3 Sep 2018

What a Distance We Have Traveled!

This week, I’d like to post the remarks that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made when he visited the Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius. It was here some of the most gruesome Nazi Jew-hatred took place during World War 2. Netanyahu’s remarks are so moving, I’d like to include them in this week’s “Israel Watch.” The city was such a center of Jewish life in Europe that Napoleon in 1812 declared it the “Jerusalem of the North.”

PM Netanyahu and his Wife Sara Visit the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, today (Sunday, 26 August 2018), visited the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, the only synagogue in the city that survived World War II, where they met with Lithuanian Jewish community representatives and leaders including Chairperson Faina Kukliansky. Also in attendance were Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius and Lithuanian MP Emanuelis Zingeris.

Prime Minister Netanyahu:

“It’s very moving for my wife Sara and me to be here today with you in the Choral Synagogue with Foreign Minister of Lithuania Linas. A great friend. I want to thank you Linas for standing up for Israel and the truth in European forums, for telling your colleagues the service that Israel performs in saving so many European lives by our resourceful and brave intelligence people. We have saved so many European lives in so many countries. Israel in many ways is the defender of Europe and it’s time that Europe understood this.

Yesterday my wife Sara and I walked through the streets of the Jewish ghetto of Vilna. We saw the Jewish homes. Sara said she could see the faces of the little Jewish children from 75 years ago. We saw the Jewish theatre. We could hear the music of the violins. We saw the ruins of some of the 100 Jewish synagogues. We saw the barricade where Yechiel Scheinbaum and his brave colleagues fought to the deaths the Nazi oppressors. We saw Jewish resistance in the heart of the ghetto.  And we saw the courtyards where Jews were assembled before being crated off to Ponar where they were shot by Lithuanian collaborators and the Nazis and then thrown into the death pits. We saw all this.

I saw their pictures on the walls of the ghetto. I heard their stories. I wanted to tell them: We are here. We are back. We are alive. Am Yisrael Chai.

Yesterday we saw the glory of Jewish Vilna that was lost and in this visit we see an expression of what has been retrieved – the rise of the reborn Jewish state of Israel. What a distance we have travelled in 75 years from the death pits of Ponar to a rising power in the world. What a distance we have travelled.

My family has deep Lithuanian roots. I’m a Litvak from both sides. Well, with also some Spanish Jewish genes but we’ll get into that some other time. I come to Vilna, I return to Vilna as the head of a proud, strong, advanced Jewish state. For the Jewish people, what has changed in these 75 years? Not the attempts to destroy us. They’re still [talk-over] to destroy us. Iran says so openly. Hamas says so openly and others. What has changed is our ability to defend ourselves by ourselves. We are no longer defenseless. We are no longer helpless. We are a power that controls our own destiny with the State of Israel and the army of Israel.

This is a magnificent change of history. This is what the Jewish state means – the ability of Jews to defend themselves.

With this newfound capacity of self-defense, we’ve built an extraordinary state in such a short time. We have science, we have technology, we have culture, we have rabbinical studies, we have faith and we have progress, we have an example – much maligned in the world but nevertheless shining as a beacon of what a free people can do once they are given the opportunity to control their destiny.

And with this independence, we now have new friendships and we have such a friendship with the democracy of Lithuania.

Israel and Lithuania – two small democracies facing challenges but confident in our ability to seize the future and we can seize it better together. This visit made this more possible and I thank you for your hospitality. Thank you.

I thank the Government of Lithuania too for its strong stance against antisemitism and for standing up to the truth, a constant effort, constantly nurtured. We support you and encourage you to do more and more of this. Thank you for that too.

We have many friends in the world today, more than people understand, including in the Arab world but none greater than the United States of America. And on this occasion I wish to extend my condolences to the family of Senator John McCain, a great American patriot, a great friend of Israel. I have known John McCain for many many years, I visited him in the US Congress many times and he visited me in Jerusalem many many times, including in recent years. Israel never had a greater champion and a greater defender. The State of Israel salutes Senator John McCain.

Yet with all this friendship and all this support, when I stand here today in the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, in Vilna and after the wrenching visit on Friday to the death pits in Ponar I know there are two lessons of the Holocaust we shall never and must never forget. The first is: Nip bad things in the bud. Stop bad things when they are small. Fight barbarism and terrorism and radicalism when they’re small. Don’t let them become large. The second is: Be able to defend yourselves, Jews, be able to defend yourselves by yourselves. This is the meaning of the Jewish state. This is what we have done and this is what we will always do.

Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker. [‘The Glory of Israel will not lie; I Samuel 15:29]

Thank you.

Next year in Jerusalem.