The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > Audio Materials
Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches
Israel Bond Drive
April 4, 1957
Speech at State of Israel Bond Drive, North Italy Hall, Vineyard, New Jersey. Mrs. Roosevelt believes Israel is important to all of us in the free world and that Israel needs the support of all of us.
Ladies and gentlemen [cough] we are here tonight for a purpose. We're here because we believe that Israel is important to all of us in the free world, and we believe that Israel at present needs the support of all of us who are able to give any support. Buying bonds helps the economy of Israel. It does not buy arms but it helps Israel to be strong because the more you build up the inda-industrial establishments, you give an opportunity for employment and you allow them to produce the things that they need and the things that they need for export. I went to the trade fair at the Coliseum the other night and was very much interested to see the things that Israel had on exhibition, for sale. Quite a variety of things and it was an encouraging thing because you felt that this small, young nation was able to come in and compete with the other nations, exhibiting there the wares that they had, for trade, in the world as a whole. It's now two years since I was last in Israel.
I was there first three years before that, and I went largely because I was on my way to India at the invitation of the Prime Minister, and I had decided that I would stop in Israel on the way. And Mr. Charles Malik of Lebanon came to me one day because I was still working uh with the American delegation then, in the United Nations, and said, "I understand that you are going to Israel. I wish you would come to some of our countries too because if you don't see both, it will hurt your work in the United Nations," and I said, "Well, I was very glad to go, but they made it very difficult because if you had a visa for Israel, they wouldn't let you in to an Arab country and that I didn't have time to go racing back to some island in the Mediterranean and change passports." And he said, "I will see, if you will agree to come to three of our Arab countries, I will see that they give you visas and that you can get into Israel."
So, um, I had no difficulty, I knew I would have no difficulty at getting into Israel, but I did go, uh both to Lebanon, and Syria, and Jordan, and then into Israel, and I was very glad that I did it that way because it gave me an opportunity to see the camps of the Palestinian refugees. And they were the most miserable camps, and I had seen a great many of the camps in Germany. [cough], but they were still pretty depressing camps but nothing that I've ever seen was much worse than the camps in these three countries, in these three Arab countries and to realize right away that they were that way because the governments intended they should be kept as an eyesore to make the people feel that they were bitter against the people of Israel. And [cough] I spoke with a good deal of feeling about the fact that even in Europe, immediately after the war, many of the Jewish organizations were already, and many other organizations, were already trying in the camps to establish some kind of work so that people could keep their skills, could teach the young people a skill. Nothing was allowed in these camps at that time in the Arab states and I said that I thought that these people were losing their skills and wherever they settled afterwards, they would be valueless as citizens. I think since then, they have allowed some industries to get started, but I was glad to see it because I saw just what was happening. I would walk in, to a room full of the refugees, none of whom could speak a word of English, and in a body they would get up and say "We want to go home." It was quite evident they were indoctrinated, quite evident that they had been told this was the only thing they were to accept but not to accept relocation anywhere else and I was happy to see that, but I was also happy to have an idea of the development and the standard of living of the people as a whole in the other countries and I think you will understand when I tell you that when I crossed the gate into Israel, I felt suddenly that I was in fam-a familiar atmosphere once more. It was much more like being at home. Here were people, who somehow in a-- at that time it was still very difficult because they were getting the great influx of refugees, but they were handling them so well, not that I like the camps at that time that they were going into. They weren't very [laughs], they-they weren't what you want for people and they are doing much better now, in putting them right on the land, where they are going to stay.I had not seen them until the winter of '46 after the war
It's more expensive but it's better for people, but nevertheless, what was happening then and the feel that you got from the people, I remember in Jerusalem, going to a Hadassah hospital, and being, it was a hospital for children, and being enormously impressed that here was nothing but a house, a house that had been taken over and was just being used as a hospital. It had none of the proper facilities and yet, the work being down was just excellent, and the thing that at that time, as I went I t-take-I took exactly the same number of days for the three Arab countries then for Israel. And, uh, I had to travel very hard because they wanted to show me a great deal, but I did see a great deal and the thing that impressed me most, I suppose was the thing which I had been thinking about for the longest time. I had always been deeply troubled about the children that I had seen in the camps in Germany. So many of them had lost their families. So many of them had seen sights that made you feel they could never be normal children again, could never forget, and I had had the feeling that to rehabilitate those children was going to be a very difficult task. And I went to children's villages, to schools and saw I'm sure some of the same children but anyway, they were children who have been through the same experiences and from that time on, I have had the greatest respect for what happens in Israel to children.
Somehow, they are given the feeling that they count, that they are part of the building of a new nation, that they are important, that they are really themselves and already contributing to building this nation. And I-I can't tell you the effect it had on me because I saw children that I knew had been through things that I had had a feeling meant they would never be normal and they were as healthy and as strong and as well and they-it gave me then a belief in what could be done, which uh is really extraordinary, and which I saw again when I went in the south of France to the camp for the children coming out of Morocco. Uh, two springs ago, before I went to Israel, I had been asked if I would go to Morocco to see some of the difficulties there and I, at that time, thought it wouldn't be wise because I felt if I went, France would object and it would make the difficulties and so I had with me Mrs. Trude Lash, who is the head of the Citizens Committee for Children, in, um, in the Executive Secretary in New York and knows a great deal about all the work in New York state and city for children, and she went for three days at the end of our trip, but we both went to the south of France, to Marseille, and went to the two camps: the one where the families were coming in and they were going as families to Israel and the one where the children who were going alone were coming in and being prepared to go to live in Israel.
And I was interested today, I happened to be speaking at a breakfast and Commissioner McCarthy, a-of New York, um [laughter] sat by me and he said "You know, I went to Marseille last year when I went through Europe and I went to the camp where the families were waiting to go to Israel." He said, "I was told that you and I were the only Americans who had ever come to see those camps." I don't know whether that's true, you here in this room may have people who've been, but if you have, I think you will agree with me that it's-it was one of the most interesting things to see these children out of theof Morocco being helped to go to Israel and become citizens. At lunch, uh, they had all the children, at lunch with us. And I'd been talking to one of the house mothers and she had said, when they arrive, these children have to be taught everything. They have never slept in a bed. They've never taken off their clothes at night. They have never sat at a table to eat a meal. They have, uhm, the-the knowledge of what a toothbrush is, it's just unknown to them and everything they have to learn.
But there was something I noticed in watching them play, every time they said the word Israel it was said with a kind of faith, that came out even in the children's songs and in their play. And at lunch, a little boy was sitting by Mrs. Lash right across the table and I noticed he had a wristwatch on, and these children have no belongings, practically. And I said to him, "What a nice wristwatch, where did you get it?" in French, because I found he could talk French, and he looked at me and his big eyes opened wide and he said, "My father gave it to me, when we said goodbye." And I could tell he thought that that was goodbye forever, and so, trying to be cheerful, I said, "Oh, but I hope your father and mother will join you very soon in Israel." And he said, "Oh no, we were 7 children and 4 of us died and my mother thought the evil eye was on her, so my parents decided that my brother and I should go to Israel to live. My little brother, he stayed with my mother to die."And that was really, uh-um-a touching thing from this child, it was just--you could hardly keep from crying because it was such an acceptance of the fact, and yet, as he said "Go to Israel to live," you knew, that was what every one of those children was being trained to feel. And that was what made the word, Israel, different. They were going to live. And I think, perhaps, that's what you feel when you are in Israel, that practically everybody has faith in the life that they are building no matter how hard it is.
I remember, Ben-Gurion, saying to me, the last time I was there when I saw him, that the two happiest times of his life were the first years in a kibbutz and when he retired for a short time to his farm, the years he'd spent on his farm. And his eyes were shining and he said, "You know, I'm going to have fruit trees and a garden," and Mrs. Ben-Gurion looked a little skeptical. And so I said uh, "Are these really growing yet?" and he looked at me and he said-uh I added that uh I'd thought I had remembered thehaving a great many rocks. [Clears throat] And he said, um, "Yes, it's true. The Lord forgot to put the soil on the rocks, but that was just so that we should have the pleasure of putting it there ourselves." [Audience laughs] And then he went right, straight on, he said, "I'm going to have those trees. I'm going to have that garden. I can see it! And when we see something here, have the vision, then we make it come true." And that is what you feel, in Israel. On that second trip I asked, to go to all the places I'd been to before, but to see an addition, all the new industries and everything which bonds for Israel had done. I knew very well what UJA did, and it's most needed, and, both things are essential, but bonds were doing something that I felt very important. They were giving self-respect to the people. They were giving the people a feeling that they were worth an investment.
Surely, you would always give out of pity, you would help but when you began to invest, when you began to feel that people were worth your trust, then you were doing something that raised them, in their own estimation, that made them feel that much more important. And that is a very necessary thing, when you have to do very hard work. And don't ever think that to live in Israel doesn't mean you work hard. You work very, very hard, but life is worth living. And so as I looked at new factories, at new land being cleared with the money that bonds provided, I kept thinking how wonderful it was to have a part in really building a nation. I happen always to have felt that Israel had a right to become a homeland, was to be a homeland, and it-a homeland must mean a government for its people. And I have always had that, and I think as long as we're talking about present-day Israel that I should tell you how I feel about the situation in the Near East, just at present.
All of us are anxious, very anxious, we know the threats that mrs-that Dictator Nasser made for a whole year against Israel. We know the danger of [clears throat] the Soviets building up, either through Czech shipments or what they did themselves with technicians and shipments, to Syria, and to Egypt. We know that Israel lived under constant tension. We forget it here but if you are any length of time in Israel, you become conscious, at least I became very conscious in the ten days I was there, two years ago, of the fact that I never opened up the morning paper without reading about some incident, somewhere along the border. Now we forget that it was a daily thing, something that happened every day and you would see as you drove along people coming out of border fields, with the guns strung over their backs. And I kept saying, "This is what it must've been, in the pioneer days of the United States. When the men would go far away from a new homestead to get the supplies for a year, and leave the women and the children." And they never dared go to the field without a gun being close by. Well that was the way I felt, that Israel was living and as the tension grew, you will remember that we were the ones, our government was the government that made the request of Great Britain that they would withdraw their troops from the Suez Canal, uh, in order to make negotiation with Nasser easier. And the supposition was, of course, that we were going to push negotiations but nothing happened.
Now we have to understand that the flow of oil through the Suez Canal was of great economic importance to the whole of Western Europe but particularly to France and Great Britain. These were vital interests, but I do not think that even for vital interests you should forget your promises to the UN and I have always wished that they had gone to the UN before they used force. Nevertheless, I have never felt that we could be absolved of any blame because I think the fact that we did nothing actually meant that we pushed them to a sense of frustration. Now it isn't an excuse, but it's something that we Americans must think about because we did behave as though we were the only virtuous people in the world and as though these were bad children, these allies of ours, who had been so strong and we put them into a position where they lost prestige, where their strength was far less, and for a short time we weakened NATO through doing that, to a very great extent, and I've often wondered whether that did not somewhat contribute to the feeling that the Soviets had, that they could do anything they wanted in Hungary because NATO was not strong enough to actually take any action at that time.
But you will note that I did not say Israel in the same connection.And I have always felt that the UN should have made the distinction and that we should have made the distinction because Israel, actually, technically moved first, of course, in invading the Sinai Desert and the Gaza Strip, but as a matter of fact, she was acting in self-defense because you cannot listen, day after day to being told, that when these nations about you are ready, they will drive you into the sea. And know, because after all Israel had knowledge; remember, it wasn't just a suspicion, it was knowledge of what was being built up around her in the way of military equipment and training. And so, I always felt that if you read the Charter, you realized that self-defense was allowed. Nobody can be expected to wait until people are ready to destroy them before they move. And so, while technically, it may be correct to say that Israel was an aggressor, I have never felt it had any validity at all and I've felt that we, should have been the ones, to make that explanation in the United Nations. Because we--[applause] we knew perfectly well that in the same position, we would not have waited until everyone was completely ready to attack us and therefore, I do not think that all the feeling of tremendous righteousness that we have had, actually was justified.
I think we have to bear some of the blame for the whole situation. Had we moved with more energy, we might have obviated-- now I think we had to vote as we did, against Great Britain and France once it happened, but I wish, with all my heart, that we had never let it happen because if we had never let it happen, if we had been moving with energy and insistence, I don't think they would've felt they had to move with force. And I think, for that reason, we have to think of our responsibility and to realize that we had a responsibility in the UN for the leadership we gave, remember we now are the one great nation standing against the Soviet Union. We used to have two strong allies, we pretty fairly well destroyed much of their strength.Today, we are alone. And so, what we do in leadership, within the United Nations and outside, is absolutely the most important thing in the world today, and what happens, you hear people talk as though the United Nations just acted by itself; it's the peoples and sovereign governments come together.
And there are a great many, young, small new nations now, 81 nations. They can't give leadership. The very nature of things, their interests have to be concentrated on their own particular interests. They can't be turned aside, they've-they've absolutely got to live and they're living from day to day, but they will follow the nation that convinces them that they are great enough to think of their own interests as every nation must but to think of their interests in the context of world interests, so that even the small nation knows that its interests will be considered that this is a forum where they can draw their troubles to the attention of the big nations. And that there will be leadership that comes from conviction and from honestly looking for the good of the world, knowing very well that a great nation cannot have any real success unless it thinks of its own interests in the context of world interests. And that is the thing now that we have got to face because if we are to keep leadership these small nations have to have confidence in us. And they have to follow us because they have that confidence. And you have to go into the United Nations with a policy.
Be ready to defend it. Be ready to explain it. Change it, if anyone has a better suggestion, but someone has to have a policy and lead. [Applause] And we have to do that. And so, as you look at the situation in the Near East today, you want to think of what you can do to make your own nation more adequate to meet the situation because Israel needs the United States to have the courage to stand with conviction for doing the things that should be done. Now, I sometimes wonder why it never seems to occur to some of our leaders, that Israel is the only country in the whole of the Near East [clears throat] where the people have a sense that life is sufficiently worth living. So that if the Soviets did want to attack, that is the only country where for 5 minutes there would be a real effort to stem the tide and defend their country. We give military aid, and I think it's wasted aid. We gave it to Saudi Arabia, and I can't bear the thought that we signed an agreement, which over and over again in the past we've refused to sign, curtailing the acceptance, in any way, of an American citizen in an-in another country. I think it was a weak and stupid thing to do because immediately Saudi Arabia got the feeling, "Well, we got this, we'll get the next thing." And how much good it does us to give military aid to these countries, I do not believe, that it does us any good at all. Because, I have seen those people, where there is misery and disease, I don't believe the people can fight and I don't think they would fight. They have nothing to fight for.[Clears throat]
That being true, this is waste, absolute waste, and might we much better put what we do into an effort to raise the standard of living of the people and then perhaps, if we had a little courage, we wouldn't have to sign that kind of an agreement. We could stand up for our own citizens. I don't like being led by the nose by Mr. Nasser, or by any of the leaders in that area of the world. And I think that the time has come when we will have to have, at some point, I know it's a risk, and we might as well face it. The risk is, that they will ask the Soviet Union to actually come in, and help them. And the fear of people in power is of taking that risk because it is a risk and it's one none of us want to take. But sometimes there comes a point when you have to take a risk and I think that the knowledge that the Soviet Union has of the devastation that World War III would mean, everywhere, not to one person but to everyone, is probably great enough to keep her from actually bringing on World War III. It won't keep her from inciting two small wars, and wars in which other people fight but it will keep her, I think, from World War III and I don't think weakness on our part is really going to get us into the position where our leadership counts for good in this world, which is a complicated world in which we're living today and a world, I think, where you have to stand and be counted for the things you really believe are right. Right here at home, we have to do that. And I think that the more we do it at home, the more we will be able to do it abroad and the more important our leadership abroad will become. Having said this, I want to tell you that I have the greatest faith in Israel. I think that when you are there you have a feeling of growth, you have a feeling of the way in which they use the help that comes to them and a sense of faith, which makes you feel that they cannot fail. And so, I hope, I know, I'm always ashamed when I even urge a group of the Jewish community to give because you give so much and you are so generous, not only for Israel but for so many other things that are not purely your own things, in any community you live in. And I'm afraid that there is no counterpart in any other group in this country to your generosity but this-- [Applause] this here, this helping of Israel with investment to me is a very important thing.
It helps the spirit of the people and in three years I saw an enormous change, which had come about through the investment, and I hope to go back again, when I think time enough has elapsed and see how in spite of the create difficulties that Israel faces today because while bond money goes into economic development, much of Israel's own burden has had to be an unproductive burden.There are many, many people who would be producing in Israel and who are much needed for production who've had to be in the army. And this is a tremendous burden for a small state, and I think the need of help and understanding and self-respect is greater than it has been up to now. I hope that the United Nations is going to be able to improve the situation. If I had time, I would like to tell you what I hope is happening in Morocco. I-I hope that there will be a better situation there in a year or so for the Jewish population, but I don't have any more time and I don't want to take it away from the other speakers. I just want, however, to tell you that I have the greatest admiration for you all. I know that it means sacrifice. I know that it means you give up things for what you do, but I think every one of you who have been in Israel will feel that the sacrifice is worthwhile and those who have not been, I hope you will someday go, for I think it's one of the most inspiring experiences.
One of the things that makes me feel that I wish we could get back some of the spirit we had as pioneers because you feel it there and you wish you had the same spirit. And I hope perhaps we will, but in the meantime, I thank you for having some of that spirit. It is the spirit of our early pioneers and the help you give is helping, I think, the one nation which someday I hope, will be a beacon light in that area of the world and will help the other nations so that their people also, may raise their standards of living.
Mrs. Roosevelt-- [noise from crowd] Please don't leave. We have some nice things in store for you yet. Mrs. Roosevelt, for myself, for our honored guests, and for all of us gathered here this evening, I extend to you, mine and all of our heartfelt appreciation. I know that you've traveled at considerable inconvenience on an extremely hot day all the way from New York City, to be present with us today and I assure you that all of us appreciate that effort. And you may be sure that the admiration that you say you have for us is more greatly reciprocated in return. [Applause] Ladies and gentlemen, I've had the dubious distinction of standing here before you on previous occasions, and I suspect that there are some of you who rub your eyes and say, "My God, I'm having another bad dream, I wish that fella would go away." Well I know that, perhaps on some occasions, I make myself somewhat offensive. And there are times that I feel somewhat distressed by it. But all I can say to you, ladies and gentlemen, is that that distress is alleviated by the knowledge that perhaps in some smaller measure, hopefully in some greater measure, our mutual interests in the state of Israel has perhaps been a little more advanced.
And so I-I hope that you um, won't feel too burdened with my offensiveness, as some have described. And ladies and gentlemen, I have heard many remarks by many speakers at many types of functions, UJA drives, bond drives and numerous others, all associated with the development of the state of Israel and with assistance to it and its people. I have heard flashy and florid speakers but I do not recall ever, ever having heard a more sincere person in my entire life. [Applause] (40:33) And I am sure that this great lady's sincerity, as it touched me, must of necessity touch all of you too. This evening, my friends, we've had a double treat laid out for us. You've had as I told you earlier, the rare privilege and distinction of hearing Mrs. Roosevelt. You will have the privilege also of paying homage and honor to one of Vineland's devoted Jewish families. And I am going to make what is um, in [unknown term: might be tender (41:16)] refer to as a pitch. By that I mean that we are going to try to get you folks who haven't made purchases, make some. And those of you who before these evening's festivities made what you perceive to be your sacrifice, to perhaps consult with your consciences, and um, sacrifice a little more.
I-I know uh Bernie and I were talking earlier this evening; we're all going to borrow a little more money so we can put this thing over. The gentleman and his lovely wife whom we are honoring this evening is Dr. Arthur D. Goldhaft. [Applause] (42:04) And later, we will make a presentation and um, this presentation that I hope we will be able to make, although I don't think he's completely aware of what's going on. And since he is the evening's honored guest, I would like to afford Dr. Goldhaft the opportunity, firstly, to announce his purchase of state of Israel bonds. Dr. Goldhaft.
At the [cough] last meeting….
Doctor, come over here please.
I uh agreed to purchase five thousand dollars of bonds but when I heard about this meeting, I asked the chairman to permit me to say a few words directly to Mrs. Roosevelt. And what I have to say to Mrs. Roosevelt is not only in behalf of my wife, Florence and myself, but of all of you present, and I hope you will agree when I am through. Mrs. Roosevelt, my wife Florence and I have followed you for the past 25 years. Your travels in this country and in travels around the world has been recorded in various newspapers and in various magazines. We also followed uh your column from its inception and when we miss it we feel disappointed. And we are always on the lookout for that. As a result of that and what you have been trying to do, Florence and I, and I might add a great many of my friends who I have known for near 50 years like Mack Shrank and Rose, and Mr. and Mrs. [unknown term: might be Bleisnack(43:56)], and others have become confirmed disciples of what you have been championing, and that is social justice and democracy and freedom to all of the people of the world.
And as of a result of that, therefore, uh we always had a great desire and we yearned to have the opportunity to meet with you personally, which we never had before. And when I was informed about this meeting, and most of you know that my family and particularly my wife, Florence, had suffered some major surgery, we didn't plan to come back until May the 15th; I thought this was my opportunity and I don't know when it would ever happen again. We were coming back to meet Mrs. Roosevelt personally. And therefore again, its--it is-it is only reasonable because we believe that you've been a crusader, a crusader-a realistic crusader on behalf of social justice and democracy and freedom. And consequently, I want to know that many of the people in this room whenever they have received information or requests from various organizations in America and wherever your name was attached, on the left-hand border or the right hand border, we complied with it because we knew what you were fighting for and we were with you physically and a spiritual way. Now I want to tell you something Mrs. Roosevelt, that has never been published before and never been told to you and now is the time to tell it to you because the time is getting late for me and others at my age.
I'm quite as old.
In 1946 and in 1947, I had the distinct pleasure of being associated with a large group of men and women with a late Dr. Albert Einstein in Princeton, NJ. We were not interested in bombs; they were not interested in physics or astronomy or chemistry because I knew nothing about that. But like Dr. Albert Einstein who was interested in many other things beside physics, and chemistry and astronomy, he was also interested in the same thing that you were interested in Mrs. Roosevelt, Humanities. And one day at that meeting, I had the pleasure of taking my daughter with me, Dr. Helen Wernikoff, on one Sunday. We had a wonderful day with Dr. Einstein and he made the following statement amongst many other things that he said, but this I shall remember forever: "If there is one lady in this world that stands out above everybody else who is not a national heroine but who is really an international heroine, she carries no citations on her breasts from below her chin down to her navel, indicating how many people they've killed and how many people they've enslaved. She carries no meritorious badges of any kind but she has saved and she is interested in saving humanity. And someday, the world will recognize her make of the outstanding women in the world." We've had our national heroes amongst our own people as Esther Ferguson was one of them but not like you Mrs. Roosevelt. You stand out above everything else, of any woman in this world, according to Albert Einstein-- [applause]
About this document
Israel Bond Drive
April 4, 1957
- National Endowment for the Humanities
Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches is a project and publication of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, The George Washington University, Academic Building, Post Hall, Room 312, 2100 Foxhall Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007
Transcribed and published by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, 2019-11-27
Transcription created from holdings at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library