middle East achieve a just and lasting settlement -- a settlement that agrees, in the words of my statement of September 1982, that Israel ``has a right to exist in peace behind secure and defensible borders, and it has a right to expect its neighbors to recognize this.''

When I spoke to you 4 years ago, peace was eluding the Middle East. It still does. But now we and the State of Israel have far greater cause for hope.

Today the United States is rebuilding its defenses, and that is restoring confidence in our leadership and making the parties more willing to take risks for peace. Today the United States has re-energized its vast and productive economy, and that will help to make Israel more prosperous. And today the United States has stopped wringing its hands apologetically and once again begun to play its rightful role in the world with faith, confidence, and courage. And that means Israel can depend on us.

We who are friends of Israel may differ over tactics, but our goal remains always unchanged -- permanent security for the people of that brave State. In this great enterprise, the United States and Israel stand forever united. And as we approach the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, let us pray that the new year will be a Shanah Tovah Umetukah -- a good and sweet year for both America and Israel.

For make no mistake: In a world where so many are hostile to freedom, where millions live in poverty and oppression, those few nations who share the light of liberty must stand together. If we do not, we take the awful chance that the darkness will overwhelm us one by one. But standing together, we can pierce the darkness and shed our light over all the Earth.

Thank you. God bless you all.

Sources: Public Papers of the President