Remarks at a White House Meeting With Jewish Leaders

February 2, 1983

Good morning, and please sit down. And thank you very much. I've just had the opportunity to hear from your leaders regarding the future of the Middle East and world Jewry, and I thank you all for coming to the White House today. We're honored to have you. And I want to take a few moments now, if I could, to discuss some thoughts of my own about the critical issues that we face together.

First, let me say again how honored I am that the leaders of American and world Jewry, many of you whom I've known over the years, are meeting together here.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Adolf Hitler's rise to power. It's incumbent upon us all, Jews and gentiles alike, to remember the tragedy of Nazi Germany, to recall how a fascist regime conceived in hatred brought a reign of terror and atrocity on the Jewish people and on the world, and to pledge that never again will the decent people of the world permit such a thing to occur. Never again can people of conscience overlook the rise of anti-Semitism in silence.

Americans can be proud, I think, that our government is moving forward to build a memorial in our Nation's Capital to commemorate the Holocaust. Those who perished as a result of Nazi terror, millions of individual men and women and children whose lives were taken so senselessly, must never be forgotten. I'm aware that, in April, American Holocaust survivors and their families will gather in Washington to thank our country for what it has done for them. And this gathering should touch the heart of every American.

You know perhaps better than I that the defeat of the Third Reich did not present a final triumph over bigotry and prejudice. Even today in the free world we hear of swastikas painted on synagogues, of holy books and scrolls desecrated by hoodlums, and of terrorist attacks. We see Jewish schools in Europe forced to employ armed guards to protect children, and many congregations, even in this country, hiring guards to protect worshiping during the High Holy Days. These things bear witness that the fight, even in the free world, is not yet won.

In totalitarian societies, and particularly the Soviet Union, Jews face even greater adversity. Despite the rights enumerated in the Soviet Constitution and in the Helsinki agreements, Soviet Jews are denied basic rights to study and practice their religion, to secure higher education and good jobs, or to emigrate freely. Heroic men and women like Anatoly Shcharanskiy, who openly proclaim their Jewish pride and desire to emigrate, are subjected to brutal harassment and imprisonment. But, just as Soviet Jews will not forget their own heritage nor abandon hope for freedom, we will not forget them. We will not, as the Western democracies did 4 days [decades] ago, turn a deaf ear to distant pleas for help.

There are those who suggest that a new era of improved East-West relations is possible because the new Soviet leadership shares Western tastes. Well, yes, we're told that Mr. Andropov drinks Scotch and fine French wines, and listens to jazz and rock and roll, and reads Western literature. Frankly, it doesn't appear to affect Soviet policy in Poland or Afghanistan. But make no mistake, we seek better relations with the Soviet Union. We pray for the day when all Soviet citizens will enjoy basic human liberties, improvement in that area. And the Kremlin knows this would do much better for East-West relations.

My administration has persistently maintained pressure on Soviet authorities to live up to their agreements. Specifically in the CSCE Review Conference, our representative, Max Kampelman, has continued to raise not only the emigration issue but also to challenge those Soviet internal practices which deny Soviet Jews and other citizens as well their basic human rights and violate the letter and spirit of the Helsinki Accords. Secretary Shultz has also discussed these issues with Foreign Minister Gromyko.

Those of us who believe in better relations with the Soviet Union, yet, at the same time, value freedom and human decency, we've made it plain now we want deeds, not rhetoric and repression from the new Soviet leadership. We've had enough of words. There's no better way for them to begin than by releasing the prisoners of conscience in Siberia and restoring Jewish emigration to the levels of the late 1970's. And I might add, they could give us an accounting of one of mankind's true heroes, Raoul Wallenberg.

Let me now turn to a third item that I wanted to discuss with you, the Middle East. America's commitment to Israel remains strong and enduring. And, again, I ask you to focus on deeds.

Since the foundation of the State of Israel, the United States has stood by her and helped her to pursue security, peace, and economic growth. Our friendship is based on historic moral and strategic ties, as well as our shared dedication to democracy. We've had disagreements, as would be expected between friends, even between good friends. Our friendship continues, however, and there should be no doubt that America's commitment to Israel's security remains as it always has been.

Over the last year, our diplomats and marines have been engaged in a campaign for peace and security in the Middle East. As I said last September, we believe that the events of the past year have created new opportunities for peace that must not be lost. The current political fluidity and general desire to break the cycle of terror and war present a special chance to bring peace to this long-troubled region. It's vital to the United States, to Israel, and to all those who yearn for an end to the killing that we not let these current opportunities pass by.

The proposals I made to build an enduring peace are strongly rooted in the history of the region and are designed to promote negotiations that will achieve a solution acceptable to all the parties. They're based on an historic U.S. commitment to Israelis' security. They reaffirm the Camp David accords, which deem that peace must bring security to Israel and provide for the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

Our proposals are founded on the Camp David process and United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which produced the region's first meaningful peace treaty, ending the state of war between Egypt and Israel. Israel and Arab leaders must take the necessary risks for peace to take root and bloom if we're to succeed. It is riskier to do nothing, to let this time pass with no tangible sign of progress.

We share with Israel three goals in Lebanon: a speedy withdrawal of all foreign forces, a strong central government for Lebanon with jurisdiction over all its territory, and full and effective guarantees that southern Lebanon will no longer be used as a staging ground for terrorist attacks against Israel. To achieve these goals will require negotiating flexibility by all of the parties.

With respect to the broader peace process, again, great courage and some risk will be required on both sides. Israel must be prepared to engage in serious negotiations over the future of the West Bank and Gaza. As I've stated previously, the most significant action demonstrating Israel's good faith would be a settlements freeze. On the other hand, King Hussein should step forward, ready to negotiate peace directly with Israel.

Each of these steps is independent but related. And for all three, the time to act is now. The fight against anti-Semitism, the struggle for Soviet Jewry, and the search for peace and security in the Middle East require courage, sacrifice, and tenacity from all parties. There are ample excuses for those who do not share our goals or dedication; but if history is the guide, those who see opportunities for peace and pursue them, who see injustice and condemn it, who fight for liberty will in the end prevail.

We're making the future in which our children will live. Only the courage to act will ensure that it is a more peaceful, secure, and free world.

The Talmud tells us, ``The day is short, the work is great. You don't have to finish the work. Neither are you free to desist from it.'' And also from the Talmud: ``For God could find no vessel which was full of blessing as shalom, peace.''

America knows God's blessings. Our cup truly runneth over. We seek only to share the blessings of liberty, peace, and prosperity.

Now, my schedule is such I wanted to hear further from you with regard to your views -- had, as I say, a brief opportunity before our meeting here with your leaders. But I am going to have to depart.

Note: The President spoke at 10:07 a.m. in the East Room. Prior to his remarks, he met privately in the Oval Office with leaders of several of the organizations represented in the larger East Room meeting.