Remarks at the Annual Convention of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith

June 10, 1983

The President. Hello.

Mr. Bialkin. Mr. President, this is Kenneth Bialkin. I'm chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.

The President. Yes, I'm pleased to speak to you, and I understand that I'm speaking to all your group there.

Mr. Bialkin. Yes, Mr. President, we have here the national commission of the ADL, Ambassador Samuel Lewis, the president of B'nai B'rith, and all of the leaders of our group. We are honored by your willingness to interrupt your day to speak to us and grateful for the time you're giving to us, sir.

The President. Well, listen, I'm sorry that I couldn't personally be with you during your 30th annual convention, but let me assure you, my message will be the same. And to Ambassador Lewis: Sam, I hope I won't be saying some things that you had planned to say, but, if so, just say them over again. [Laughter]

I know the Anti-Defamation League has justly earned the recognition as a champion of human rights. For seven decades, you've worked to ensure that all members of our society, no matter what their race, religion, or background, have an equal opportunity to succeed. And I deeply appreciate your support for my recent appointments to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Like you, I, too, was deeply troubled by the strident attacks against them.

I know that we share a belief that all people, no matter where they live, have the right to freedom of religion. This is not a right that is any government's to give or to take away. It's our right from birth, because we're all children of God.

We believe it's our duty to defend freedom, not just here at home but everywhere people are persecuted for their beliefs. I was very disturbed that a Soviet spokesman said earlier this week the majority of Jews who want to be reunited with their families in Israel have left the Soviet Union. This official said that the portion of the 1.8 million Russian Jews who still want to leave have, and I quote, ``Fallen victim to Zionist propaganda which brainwashes them.''

Well, as you know, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry estimates that by late 1979 at least 300,000 Jews had asked relatives abroad to send invitations needed for emigration. This was before the Soviets began blocking these invitations.

But in 1975, the Soviet Government signed the final act of the Helsinki agreement. The Soviets pledged to deal in a positive and humanitarian spirit with the applications of persons who wish to be reunited with their families.

So, let us stand together, speak the truth, and tell the Soviets, stop persecuting innocent people. Let Israel's children go or face the world's condemnation for making a mockery of an historic agreement that was signed by 35 nations.

I'm delighted that Sam Lewis, our Ambassador to Israel, is with you today. I know that he'll be talking with you in greater detail about U.S. policies in the Middle East.

We're very pleased with the recent efforts of Secretary Shultz in working out the Israeli-Lebanon withdrawal agreement. This bold initiative by Israel and Lebanon is one more step toward a more stable Middle East. Our ultimate goal remains peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors.

Only through peace can Israel achieve real security. But Israel cannot make peace alone. Other Arab States must formally recognize that Israel does exist and that she has a right to exist. We'll continue our diplomatic efforts to seek the withdrawal from Lebanon of all foreign forces, Syrian and PLO as well as Israeli.

But we are very concerned about the Soviet buildup in Syria. I want you to know that we're committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative edge in the military balance of power. I have personally followed Israel's heroic struggle for survival ever since the founding of the State of Israel 35 years ago. As long as I'm President, the United States will be a rock of support. We will not waver in our commitment to protect Israel's security. [Applause]

Well, thank you.

It's no coincidence that the same forces which are destabilizing the Middle East -- the Soviet Union, Libya, the PLO -- are also working hand in glove with Cuba to destabilize Central America. And I'd like to urge you to support this Nation's efforts to help our friends in Central America.

This question isn't who has the most perfect democracy. The question is, who's trying to build democracy and who is determined to destroy it. Many nations, including the United States, which once condoned slavery, have evolved into better democracies over time. But nations which fall into the clutches of totalitarianism do not become free and democratic again. And freedom can't be lost in one nation without being diminished everywhere.

Again, as you embark on your next 70 years, you have the thanks of all Americans for a job well done and our best wishes for the future. May we continue to be allies, may God bless you, and may He be with us all in our human rights struggles ahead.

Thank you very much.

Mr. Bialkin. Thank you very much, Mr. President. We appreciate your being with us. I wonder -- is the President off the line?

The President. No, I'm still here.

Mr. Bialkin. I wondered whether you would be willing to receive or entertain some questions from our group, sir.

The President. Well, now, I only have a few minutes here. There's a helicopter waiting for me. But if we can -- something in just one or two -- in a couple of minutes, yes.

Mr. Bialkin. Well, the chairman of our national executive committee, Burt Levinson, has one, I think, that he's ready with, sir.

The President. All right.

Mr. Levinson. Mr. President, it's a pleasure to talk to you. I'd like to ask how you assess the chances of Syria withdrawing from Lebanon according to the agreement so ably worked out by Secretary Shultz.

The President. Well, I just have to remain optimistic. I can't believe at this point, having crossed that one hurdle prior to real peace negotiations, that it's all going to end here. And I know we've been working very closely with the other Arab States. And I know that almost to the last one of them, they're with us in wanting a solution to this problem and wanting Syria out of there.

So, I'm hopeful that Syria will see the light on this and make that decision, because it was true that in the beginning all of them, including Syria, everyone said that when everyone else got out of Lebanon, that they would all get out. They made that promise as well. And I'm hoping they'll stick with it.

Mr. Bialkin. Mr. President, we thank you very much. We are very grateful and praising of your efforts in the Middle East. We congratulate you and Secretary Shultz on achieving the Israel-Lebanese achievement, and we assure you that you will have our continued support in your efforts to achieve a peaceful solution of -- results in the Middle East. Thank you for being with us, sir.

The President. Well, thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 3 p.m. by telephone from the Residence to the organization, which was meeting in Washington, D.C.