Thursday, April 30, 2009

Center Bulletin Vol. 5, No. 27 | 30 April 2009



As our readers surely recall, Soldier's Remembrance Day is a somber, quiet day in Israel in which soldiers who died are honored and remembered in many varied ways including radio and television programs, public ceremonies and official events. In recent years, victims of terrorist attacks are also remembered on this day.

At 8:00pm, on April 27, a one-minute siren sounds throughout Israel marking the beginning of Soldier's Remembrance Day. Everyone stops what they are doing and stands for a moment of silence, whether they are at an organized ceremony or not. Every radio station plays quiet, Israeli music; every television station suspends normal broadcasting to show memorial films about soldiers or patriotic films of the national memory. Another siren sounds for two-minutes the next morning at 11:00am. (For a short video of a street scene during the siren, please click here. This year, the number of people who have died defending Israel stands at 22,570.

For the beginning of Soldiers' Remembrance Day the Hebrew University Student's Union, in cooperation with the Begin Center, held a ceremony in the Reuben Hecht Auditorium. Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, gave opening remarks about the national character of Remembrance Day in Israel. Students performed readings of poetry and Osnat Vishinsky spoke about losing her son Lior during a military action in the Philadelphi corridor in Gaza. Shlomo Grohnich gave a concert as a public sing-along of memorial songs. He also spoke of losing his younger brother Yaron in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The next morning, the staff of the Begin Center gathered in the olive tree entrance foyer named for the Hurwitz family to hear the siren and to conduct a short ceremony to remember fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks.

From the sorrow of Remembrance Day joy springs forth in the shape of Independence Day. This year marks 61 years since the birth of the State of Israel. The Begin Center museum was open and 300 visitors came on the day.

And, in the spirit of remembrance and celebration, we recall the last line of the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva (The Hope), "to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem."



On Friday, May 14, 1948, the Declaration of Israel’s Independence was signed in Tel Aviv. The next day, on the Saturday night, Menachem Begin gave a radio address which is one of his most memorable speeches. He begins, "Arise, oh Lion of Judah! Forward to victory!" And he continues by describing the work that has to be done to build a state and to maintain it. Following is an excerpt regarding his vision of what it will take to remain independent:

First of all, it will be necessary to increase and strengthen the fighting arm of Israel, without which there can be no freedom and no survival for our Homeland.

Our Jewish army should be, and must be, one of the best trained and equipped of the world's military forces. In modern warfare, it is not quantity that counts, but brainpower and spirit are the determining factors. All of our youth proved that they possess this spirit – those of the Hagana, the Lehi, the Irgun – youth that no other nation has merited. Indeed, no generation since Bar-Kochba and until the Bilu pioneers has seen such spirit. As for brainpower, after 120 generations, the creativity of the Hebrew mind is one of the most developed and unlimited. Our military science will be built up on the Jewish mind and will be the world's best. We will yet achieve strength for we posses the power of the brain.

In order to free our country and maintain our state, we shall need a wise foreign policy. We must turn our declaration of independence into a reality. And we must grasp this fact: that so long as even one British or any other foreign soldier treads the soil of our country, our sovereign independence remains nothing but an aspiration, an aspiration whose fulfillment we must be ready to fight not only on the battlefront, but also in the international arena. Secondly, we must establish and maintain the principle of reciprocity in our relations with the nations of the world. There must be no self-denigration. There must be reciprocity. Enmity for enmity. Aid for aid. Friendship must be repaid with friendship. We must foster friendship and understanding between us and every nation, great or small, strong or weak, near or far, which recognizes our independence, which aids our national regeneration and which is interested, even as we are, in international justice and peace among nations.

Of no less importance is our internal policy. The first pillar of this policy is the Return to Zion. Ships! For heaven's sake, let us have ships! Let us not be complacent with inertia. Let us not talk empty words about absorptive capacity. Let us not make restrictions for the sake of so-called order. Quickly, quickly! Our nation has no time! Bring in hundreds of thousands. If there will not be enough houses, we'll find tents or even the skies, the blue skies of our land, as a roof. As we have seen from other nations, there is no limit to the sacrifices a fighting nation is prepared to make in order to obtain its homeland and assure its future. We are now in the midst of a war for survival; and our tomorrow and theirs depend on the quickest concentration of our nation's exiles.

And within our Homeland, justice shall be the supreme ruler, the ruler over all rulers. There must be no tyranny. The Ministers and officials must be the servants of the nation and not their masters. There must be no exploitation. There must be no man within our country – be he citizen or foreigner – compelled to go hungry, to want for a roof over his head or to lack elementary education. 'Remember you were strangers in the land of Egypt.' This supreme rule must continually light our way in our relations with the strangers within our gates. 'Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue' will be the guiding principle in our relations amongst ourselves.


Our readers have heard about the Begin Center's Israel Government Fellows Program. One of the Fellows, Alexander Rosemberg, was sent as part of delegation to Geneva to observe the proceedings and has reported on the event for the bulletin.

As part of my internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' (MFA) Department for Combating Antisemitism, within the framework of the Israel Government Fellows Program, I was asked to participate in the MFA multi-department committee that was tasked with the Israeli policy on the Durban Review Conference (DRC).

Former Minister Livni announced, as a result of the recommendation of that committee, that Israel would not be participating and in fact would be seeking a multi-state boycott of the DRC. Such an announcement came within the framework of the UJC-GA as early as November 2008. Since then, much of my internship had been focused on planning ahead of the DRC. I n that task I had the opportunity to meet and coordinate with leaders from various Jewish organizations worldwide, to assist in the planning of the media strategy that would ensue and finally to coordinate a group of students that the MFA would be sending to Geneva in order to keep tabs on the conference and to be Israel's public face. That delegation has been featured by The New Republic and on Israel's Channel 2.

As a result of these activities, I was asked to be part of the MFA delegation that was sent to Geneva to keep tabs on the DRC, to coordinate a media presence and to liaise with the International Jewish Caucus – which was set up by 20 Jewish organizations worldwide in order to coordinate their efforts prior to and during the DRC. Upon our arrival in Geneva, I immediately hit the ground running, surveying event sites, setting up coordination infrastructure and in liaising with most groups on the ground.

The group of students, which I was formally a part of, arrived a couple of days later. Our work within the Palais des Nations was quite gruesome. We reported on the ongoing events inside the conference, pursued media interviews, caucused with members of non-Jewish / non-Israeli NGO's and tried to keep the side event panels from being hijacked by a very large contingent of Iranians and Naturei Karta who had partnered together to delegitimize and defame Israel. It was in one of these so-called panels on Islamophobia that I learned we had succeeded, as Michael Warchawsky – the known anti-Zionist- had said "At Durban I, we were on the offense; today at Durban II, we're again on the defensive."
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