Opening Remarks to Introduce Binyamin Netanyahu
11 Apr ’08
Dear friends, citizens of, and visitors to, the great State of Texas,
We bring you heartfelt greetings from Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel. We thank you all for joining us tonight in these stormy days. It warms our heart to be among such wonderful friends. And special thanks to the incomparable John and Janet Goodman who labored hard to make this evening possible.
In 1867 Mark Twain led a group of your countrymen on a visit to the Holyland. They were shocked by the ruin and desolation of the land. Twain wrote: “I think Palestine must be the prince of desolation. The hills are barren… the valleys unsightly deserts… peopled by swarms of beggars struck with ghastly sores and maformations…”
“Palestine,” he concluded darkly, “sits in sackcloth and ashes… only the music of angels could charm its shrubs and flowers again into life.”
A few years later, not angels, but Jews from the ghettoes of Eastern Europe and Arab lands charmed the land of Palestine back into life. With backbreaking toil, with their blood and sweat, they cleared blocked rivers, drained swamps, revived eroded land and made Palestine a land of milk and honey again, as it was in Biblical times.
You can read about this great saga of Zionism, and about our future hopes in a wonderful book, A Place Among the Nations by our distinguished guest, former prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Among the devoted Zionists who vowed to ressurect Israel, the grandfather of our guest Benjamin Netanyahu was remarkable for his powers of persuasion. As emmisary for the founding father of Zionism, the prophetic Dr. Theodor Herzl, he covered the vast expanses of Russia to recruit support for the Zionist enterprise.
Mr Netanyahu’s father, Ben Zion, a distinguished historian, was a close associate of another far-seeing zionist leader, Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Jabotinsky, a men of letters and a soldier, founder of the Jewish Brigades that helped eject the Turks from Palestine, forsaw in the twenties—when most european and some American intellectuals were infatuated with the false promise of the Bolshevik revolution –- that (I quote) “productivity can only grow in a society where hope smiles on private enterprise and offers individual reward.”
“Therefore,” he predicted back then, in 1929, “mankind is not heading towards socialism, as many believe. Mankind has chosen the opposite direction,” towards freedom and free enterprise. It was in this opposite direction to socialism and statism, in the direction of a free market economy, that a courageous, determined prime minister Netanyahu attempted to lead Israel in 1996. It was not easy.
As a beleagured community under murderous Arab attacks for over a century, Israeli Jews developed a strong collectivist ethos. This collectivist ethos and the origins of many Zionist leaders in Eastern Europe, where socialism was considered the wave of the future, helped entrench in Israel a statist economy, hostile to enterprise.
So when immediately upon his election prime minister Netanyahu vowed to radically change the economy and institute a free market in israel, he met tremendous resistance from the powerful bureacracy and our elites. Netanyahu, a veteran commander in Israel’s elite unit -– formerly led by his brother Yoni, israel’s national hero who fell while rescuing highjacked passengers from Arab terrorists in Entebbe—was not to be deterred, however.
Israel was facing then a deep economic crisis aggravated by the irresponsible overspending of the previous Labor government. Netanyahu bit the bullet and made deep cuts in a high deficit budget. it was an unprecedented move and a political miracle. Then he also proceeded to launch a program of privatization.
But before he could overcome the fierce resistance to his bold reform efforts, the Clinton White House and the State Department subjected him to inordinate pressures, demanding that he make more and more concessions to Arafat and his murderous corrupt Authority. Our prime minister’s boundless energies were drained in a struggle to keep Israel safe. He had to muster all his powers to resist these pressures and prevent Israel from falling down the slippery slope of dangerous concessions dictated by the pursuit of an imaginary peace process. The polls tell us that in the forthcoming elections Mr Netanyahu will receive again a mandate to lead Israel as its prime minister. Let us hope and pray that this time he will be able to complete the bold revolution in the Israeli economy that he began during his first term.
Not only Israel—whose enormous potential is stymied by a regressive economic system—stands to gain from economic freedom. Economic prosperity is a prerequisite to peace with the Palestinians and to regional peace. It could hasten a process of democratization that the Arab world so desperately needs. Economic prosperity can create a win-win situation. Israelis will benefit, the Arabs could benefit, even more, and western civilization, which is imperilled by fundamentalist Islamic militancy, can also gain enormously.
So please greet Israel’s future prime minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu.