[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[April 27, 1998]
[Pages 627-630]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Reception Celebrating Israel's 50th Anniversary
April 27, 1998

    Thank you very much. Mr. President, 
Rector, all the officials of Hebrew 
University; Mr. Vice President, members of 
the Cabinet, the administration; Members of the Congress. I'd like to 
especially thank Dr. Dunn, Dr. Nyang, Dr. Schorsch, and 
Richard Dreyfuss and Linda Lavin for their wonderful contributions to this day. To 
Ambassador and Mrs. Ben-Elissar, thank you for being here. To all of our former 
Ambassadors to the United States and other distinguished guests from 
Israel, and my fellow Americans.
    I'd also like to ask that we give a special word of appreciation to 
the people who provided all that wonderful music which got us in the 
right frame of mind, Esta band. [Applause] Thank you very much. If you 
could hang around here for a month or two, I think we might get some 
things done; you'd keep us all in a very positive frame of mind.
    I am very honored to receive this degree from Hebrew University of 
Jerusalem, honored because its founders include Chaim Weizmann,

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Martin Buber, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein; honored because it is 
now one of the world's leading centers of learning and research.
    I must say, I never expected to be doing this here. Many American 
universities have satellite campuses where working people like me can 
obtain degrees at locations near their homes and offices. [Laughter] 
This is more than I ever could have anticipated. [Laughter]
    President Magidor, thank you for 
bringing this ceremony here so that those of us who cannot go to Israel 
in a couple of days may share in the celebration of this magnificent 
50th birthday.
    I accept this honor today on behalf of my predecessors, beginning 
with Harry Truman, nine American Presidents all devoted to Israel's 
security and freedom, all committed to peace in the Middle East. I 
accept it on behalf of the American people who have formed not just an 
alliance but a profound friendship with the people of Israel over these 
last 50 years.
    Today we celebrate that extraordinary 50 years. In 1948 Israel arose 
from the seeds of the Diaspora and the ashes of the Holocaust. The 
children of Abraham and Sarah, survivors of 2,000 years of exile and 
persecution, were home at last and free at last. For its founders, the 
Israeli State was, however, about even more than securing a haven for 
the Jewish people after centuries of suffering and wandering. Isaiah 
prophesied that Israel would become ``a light unto the nations,'' and 
David Ben-Gurion and his allies set out to make that prophecy come true 
by establishing a society of light, embracing what Ben-Gurion called the 
higher virtues of truth, justice, and compassion.
    Ben-Gurion believed Israel could lead the world to a better future 
by marrying the ethical teachings of the ancients with the discoveries 
of modern science. ``It is only by the integration of the two,'' he 
wrote, ``that the blessings of both can flourish.'' Of course, he also 
envisioned a third great achievement for Israel, that with strength and 
wisdom and skill, Israel would build a lasting peace with its Arab 
    As we have heard today, relations between our two nations were born 
of another leader's courage and vision. Harry Truman brushed aside the 
urgings of his advisers, as he often did, when they said go slow, wait 
and see, before offering Israel recognition. For him, supporting a 
Jewish homeland was a moral imperative rooted in his understanding of 
the suffering and dreams of the Jews from Biblical times. And as we 
learned from Richard's wonderful reading, 
it occurred just 11 minutes after Israel proclaimed independence. We, in 
becoming the first country to recognize Israel, had one of our proudest 
moments. Not only that, 50 years later, old Harry Truman looks pretty 
smart. [Laughter]
    Look what Israel has done. Under a brilliant blue sky, the Israelis 
have built prosperous farms and kibbutzes, planted forests, turned 
streets of sand into shining boulevards, raised families, and welcomed 
the arrival of brothers and sisters from Europe and North Africa, from 
Russia and Ethiopia and America. Israelis have dazzled the world with 
achievements in science and scholarship, in literature and the art. They 
have built a thriving democracy.
    And despite the passage of 50 years, Israelis seem to love and 
practice their freedom as if they had only just gained it. They never 
seem to cease challenging themselves about their history, their 
relationship with their neighbors, the hard choices for the future. If 
anyone ever wonders whether there is a place in the world where you can 
have freedom and honest, vigorous, 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week, 365-day-
a-year argument, go to Israel. [Laughter]
    It is truly one of the most pulsating, vibrant places on Earth, 
alive with thousands of sounds: prayers in dozens of languages in the 
Old City, young people gathered on the avenues of Tel Aviv, computer 
keyboards tapping, new ventures launched on the Internet, schoolchildren 
now conversing in Hebrew--once the language only of sacred text, now the 
voice of an Israeli renaissance. And the economy has been propelled by 
all this energy and activity into being one of the most advanced and 
diversified in the world; per capita income now matching nations in 
Europe; exports last year were $32 billion dollars, 1,000 times their 
level in 1948. High-tech companies, high-tech people--you go to Israel, 
it looks as if you can't be a citizen of Israel unless you have a cell 
phone glued to your hand. [Laughter]
    Yes, Israelis have gone a very long way toward fulfilling the first 
two pieces of Ben-Gurion's vision. Surely they have built an ethical, 
democratic society and a modern science- and technology-based economy. 
It has endured against great odds by prevailing again and again in 
battle--the valor of citizen soldiers and military and political leaders 
like Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yonni Netanyahu.

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    But in the battle for the third piece of Ben-Gurion's vision, a 
just, secure, and lasting peace, is still being waged--and still in 
blood and tears. Camp David brought peace between Israel and Egypt, but 
it cost Anwar Sadat his life. Here on this very spot, on a brilliant day 
in September of 1993, Yitzhak Rabin committed himself not only to an 
agreement with Mr. Arafat but to a 
comprehensive peace in the Middle East. How bravely he pursued it. But 
it cost him his life. Jews and Arabs who have wanted nothing more than 
to live quiet, normal lives are still denied that simple pleasure.
    Still, as the new century dawns, the world is filled with the 
promise and hope that we can overcome ancient hatreds to build a modern 
peace for our children. From Guatemala to Mozambique to Bosnia, and now 
even to the land of my ancestors in Ireland, longtime antagonists have 
left the battleground to find common ground. They are weary of war. They 
long for peace for their children. They move beyond hatred to hope.
    This is a time of reconciliation around the world. It must be a time 
to deepen freedom and raise up life in the Middle East. The 21st century 
can and must be a century of democracy, prosperity, and justice and, of 
course, of peace. But it can be only if we learn not only to respect but 
to honor our differences. The Middle East can build on the momentous 
achievements of its Nobel Prize winners, Begin and Sadat, 
Arafat, Peres, and 
Rabin, so that all its children may grow up without fear.
    In a land holy to three great religions, sacred sites for Islam, 
Judaism, and Christianity exist side by side. If there is so much 
history there, the children of all that history should be able to live 
    Again and again, extremists have sought to derail peace with bullets 
and bombs. Again and again, they demonstrate the real divisions today 
are not between Jews and Arabs but between those stuck in the past and 
those who long for a better future, between those paralyzed by hatred 
and those energized by hope, those who stand with clenched fists and 
those who reach out with open hands. We cannot let the extremists 
prevail. Israel can fulfill its full promise by drawing on the courage 
and vision of its founders to achieve peace with security. Never has the 
opportunity been more real, and it must not be lost.
    You know, I was sitting here on the stage today listening to 
everything that was said and thinking of all the great gifts that Israel 
has given the United States. In 1963, 35 years ago this year, when 
Israel was still a young nation and President Kennedy was killed, your 
then-United Nations Ambassador, Mr. Eban, gave an 
enormous gift to the American people in all of our pain by putting in 
one short, terse sentence how we all felt when he said, ``Tragedy is the 
difference between what is and what might have been.'' As we look ahead 
to tomorrow, let us define triumph by turning his formula on its head. 
Triumph is when there is no difference between what might have been and 
what is.
    Let us in the United States say that we will stand by Israel, always 
foursquare for its security, always together in friendship, but we want 
this debate to continue until there is no difference between what might 
have been and what is.
    We look at Hebrew University and see all three pieces of David Ben-
Gurion's dream coming to life. We see biologists developing techniques 
to locate a single cancer cell among millions of healthy ones; we see 
the moral commitment to keeping people's health among the scientists 
there; we see Hebrew University researchers undertaking efforts in 
cooperation with Palestinian researchers in East Jerusalem. One of the 
participants in the project said, ``It's science and peace together.'' 
We know that much more is possible. We must understand that much more is 
    Fifty years from now, the 21st century will near its midpoint and 
Israel will have a 100th birthday celebration. Sure as the world, our 
grandchildren will be hanging around here on this lawn. What do you 
think they'll be able to say? And what will they be celebrating? It is 
my dream that on that 100th anniversary, people from every country in 
the Middle East will gather in the Holy Land, and all the land will be 
holy to all of them.
    As a Christian, I do not know how God, if He were to come to Earth, 
would divide the land over which there is dispute now. I suspect neither 
does anyone else in this audience. But I know that if we all pray for 
the wisdom to do God's will, chances are we will find a way to close the 
gap in the next couple of years between what might be and what is. I 

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that is what we owe the founders of Israel, to finish Ben-Gurion's 
    Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:58 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Menachem Magidor, president, and 
Menahem Ben-Sasson, rector, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Rev. 
James M. Dunn, executive director, Baptist Joint Committee on Public 
Affairs; Sulayman S. Nyang, president, Interfaith Conference of 
Washington, DC; Ismar Schorsch, chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary; 
actors Richard Dreyfuss and Linda Lavin; Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. 
Eliahu Ben-Elissar and his wife, Nitza; Chairman Yasser Arafat of the 
Palestinian Authority; and Abba Eban, former Israeli Ambassador to the 
United Nations.