CAMERA honors The Friends of Israel Initiative

FOII’s Chairman José María Aznar received the CAMERA’s Emet Award in New York on April 10th. The Chairman reviewed the important events that have taken place in the Muslim world in the past few months.

2011-04-10 by José María Aznar

It is a real honour to be here representing the Friends of Israel Initiative, together with Ambassador John Bolton and Italian representative Fiamma Nerestein, both very good friends and a good representation of who we are.

It is an honour to be presented with a recognition award for the work we have been doing and, I hope, for the work we will be doing in the future. And I accept it with humbleness and great pride. Thank you very much.

Almost a year ago I called upon a number of friends, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lord Trimble of Ireland, the former Czech President and hero Vaclav Havel, the former President of Peru –currently running again– Alejandro Toledo, the former Clinton Cabinet Secretary and currently President of Miami University, Donna Shalala, and of course John and Fiamma and others, to establish a high level group to fight the growing delegitimation of Israel and to try to present the State of Israel, as I have already said, as a normal country, with all the imperfections and good things of any democratic country in the World.

We met for the first time in Paris the very same day the flotilla heading to Gaza was stopped by Israel’s navy, and while we were signing our first statement people were demonstrating along the Champs Élysées shouting the usual slogans against Israel, its government and the Jews in general. Far from making us doubtful, we were even more convinced of the urgency of launching an initiative like ours.

The Friends of Israel Initiative, as we called it, is essentially a group of prominent figures, some former politicians, some intellectuals, some professionals and entrepreneurs, most of us not Jewish, who share the strategic vision that in defending Israel we are defending the West. We are defending our way of life, our values. We are defending ourselves.

Put simply, we MUST defend Israel if we want to preserve the West as we know it.

The second main characteristic is that we are not a PR organisation. Though we believe that the feelings against Israel have reached new heights, manifesting a renewed anti-Semitism, our main target are political elites and policy. We want to have a positive influence among current decision makers, primarily in Europe but also elsewhere. As, for instance, in Latin America, where the campaign to get a Palestinian State recognised right now has been growing in strength lately.

Using our natural contacts, and engaging our peers in critical dialogue, we attempt to convey our views and encourage others to avoid mistaken political decisions. And we cannot let up. There is much to do.

Finally, we are just a group of private citizens. We do not get money from any public entity and we do not represent the views of any government, political party or politician in Israel. We rely on the generosity and support of individuals like you, and our only goal is to defend the State of Israel and its right to exist with defensible borders and to be treated in fairness.

Over the past few months we have heard less and less about Israel as the world has shifted its gaze to the upheaval gripping the Muslim world.

Nobody knows where all this will go. At one extreme of the possibilities is an Islamist take-over, reminiscent of the 1979 fundamentalist revolution in Iran, and at the other a democratic revolution and a transition to freedom, a la 1989.

I truly hope freedom will triumph. Unfortunately, as we all know, freedom is not guaranteed.

One need only look at how the events of the past few months played out to be reminded of the rightness of our cause. What stronger case could ever be made than when between Morocco and Pakistan the only island of stability, democracy and prosperity is Israel. We cannot overlook this or allow others to, because it is in these days of turbulence that it is imperative we know who our friends are.

These are times of potential promise but also of real danger to the world. Things might go in the right direction, or they could go dramatically wrong. And I fully understand the many concerns advanced in Israel about all this sudden explosion of discontent on its borders.

Consider that just as Israel is far less central to the picture these days –and rightly so, I would add– another country has also disappeared from the frame, and in this case, dangerously so: Iran.

Before the revolutionary wind shifted everyone’s attention, the international community was finally focused on Iran as the region’s major problem and destabilising factor.

Now is not the time to be distracted or to be complacent. We must make the public and our elected leaders aware that Iran is still marching steadily towards its nuclear ambitions entirely independently of what is shaking the Arab world.

In fact, according to many experts, Iran is trying to take advantage of all the unrest and uncertainties, trying to shape events through its proxies, trying to advance its influence in places like Egypt, Bahrain, Gaza and the Lebanon, and increasing the pace of its nuclear programme. All while we are looking the other way.

What would the world look like if Gaddafi had had a nuclear bomb? Who would have stopped the slaughter? What lesson do you think the Mullahs in Iran are taking in? How many of their own would they murder to stay in power if they had a nuclear bomb? Who would stop them?

We must –BEFORE it is too late–.

We must do all we can to avoid strategic distractions and the wrong decisions that could cause unmanageable problems in the future.

We from the Friends of Israel Initiative will do our best in the coming months. It is our feeling that the issues confronting Israel are not receding. Difficult times lie ahead. We are concerned that the movement in favour of unilaterally recognising a Palestinian state now, country by country –without peace, in the absence of any negotiations between the parties– is real and that this could have a clear impact on debates at the UN –perhaps not only in the General Assembly as in the past, but also, for the first time, in the Security Council.

Parallel to what is happening in the Muslim world, powerful voices will likely call for increased pressure on Israel to make major concessions –perhaps well beyond those it feels safe to make– in order to rapidly bring about any agreement with the Palestinians. Will the US Administration be able to resist such irrational pressure?

We are concerned that Israel might lack a sufficient numbers of allies in the region, in Europe and perhaps even here, to prevent some of these negative, veto-requiring scenarios from materialising.

We at the Friends of Israel Initiative will re-double our global efforts in defence of a negotiated and consensual agreement, born directly out of the parties involved. We will consistently explain that unilateral moves not only break away from and undermine the bilateral process begun nearly two decades ago, but will not only not result in peace but will create a bad precedent for other places in the region.

And we will defend the right of Israel to choose the terms of any agreement. Israel is a mature society, with strong and free institutions and a government accountable to its people. No one from the outside has more right than the Israelis themselves to decide what is best for their future, what risks they can bear when they put their children on the bus or watch them go out on Shabbat.

We will try to defend for the State of Israel what we defend for ourselves. Nothing more; nothing less. We will defend the State of Israel for ourselves. For we are one and the same.

Why?, you might ask. Why are you doing this? It is very simple: because all those who are involved in the Friends of Israel Initiative believe in Israel.

I believe in Israel. And I am not ashamed to say it.

I believe Israel is an integral part of the Western world. It might be in the Middle East, but it is not a Middle Eastern country.

I do believe that Israel has the right to exist as any other nation, and it seems to me unjust to question its existence.

I do believe Israel is a democracy like us, and it is unfair to expose only its defects.

I do believe Israel is a land of opportunities, prosperity and future, and it is unsound to present Israel exclusively as a land of conflict, instability and war.

I do believe Israel shares our same values, and so it is illogical not to defend what is ours.

I do believe the risks and threats that Israel faces are the same as those confronting us. Thus, it is not intelligent to think that we are going to get rid of them by sacrificing Israel.

That’s why I think the image of Israel usually portrayed in the media, particularly in Europe, and the treatment of Israel in many international bodies is not only deeply unjust and morally disgusting, it is a major strategic mistake.

When people are delegitimising Israel, our roots and the values of pluralism, tolerance, innovation, liberty and human dignity are delegitimised as well.

By accepting the criticism of Israel’s right to self-defence, we are allowing those same forces to undermine our own defensive capabilities –against those who seek to impose their fundamentalist way of life over all others–.

Undermining the will and capacity of Israel to resist, we are in fact fostering our own weaknesses and making our adversaries believe that they are stronger and that their sinister goals are attainable.

Fundamentally, my friends, I do believe that if we allow Israel to go down under the weight of its enemies, we all go down.

After less than a year, I’m pleased with what we have achieved and with the support we have received, but I know we can do more. There is certainly more to do. Without your support we could not be here, but with it we plan to achieve much more.

Thank you very much.

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