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Ambassador speaks about Israel to launch Jewish Hertiage Week

Speaking of the brief, tenuous history of Israel as a nation, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Eliahu Ben-Elissar called the country's first five decades "50 years of a continuing fight," in a speech yesterday.

Ben-Elissar's address opened Jewish Heritage Week on campus. The Center for Jewish Life sponsored the speech titled "Fifty Years of Israeli-American Relations," to open discussion about Jewish life in the U.S. and abroad.


The ambassador highlighted the concept of Israel's legitimacy, as seen through the eyes of America and other Middle-Eastern Nations.

Citing one foreign relations example, Ben-Elissar said, "To this very day, Egypt recognizes our existence . . . of course they do . . . but not our right to exist." It is Israel's longterm hope, he said, to be acknowledged as a "country that counts" in world affairs.

Reminding more than 150 listeners in McCosh 50 of Israel's immense economic growth in the last 50 years, Ben-Elissar emphasized that Israel does not have and has never had "imperialistic or military growth aspirations," while many of its Arab neighbors do.

Ben-Elissar said Israel's primary defense goal is "maintaining enough military capabilities to deter" any threats from Arab nations. "We are not afraid of a Palestinian army," he said, "but must remain alert and aware."

Facing Soviet missiles during the Cold War, "Americans had 15, 16, 18 minutes" to react," he said. Israel has "at most, four minutes. And sometimes zero seconds," to react to an Arab threat, he added.

"We don't want to be occupiers," Ben-Elissar said, speaking of the Golan Heights and other disputed territories. "We want to give them satisfaction, but Palestinians have allies, brothers, who live all around us."

Zones and territories


Ben-Elissar said several key military zones are too important to give up, "To the left, the desert, to the right, the sea – we're not so big."

The ambassador spoke of the territory negotiation talks that have stalled over what some feel are small differences. "People wonder why we haggle over one percent, two percent. One percent is equal to one Manhattan, two percent is two Tel Avivs. Two percent is quite a lot."

Ben-Elissar spoke of Israel's relationship with the U.S., and the role both nations play in each other's development.

"It only took Harry Truman seven minutes to recognize us as a sovereign nation, but it wasn't until much later that Israel received America's support," he said. "The Seven Days' War was fought with French, not American, weapons."

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Now, however, Ben-Elissar said he feels the nations are "number one allies." While Israel is not a member of NATO, the country receives primary ally status from the defense organization.

After a long, slow struggle to reach the level of trust that the two countries now possess, he said, "Rain, snow, El Niño . . . we'll always be there."