May 25, 2008
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Speech at the Gift-Presentation Ceremony for Former Government Ministers
Honorable Vice Prime Minister,
Honorable Former Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak,
Deputy Prime Ministers,
Members of the Government,
Former Members of the Government,
Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office,
I would like to begin by paraphrasing a statement made by then-President of the United States John Kennedy. In one of the rooms in one of the wings of the White House he assembled a meeting of all the living Nobel Prize winners in various fields. He said that never before had such a multitude of wisdom and knowledge been together as was in that room at that time, other than when Thomas Jefferson sat by himself in the Oval Office. So, I would like to paraphrase that unforgettable sentence and say that I believe we will never gather such an assembly of political, governmental and administrative experience of the Governments of Israel as the one here in this room, except when David Ben-Gurion sat alone in a room, sometime during the earliest period of this office, when Ben-Gurion was the first of the prime ministers, the first literally and also figuratively. He was undoubtedly unique and special in the history of the Governments of the State of Israel.
People say that the role of Prime Minister in Israel, as Minister Ruhama Avraham quoted Prime Minister Sharon when he served as Prime Minister – it is the most difficult job in the world.
I do not believe that the job of Prime Minister of Israel is the most difficult job in the world, but as I said recently in this context, it is not so easy. It is quite a difficult job, and is difficult primarily due to two things: one is the extremely unique character of the decisions which must be made by Governments of Israel. The truth is, today we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel with great pride, and can say with a high level of contentment that the State of Israel has accomplished things which no other 60-year-old country in the world and human history has achieved. It is not that we have solved all the problems or that there are no serious problems to which we still cannot provide suitable and appropriate solutions. Only today, the Minister of Social Welfare and Social Affairs reviewed several issues with which we must deal, plus we have problems in education, and we know that.
However, when we look at the State of Israel in 2008, when we think of all that we have achieved, when we know what we have faced, when we remember that we are the only country in the world that, from its inception and without rest, has always been under existential threat from someone, somewhere – there has never been such a country in human history. There were many countries which faced difficult hardships; there were many countries which at some point in their historic existence were under the threat of destruction, under the threat of some powerful enemy which sought to harm them. No country was in the situation as the State of Israel was from its first day, with its very existence under threat – we are the only one. When we know this and remember what we overcame – what changes; what incredible building of a new society from groups who arrived from the four corners of the Earth, under what conditions and with such hardship; and where the State of Israel is today – we know that all the Governments of Israel, without exception, those which were appreciated and those which weren’t, those criticized more and those criticized less, all together as a whole built those same layers which eventually led to this great day on which the State of Israel can celebrate 60 years of existence with a feeling of greater security than ever, of greater strength than ever, of greater economic stability than ever. When we look and see the signs for continued economic growth in 2008, we will understand that this is a type of process which expresses the tremendous inner strength which no one believed could withstand the global crises as well as it did.
Ours is a country which is providing a bit more hope that perhaps we are approaching that historic turning point of which we have dreamt our entire lives: the end to the conflicts and an end to the wars – and I will not go into politics right now, because there are former ministers here who represent different approaches and perceptions and beliefs, and I respect all of them – but we are perhaps approaching a historic moment in which, G-d willing, we will succeed in bringing about the change that we so desire, and bring peace which will, once and for all, end the unceasing threat which surrounds us – that of war, of terror and the painful daily attacks which are a part of it.
It would be impossible to operate this system without the Government Secretaries, without the governmental apparatus which gradually attained cumulative collective wisdom, which is deserving of appreciation and esteem. I looked in the book that was published for this special occasion, and one thing was quite clear: there were more Government Secretaries than Prime Ministers. I am the 12th Prime Minister, while Oved Yehezkel is the 16th Government Secretary. We usually complain about the lack of political stability leading to the fact that we have had 31 Governments in 60 years, i.e. that a Government’s tenure is less than two years, which is truly problematic. However, it appears that the average tenure of a Prime Minister is still longer than the average tenure of a Government Secretary. Perhaps the explanation to this is the fact that a significant proportion of Government Secretaries who served in this position later became leading political figures in the State of Israel, which proves that the position of Prime Minister is perhaps one without a future, but a Government Secretary is certainly a role which carries some sort of hope for better days.
I wish to thank all the former ministers who honored this special occasion with their presence. I am moved by seeing people here, friends who, when I arrived in the Knesset in 1973, were already there, some of them veterans. Some were already in advanced stages of their careers, and I arrived as a young man just beginning his political activity. I see people here who could tell the story of a special, unique and dramatic moment to which he was a partner as Government Minister, which went on to became part of the cumulative national ethos over 60 years of the State of Israel’s existence, and will continue to be so in the future. It may be that for many of you here, some moments still remain in your memories which are not part of the public collective knowledge for reasons which were mentioned earlier – but you are familiar with them, and you know them, and you are as proud of them as I am.
3 Kaplan St. Hakirya, Jerusalem 91950