Mr. Navon evoked the tradition of friendship between the French and the Jewish people over the centuries, and the role played by France in the rise of Israel and its early struggles. Text:
Your Excellency, the President of the French Republic, Madame Mitterrand, honored guests,
We are not yet blase. I must admit that we are deeply moved at the sight of the Tricolor flags waving in the wind in Jerusalem, and the sounds of the Marseillaise still echo in our ears, bringing with them a host of memories, sights and experiences.
Every nation has its own characteristics. Ours has developed the faculty of memory. In a few days, we shall be celebrating the Festival of Purim, in memory of the deliverance of the Persian Jews from the threat of extermination some 2,400 years ago. Yesterday, there was a ceremony of memorial to our fallen soldiers whose place of burial is not known. The choice of the date was not a matter of chance: It was the seventh of the Hebrew month of Adar, the anniversary of the death of Moses, the man who led the Children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, led them in the wilderness for forty years, and brought down the Torah but he was not privileged to reach the Promised Land, and after he died, the place of his burial has remained unknown until this day - so the Almighty decreed. Our history is not studied merely for information, but as a focus of emotional identification. This is the injunction that is passed on from generation, to generation: Not to forget the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful. This injunction unites us as one nation, although it imposes a considerable burden on our children. It is difficult to compress millennia of memories into a few years. Past, present and future are sometimes intermingled. My little daughter met the Italian Ambassador in our home on the completion of his tour of duty. She opened her eyes wide in astonishment: "Daddy, didn't the Romans destroy the Temple? Why do you invite one of them into our home?" When I explained that some two thousand years had passed since the destruction, she wondered all the more. If such a long time had elapsed since that sad event, why did we still mourn for it so much?
In our historical treasure-house of memories, a place of honor is reserved to your great country, in which Jewish spiritual life has developed and flourished over the century. There have also been difficult periods, but as if by a miracle some man or men have always been found who strove to right the wrongs. The principles of 1789 opened up a new era in the life of the nations - including ours. The revolution meant not only the storming of the Bastille, but also a radical change in outlook in human, political and social ideas in the life of the individual and the nations throughout Europe and the American continent. It also marked the beginning of the emancipation of the Jews.
We shall remember that your country became an asylum for our refugees from the east, from the Balkans and North Africa. In the dark days of Nazi rule, the valiant French Resistance supported the Jewish fighters who wanted to carry on the battle against the common enemy.
Regrettably there were some countries in which the Jewish partisans did not get similar treatment from the underground fighters and were even persecuted by them.
A few years ago, the Israeli writer Haim Guri paid a visit to Edouard Depres, who was Minister of the Interior in 1946. He found him very old, ill and paralyzed. They talked about that heroic and tragic period, about the Exodus and the training camps and the external political pressures. In his recorded remarks. M. Depres said, inter alia,
"The Jews were abominably persecuted by Hitler - consequently I felt it was my duty to defend them, as a socialist, an anti-Hitlerist and an anti-Fascist. My duty was perfectly clear... And I believe there are problems that categorically call for devotion to duty in all circumstances. I was brought up in the great tradition of Jaures and Leon Blum, and I believe I would have been faithful to it at every moment of my life, whatever the difficulties... From the beginning I worked for the real Socialist International and not for a party subjected to foreign pressures, even coming from friends."
We shall also remember that in the early, difficult years of our independence we received from your country the vital assistance we needed to defend our very existence.
There was also, however, a period of deterioration in the relations between us. We are always aware that there cannot be a complete identity of views between two countries, even when they belong to the same alliance. What we expect is the maintenance of a frank and friendly dialogue between us, guided by an understanding of the other party's needs and interests, founded on shared humanist ideals, and imbued with the aspiration for peace, even if differences of opinion arise between us, they will not undermine this common basis.
In these days we are celebrating a hundred years of agricultural settlement in our country. It is difficult to imagine this important chapter in our history without Karl Netter, Adolphe Cremieux, Edmond de Rothschild and the Alliance Israelite Universelle. Every day, we ourselves discover remarkable episodes about the sufferings, the daring, the difficulties and the achievements of our early pioneers - above all, about the spiritual strength which enabled people who had been engaged in commerce, the Jaw and medicine to change their occupations and transform the cultivation of the soil and every kind of physical labor into the supreme expression of personal and national self-fulfilment.
Everyone knows that history never stands still. As the Greek philosopher said, panta rei - everything flows. The world is open, and materialistic ideals infiltrate into our society. We must constantly repeat to ourselves the old basic truths in a changing reality. We are torn all the time between our desire to be like all the nations and our desire to preserve our unique characteristics. We are confronted by a prolonged effort to mould the shape of our society with people who have arrived here from 102 countries speaking 31 languages. We are struggling to close the economic and social gap between those who have come from Asia and Africa and those from Europe and America.
We still face the great challenge of settling the wilderness, which makes up 60 percent of the area of the State of Israel.
The late David Ben-Gurion used to say: "In the Bible God promised us a land flowing with milk and honey. He did not promise us oil." Nor is water particularly plentiful in our country - I would not advise you to be too greatly impressed by the rain that has fallen today.
And there is a great question that overshadows all these things: The future of our relations with our Arab neighbors. This question will undoubtedly occupy a central place in your discussions with the Prime Minister and the political leaders in Israel, and this is not the place to go into it at any length.
I will only say this, The peace with Egypt is an historic breakthrough. Just as it seemed impossible yesterday and has become a reality today, so there could be a reality tomorrow which appears impossible today. We hope that, with the moral support of our friends, with great patience and with goodwill on all sides, we may perhaps be able to arrive at the different reality which all of us desire.
We have read the heroic story of your life, we have seen you visiting our country from time to time, we have seen you at Copernic, we have heard you expressing support for our peace treaty with Egypt, we have always listened to you with open minds and hearts, as a courageous, humanist statesman, a man of principles, loyal to himself and his ideals.
I ask everyone to raise his glass in a toast to the health and happiness of yourself and your wife, to the prosperity of the great French republic and to the reopening of a period of true friendship between the two nations.