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1998 Speeches

Harry C. Stonecipher

President & COO

The Boeing Company

"Israel at 50: An Appreciation"

Address to the Plenary Session

Prime Minister's Jubilee Business Conference

Jerusalem, Israel

October 15, 1998

First of all, congratulations to all of you . . . on the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel! It is this anniversary that I would like to dwell upon today, more than Israel's place in the global economy, which is both thriving and secure.

Some people think it is silly to pay attention to anniversaries. I am not one of them. Anniversaries are worth celebrating, I believe, because of the strange and sometimes wonderful things they can tell us about ourselves.

The United States of America celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1826. There were the usual speeches . . . celebrations . . . and fireworks in that year. But something else happened that caused people to stand back and wonder . . . as though they had witnessed a miracle.

Two of our Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the authors of the Declaration of Independence -- lived just long enough to observe the 50th anniversary of the very day that their document was signed. They died on July 4, 1826, within a few hours of each other.

In his last words, Adams, who was the first to die, paid tribute to his friend, saying: "The Republic is saved; Jefferson lives."

Indeed, Jefferson does live . . . as far as most Americans are concerned . . . as someone whose ideals and values are imprinted in our hearts and minds.

There are some striking similarities between the United States of 1776 and the Israel of 1948.

Both were made up of immigrants who had come looking for freedom and a better life. Both nations had to fight for survival from the moment of birth. Both were led by remarkable people . . . real giants among men in both intellect and character.

But what of the United States of 1826, celebrating its 50th Anniversary, compared with the Israel of today?

Clearly, the United States of 1826 had a few advantages that you might wish for yourselves. We enjoyed a kind of splendid isolation from the rest of the world's troubles. More than that, we had all the room in the world to expand in our own backyard, which is to say, the American west.

Finally, no one questioned our right to exist as a nation. That had stopped with the successful conclusion of our War of Independence.

From my viewpoint as an American, the fact that you have had to overcome so many obstacles . . . on the way to establishing the Israel of today . . . makes the greatest of your achievements all the greater.

Let me single out three of those achievements.

First is the establishment of a homeland for Jews from around the world.

Second is the creation of a democratic state.

And third is the defense of your borders while making the desert bloom and otherwise building a thriving and prosperous economy.

If they were alive today, I believe that your founding fathers -- Weizmann, Ben- Gurion, Golda and, going a little further back, Herzl -- would weep for joy at what you . . . in this generation . . . have done . . . in absorbing 700,000 Jews from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

That is no mean feat. It is, in fact, an incredibly generous one. What other nation would put out the welcome mat for so many people at one time? It stands in contrast to the stinginess of spirit displayed by most wealthy nations of today -- the United States included -- when it comes to accepting new arrivals from other countries.

The recent spread of democracy to many new parts of the world has exposed the fragility of this form of government in many of the places where it has been tried.

By contrast, it is hard to imagine a more robust democracy than that which exists today in this country. It is democracy that has survived all kinds of cruel blows, including the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin three years ago. This is, without question, a durable and sturdy democracy.

Last, the mere fact that we are here today at a global business summit is proof of your success in both the military and economic arenas. Through six wars and a cold peace you have devoted all the human and economic resources needed to maintain your security. At the same time, this has not become a lumbering, militaristic state along the lines of the old Soviet Union.

To the contrary, you have a thriving private sector that has shown it is more than equal to the task of competing and winning in a global marketplace. With that you have achieved a standard of living that puts you on a par with the most advanced nations of the world.

Chaim Weizmann was certainly right when he said, "A people does not get a country on a silver platter." Nothing you have done has come easily. And you have confounded the so-called "experts' every step of the way.

The "experts" predicted that the arrival upon the world scene of a new country called Israel would never happen. And when it happened, they said it would never survive. And when it survived, they said it would never last. And now that it has lasted for half a century, they say . . . and I am quoting from a well-known publication . . . that "the national mood is sour" and "nobody wants to celebrate."

You know what Harry Truman said about "experts"? It is something he said to Rabbi Wise, of the American Zionist Emergency Council, when the rabbi warned him that none of the experts on the Middle East -- including those in his own State Department -- would go along with him in supporting Israel. Truman replied, and I quote:

"I know all about experts. An expert is a fella who is afraid to learn anything new because then he wouldn't be an expert anymore."

Of course, Truman, acting with his usual courage and wisdom, did give immediate recognition to the state of Israel. If there was one compliment, above all others, that moved Truman, it was the one he received from Isaac Halevi Herzog, the Chief Rabbi of Israel. Herzog said:

"God put you in your mother's womb so you would be the instrument to bring the rebirth of Israel after two thousand years."

Speaking as an American, I am proud of the role that my country -- and, indeed, my company -- have played both in the establishment and in the continuing development of Israel.

You have a great deal to celebrate, and I am absolutely delighted that you have invited me to be a part of your celebration.

I just wish a few of your founding fathers were still alive to see how strong and tall this country stands on its 50th birthday . . . and how true it has remained true to its original values and ideals.

In closing, then, I would like to recite two passages from the Bible:

I will restore my people Israel.
They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine;
They shall till gardens and eat their fruits.
And I will plant upon their soil,
Nevermore to be uprooted
from the soil I have given them
Said the Lord your God.

That passage is from Amos Chapter Nine.

The next passage is from the 137th Psalm, verses Five and Six.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand wither,
let my tongue stick to my palate
if I cease to think of you,
If I do not keep Jerusalem in memory
even at my happiest hour.

This is a happy hour. You have not forgotten your Jerusalem. You have achieved great things in your first 50 years. May your children . . . and your children's children . . . do even better in the next.