Speech by Yuli-Yoël Edelstein during the Closing Session

Good afternoon. Mr President of the Czech Republic, Mr President of Bulgaria.  I’m facing a positive problem here. We have so many distinguished guests in this audience that I can’t mention them all, so, with your kind permission, I’ll just mention those who made this event, this very important event, possible, and by that I mean the President of the Czech Republic, both speakers, my colleagues, the Speaker of the Senate and the Chamber of Commerce, the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, the President of the European Parliament, and my dear friend Dr Moshe Kantor of the European Jewish Congress.My appreciation also goes to the leaders of the European Union, to my fellow speakers, heads of delegations, and all the distinguished guests here. Thank you all for being here.

I would dare to say that it’s easier to be Jewish at events like this. I was mentioning to my colleague, the President of the European Parliament, that each year I’m amazed by the ability of people and leaders to stand up and confront the issue of the Holocaust not from the Jewish perspective, but from their own personal perspective. In total honesty, I don’t know how I would have behaved in that situation. Whether I wouldn’t try to sweep the issue under the table, or to say, ‘Sorry, I’m a different generation, I have nothing to do with that. You talk about history, I’ve nothing to do with that.’ So I think this is a truly estimable quality of prominent leaders – to be able to stand up and say, ‘Yes, we still have something to do with that, and we are going to confront it.’

It is a very common Jewish tradition to start any event or any speech by addressing – in Hebrew we call it the ‘akhsania’ – the place that is hosting us. And I think it’s also very proper to say a few words about where we are today. Because I don’t think that it’s mere coincidence that we are here in Prague, in the Czech Republic. It’s not as if someone spoke to someone, they just happened to be around, and we decided to have this event here.

I think that if we are looking for an optimistic message, the example of the Czech Republic demonstrates that with persistent effort, anti-Semitism (which includes those who leap in headfirst when an opportunity presents itself to denounce the State of Israel or to join this or that anti-Israel resolution), along with any other form of hatred, can be combated and you can achieve the results. And you bring reality to the streets of Prague: Jews shouldn’t be warned not to wear kippa or not to wear signs of their faith when they walk down the street. It sounds very obvious, but unfortunately this is not the case in many other places in Europe and in other continents.

President Zeman, when you addressed us last night, you said that you would just make some remarks, but the radical speech, in your words, you would deliver today. So I was actually full of expectation. And when you were finishing, I said to myself, ‘Oh, here is a president that knows how to keep his promise.’ And then I felt I was turning red. What was so radical about the messages? Is it radical in the modern world to say that we are weak when we are combating evil? Is it radical to say that we shouldn’t appease terrorists but rather fight them? Yes, I suppose, in the modern world, these messages sound radical. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m normal, and I think that these messages are normal. And I promise not to deliver a radical speech. I’ll just share a couple of thoughts with you, with my colleagues present here along with everyone else. And if something sounds politically incorrect or bitter, you’ll have to bear with me. I’m a son of Holocaust survivors, so I get a little bit emotional at events like this.

We just adopted a resolution here – heads of parliaments, presidents, speakers, chairmen of different parliaments – a resolution to combat anti-Semitism. Not the first one, as some people mentioned. And even some said, ‘Why another resolution?’ And they have a point. If it’s just another resolution, then why have it? But I hope there is a chance, I still hope there is a chance, of doing something and not just adopting a resolution. But there are certain conditions that come with that. And calling a spade a spade is one of the conditions. We managed, at least on this continent, to reach the position where a mainstream politician, a mainstream journalist, a mainstream professor, can’t be openly anti-Semitic, can’t deliver speeches about filthy Jews, or Jewish power, or things of that kind. This is definitely different from what happened in the ’30s. This is a different situation.

Having said that, do we always notice new anti-Semitism? Don’t we so easily give in to this idea that you shouldn’t say bad things about Jews? The Holocaust happened. About Israelis, that’s different.

No, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not in the business of calling an anti-Semite everyone who criticizes this or that Israeli policy or this or that Israeli government. Don’t misunderstand me for a second. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about journalists and elected officials seriously asking whether the IDF, when they are in Haiti, are not there to harvest organs. Because this idea that the IDF are there to help, after the terrible disaster in Haiti, is something that you have to deal with. How come? Probably they are there to harvest organs.

I’m talking about the reality where elected officials, journalists and public figures seriously say that probably the world and the Middle East would be better off without the State of Israel. Now, you don’t have to love Israel – I’m not here to beg for love. But how come these things are not being said about any other country in the world? How come the idea of having a national state is not entirely appropriate in the 21st century? And this is a serious statement, which comes from many in this world.

Now, there is an issue of geography, too, which was raised during the panel discussions. We are so forgiving towards certain regions. Yesterday we talked about whether this idea of combating anti-Semitism should be defined as ‘in Europe’, or whether we should talk worldwide – even today, during the adoption of the resolution.

During the last soccer tournament, a Lebanese minister, a former Lebanese minister, was interviewed on Lebanese TV. He was asked, nonchalantly, whether that night he would support the Brazilian team or the German team. And he replied, very nonchalantly, with a nice smile: ‘I don’t know, I’m really torn from inside. I love how the Brazilians are playing soccer, but the Germans killed so many Jews, probably I should support them.’ Did you hear about that? Did any foreign minister – please, don’t jump – call the Lebanese ambassador to the foreign ministry to say that things like that are not acceptable in the modern world? No, it’s not happening in Europe, it’s over there. ‘What can you expect?’ they say to us. ‘These countries are not really democracies. What can you expect?’

Borders are very easy to cross in the modern world. These ideas will infiltrate Toulouse, and Paris, and Belgium, and all over. There are no hermetic borders in the modern world anymore. So, please, let’s not think that it’s not happening on our shift, here, in my country, and it won’t come to me. It will. If we don’t put all those who allow themselves to make statements of that kind in their place. Just seventy years after the Holocaust.

The role of parliaments here – especially apropos the discussion we had about just legislating or creating the public atmosphere – is great. I, by the way, don’t see that there is any serious contradiction in this discussion. There are those who understand only legislation, or even, probably, just trial and imprisonment. But the public atmosphere is also very important, because, thank God, the majority of people in any country are not like that. And parliaments legislate – it’s obvious, it’s motherhood and apple pie – but they also create public atmosphere. And speakers are here. And I always say, at least in my parliament, in the Knesset, that we should treat ourselves seriously. And when we say something when we take the floor, it could be, shall I say, misunderstood by some person in the street and not be taken as a legitimate democratic parliamentarian criticism, but rather as a call for action, violent action. And this is about creating the public atmosphere in our countries.

By the way, many parliaments, including parliaments represented here… well, shall I say, never had any discussion about anti-Semitism, or, shall I say, for many years didn’t have a discussion on the floor about the state of anti-Semitism?

But I’m still optimistic. Because the turnout is great here and because people stay on the right lines when they speak, mostly. And they address the real issues. When I started speaking, I said that they even confront the issues concerning themselves.

And I’ll conclude with the story that we usually tell about that rabbi who was very annoying. Children didn’t like him, because he knew everything. That’s terrible. And one of them decided that he knew how to prove that this rabbi doesn’t know everything. The kid caught a butterfly, and brought it to the rabbi, and said, ‘What do I have in my hand?’ Well, the rabbi definitely didn’t have any problem with saying, ‘You have a butterfly, my son.’ And then came the real question, the well-prepared question. That kid said to the rabbi, ‘Yeah, but is it alive or dead?’ The rabbi looked him in the eyes and said, ‘It’s all in your hand, my son. It’s all in your hand.’

I still believe it’s in our hands. Not forever, but it’s still in our hands.

Thank you.