Oren Addresses Jewish Federations General Assembly

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., presented the following sppech to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federation of North America, held in Washington, DC, November 8-10.

I want to talk about the connection between Israel - about the Jewish people - and its land.  I want to talk about faith.

In his 1936 essay "Physics and Reality," the Nobel Prize laureate Albert Einstein wrote that "the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility...The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle."

Einstein was responding to the younger generation of physicists who claimed that randomness ruled the universe, that the so-called laws of nature were no more than myths.

But the debate went far deeper than a dispute over the movement of subatomic particles. It was an argument over the existence of God. The fact that light moves at a constant speed of nearly 300,000 meters per second was not accidental, Einstein reasoned.

"God," he said, "does not play dice with the universe." By the same logic, a God who fixes the speed of light also intervenes to create this planet, to encase it in oxygen, and to infuse it with life. And it follows that a God who fixes physical laws can also intercede in the course of history.

To believe in that God is to believe that human life and human history have a purpose - that we are going somewhere, often muddling, but marching nevertheless.

And perhaps the best proof of that belief is the fact that an obscure tribe of nomads living 3,000 years ago suddenly devised the notion of a single God and of universal morality.

There is the fact that these nomads became a people who conveyed these concepts to other faiths, which today account for more than half of humanity.

A fact that people's faith enabled them to survive in spite of successive expulsions and massacres.

And a fact that this people was given a land in which to realize its national destiny; and that this people longed to return to that land even when exiled.

To believe in the God of history is to believe there was a reason why a tiny remnant of this people, rising from the ashes of the world's vastest murder, returned to that land and reclaimed it; why they created a vibrant democracy and the first Jewish defense force in 2,000 years; why they revived and enriched the language with which God had first spoken to them.

Einstein understood this.

Though thoroughly assimilated, once challenged by those younger chaos-theorists, Einstein sided with God. He sided with the Jews.  "My relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human tie," he wrote. 

And Einstein became a Zionist.

He looked at the kibbutzim and the moshavim and the new Jewish city of Tel Aviv and was convinced, once again, that God was intervening in Jewish history and endowing it with meaning. "What makes me happiest," he wrote, "is the realization of a Jewish state."

Of course, the way in which God intervenes in Jewish history raises many questions.

I cannot forget the barnyard I saw at the Thereisenstadt concentration camp, the stables that during the Holocaust had been USED just as a synagogue by Danish Jews. I cannot forget the Hebrew inscription, still discernable on the wall:

Lo Shachachnyu otcha, al Tiskah Otanu. "We have not forgotten You. Do not forget us."

Living in Israel, I have lost a sister-in-law in a suicide bombing and my eldest son was wounded in battle. My family and I have lived through multiple wars.

And yet, even if we cannot understand the meaning of such suffering in God's plan, we who believe that such a plan exists have nevertheless to look at the subsequent six decades in which the State of Israel has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles - wars, embargos, terror attacks - to the point at which today, Israel is in an incalculably better geopolitical and economic situation than at any other time in its history.  

Think back to the 1948. Think back to 1967.

Still, Israel faces monumental threats to its security, if not its existence.

In addition to the terrorists who hide behind their own civilians while firing rockets at Israeli towns and villages, there is the radical Iranian regime that backs those terrorists and vows to wipe Israel off the map - an Iranian regime that is assiduously working to build nuclear weapons.

And when Israel tries to defend itself from these dangers, much of the world rushes to condemn it for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Condemnations such as the Goldstone report cast widespread doubts about Israel's legitimacy. Like Einstein, we who believe there is a purpose to Jewish history are being challenged by young people - even some Jewish youth - who say Israel's creation was random and perhaps even wrong.

As representatives of Israel, often speaking on campuses, we remind young listeners of the many times our leaders accepted a two-state solution only to have those offers rejected by the Palestinians and rejected with violence. We remind them that while we recognize there is a Palestinian people with a right to a state in their Palestinian homeland, we have difficulty finding Palestinian leaders who acknowledge the existence of a Jewish people with an historic right to a state in the Land of Israel.

We recall the Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza, which were reciprocated not with peace but with many thousands of rockets, and the numerous instances in which Israeli troops risked their own lives to minimize civilian Arab casualties.

We assert that Israel's record of human rights vastly exceeds that of any of our neighbors and that whatever shortcomings Israel does exhibit must never impugn its right to exist as a free and secure nation.

We make the case for Israel, but I cannot tell you that all of our efforts are succeeding in eliminating the unconventional weapon of delegitimization - a weapon that renders us vulnerable to economic sanctions and international isolation.

Israel can and will defend itself, be assured. We will fight the terrorists and protect ourselves from Iran. And we will resist the attempts to discredit us.

Yet, ultimately, Israel's ability to withstand the onslaught of delegitimization depends on unity among the Jewish people themselves.

Our strength stems from the belief that we are a people with an historical purpose that has led us to create vital communities throughout the world and most compellingly here, in our own nation state. 

Our strength derives from the belief that we have a right to independence in these, our tribal lands, that Jews have the right to defend themselves - to survive as Jews and as a legitimate nation.

But that right must be actively preserved - and not only by the Jews of Israel.

In Diaspora synagogues, schools, and community centers, alongside the banners demanding an end to the genocide in Darfur and efforts to combat AIDs, there must be banners declaring "Support International Sanctions" and "Stop the Iranian Bomb."

Of course, many of us will continue to have doubts arising from the Holocaust and other agonizing chapters of Jewish history.

But what ultimately binds us is the belief that, in spite of our doubts and differences, we remain a people with a land and a purpose.

What sustains us is our faith.

It's a fact. Light travels at the speed of 299,792,458 meters per second.

And it's a fact that the Jewish people have remained a people for more than three millennia, enriching the world and inspiring humanity while remaining devoted to a land that is once again home to a brave and vibrant nation.  

Finally, it's a fact that whenever Jews have remained united in their faith not only in God but in themselves, as a people, they have overcome unspeakable challenges and even flourished.

A fact that Jewish unity will enable Israel to meet the challenges to its security and legitimacy - and to join with Diaspora Jewry in building a future of spiritual richness, creativity, and peace.

Einstein understood that and so can we - with all the alacrity, and the clarity, of light.

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