Addressing the Jewish Agency annual assembly in Kiryat Gat, the Prime Minister devoted his remarks to the unity of the Jewish people. He called for a spiritual regeneration among the young. He hoped to see the majority of Jews living in Israel and spoke of the central role of the Jewish Agency in immigration and absorption. Text:
Chairman Avraham Burg, Chairman Charles Goodman, Chairman Max Fisher, Mayor Zeev Boim, Chairman Meir Amar, Chairman Amos Magidish, Ladies and Gentlemen,
A few hours ago, the Arab leaders issued a statement at the conclusion of their meeting in Cairo.
Peace is a strategic objective of both Israel and the Arab states. But the peace process cannot be made hostage to any prior conditions.
Peace talks must be linked to security for all the peoples in the region. Threats to security are incompatible with negotiations.
For the process to continue successfully and productively, this threat must be removed. This is the most elementary, fundamental requirement for talks about coexistence and peace.
There is a special significance in our meeting here tonight for the opening ceremony of the Jewish Agencys 1996 assembly. It reminds us all that our country does not begin and end in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
No one understood this better than our first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. He knew that unless we develop our whole country, particularly its unsettled southern half, we shall not be able to fulfill the Zionist dream.
Today we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Lachish region. By the time we reach the 50th year, this should become one of the important centers of this country.
I promise you that one of the foremost challenges my administration will meet is the need to bring the south closer; to build the kind of infrastructure we must have to make this area a magnet for people, industry and culture.
Bringing life to the barren areas of our country has always been the purpose of the Zionist enterprise. It is a necessary part and a natural consequence of the ingathering of our people.
In this, the Jewish Agency has played a primary, vital role. It has been an indispensable instrument in bringing millions to our country, and in doing what is just as important: creating the necessary climate in the world for aliya.
But, my friends, the task is far from over. We cannot consider our work even half done as long as only a minority of the Jewish people lives in Israel.
This is not to say that our accomplishments are anything less than stunning. It was exactly 100 years ago that Binyamin Zeev Herzl wrote a pamphlet called "The Jewish State."
At the time it was considered a pipe dream, a product of an overripe imagination. But within 50 years we made that impossible dream come true; and within another half-century the Jewish state became a regional power and the home of 4.5 million Jews.
It would have been a magnificent achievement under any circumstances. That we made it happen despite the hundred-year war against our enterprise is miraculous.
But now we must think of the challenges of the future. They are different, but they are just as formidable.
Our goal must be to have a majority of world Jewry living in this country. This means that our whole concept of aliya must change. We are no longer primarily a haven for persecuted Jews.
In the traditional sense of the word, there are almost no such Jews left in the world. The danger of physical annihilation is practically gone, at least for the time being.
What we must worry about today is spiritual erosion; the irreversible loss of large parts of our people to assimilation, detachment and indifference.
Many of our young people know more about Madonna than about Moses; more about video games than about our heritage; more about remote cultures than about Israel.
If we dont want this generation to be lost forever, we must make Jewish values, the study of Hebrew, and the knowledge of Zionism an integral part of their education.
We must create both a spiritual and physical airlift between Israel and the Diaspora. We must feed each other, benefit from each other, keep ourselves bonded to each other.
And we must make Israel a magnet, a place where Jews can feel they can develop their extraordinary talents and fertile minds, where they can live as proud Jews in a safe, proud country, where they can benefit from the most potent intellectual symbiosis the world has ever witnessed, the combination of Jewish tradition and culture and the reservoir of world knowledge to which the Jewish people have made the most extraordinary contribution.
To make this possible we must make the economy of this country what it can and should be one of the leading, most dynamic and inventive economies of the world.
We can do all this. We have the manpower and the brain power to do it. And we have the power to keep this country safe and secure.
And we intend to do it with you, with your help and support, with the cooperation, collaboration and participation of all our people.
We are one people. We must stay one people. All of us: secular and observant; orthodox, conservative, reform; white, brown and black. We are one.
We shall stay one and we shall realize todays dream of security, peace and prosperity just as we did Herzls dream of 100 years ago. It is our destiny and we shall fulfill it.