Wednesday, 25 May 2022 / 24 Iyar 5782

President Isaac Herzog’s full speech:

We gather here at the World Economic Forum in Davos after a two-year hiatus, as the world continues to gradually re-emerge to normalcy. Yet we realize that the new normal is drastically different from the reality we had put on hold.

After millions lost their lives in the paralyzing COVID-19 pandemic, the past few months have presented us with the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine. Our hearts break seeing the tragic devastation being inflicted on the people of Ukraine. The State of Israel continues to provide extensive humanitarian support to the Ukrainian people. The Israeli field hospital in Ukraine treated thousands of civilians; thousands of Israeli volunteers are operating in Ukraine and around it, to assist with humanitarian aid and relief; my wife Michal and I have been working to promote practical post-trauma and trauma treatment and psychological therapy, for the people, especially the children of Ukraine, based on Israel's unique experience and capabilities in these fields. We remain eager to address the physical and emotional needs of everyone suffering from this humanitarian crisis. This is not the normal for which we had hoped.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is also noteworthy that the past two years have afforded opportunities for profound, historic shifts. Chief among them, from the Israeli and regional perspective, are the Abraham Accords: a set of groundbreaking agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors for peace and normalization. The courageous efforts of leaders at the forefront and supporters behind the scenes who made these agreements a reality, under the auspices of the United States of America, are realigning the Middle East.

In January of this year I had the honor of paying an official visit to the United Arab Emirates, as President of the Jewish, democratic State of Israel. This was only two weeks after the passing of my mother, Aura Herzog. Jewish tradition provides mourners with a beautiful prayer—Kaddish—expressing deep faith in God even in times of loss and it is said daily. Reciting this prayer in Abu Dhabi, praying for my Egyptian-born mother, I thought about how astonished she would have been to see her son, the President of the Jewish state praying freely, equal among equals, in a Muslim country, beside fellow Sons of Abraham.

Ladies and gentlemen, an outburst of energy is sweeping through the region—energy of change, which will dictate how the next generation grows up.

I often envision the ten-year-old boy or girl, somewhere in the Middle East who sees his or her Muslim leader speaking openly with a Jewish head of state; who sees the Israeli flag fluttering proudly as Israel's prime minister, defense minister, or foreign minister are welcomed to summits in Sharm El-Sheikh, Rabat, and Manama; who sees the President of Israel warmly received at the Royal Palace in Amman and the Presidential Palace in Ankara; and who sees an Israeli president flying two weeks ago directly to Abu Dhabi to console its new ruler on the passing of his beloved brother, as I just did. A child who grows up with such a deep message of hope will mature into an inspired young adult for whom peace is a reality, and not a distant dream. This hope is the greatest revolution brought about by the Abraham Accords, and we are seeing this dramatic sea change throughout the Middle East.

Warm winds of cooperation, dialogue, and understanding are blowing through the region. People to people, non-profits, businesses, tourism—the change is apparent in virtually every sector and is enhancing the entire region. This is true of our new partnerships—with Bahrain, the UAE, Sudan and Morocco, as well as of our deeply respected, traditional partners, Egypt and Jordan.

The encouraging opportunity to turn a new leaf with Turkey, and the evolving collaboration with countries in the region with which we are eager to formalize relations, fills me with great optimism. I call on all countries and nations from near and far, to join these winds of change, partner with Israel, lead the future, and make history!

Dear friends: we are well aware that as this thrilling momentum grows, so does the motivation of dark forces, be they individuals, groups or radical regimes, to enflame tensions and ignite violence. Those who wish to keep the Middle East stuck in the old paradigm of hatred and terror, while undermining the new paradigm of trust, and directing rampant hatred towards the State of Israel, its people, and Jewish people around the world. We must all make it clear to them that the State of Israel is here to stay. Forever!

Unfortunately, our principal struggle is against the Iranian regime, which systematically undermines the stability of the region. Israel, and all nations of the world, cannot accept Iran's pursuit of nuclear capabilities, recognizing the threat it poses to Israel and the entire Middle East. Iran spreads hatred, terror, pain and suffering. Time and again we have seen how every country or region infiltrated by Iran has had the life sucked out of its people and its land. Prosperity, human liberty, creativity, growth—all are erased. We have seen this in Iraq. We have seen this in Yemen. We have seen this in Gaza. We have seen this in Syria. And we have seen this in Lebanon.

Take Lebanon as an example: Beirut was once termed the Paris of the Middle East. Lebanon is a country and a people with which Israel has not the slightest reason for a conflict. It is painfully disturbing and sad to see the catastrophe of Lebanon, a country continuously collapsing into poverty and pain. Israel is eager to share its prosperity and successes with all its neighbors, to break down barriers imposed by Iran’s influence.

I truly believe that if only we choose the forces of light, the path to a drastically different, brighter future is closer than we can imagine. We will always  extend our hand in peace to all our neighbors, from the Levant to the Gulf, from the Maghreb to the Mashreq, from our immediate neighbors the Palestinians, to the entire Muslim world and also to the whole continent of Africa and the entire Middle East.

We all owe it to our children, to find a way to hear each other and to work together to expand the zone of understanding, despite wide gaps and conflicting narratives. We expect of others what we demand of ourselves: to be attuned to the truth even when the truth hurts, not to buy into fake news, and to dare to work together to chart a different course. In order to secure a safe future for everyone in the Middle East, we must outline a nuanced, multifaceted approach incorporating geopolitical, climatic, and social needs. We must work together, regionally, to fundamentally change our approach to our planet; to harness revolutionary technologies to create far-reaching prosperity, health, and well-being for our peoples; to embrace a new paradigm of tolerance, dialogue, and trust.

Because together, we can shape not only a new Middle East, but a Renewable Middle East: a new regional alliance for a stable and sustainable future. A Middle East that thrives as a global hub of sustainable solutions in food, water and health; that serves as a source of energy, mostly solar energy, to Europe, Asia and Africa. And it is being done in these very days.

A Renewable Middle East: a region that is not only new, in the sense of different, but is sustained by its own positive momentum, developing collaborative defense systems, joint infrastructure, and shared technologies for improving the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, too much has happened over these two years for us to go back to the old normal. We cannot treat our future as we have done in the past. We must change: breaking paradigms, setting ambitious goals and committing to overcome every obstacle.

Israel remains fully committed to freedom of religion and worship, to deep respect towards all faiths in the Holy Land, and of course to upholding democratic values.

Let us harness this momentous shift to foster interpersonal dialogue, people to people, heart to heart. By working with countries and nations of the region, with the support of this distinguished World Economic Forum, we have an opportunity to build a future of peace, prosperity and progress, for all the sons and daughters of Abraham.

Let us work towards this Renewable Middle East cultivating a shared sustainable future for all of our children.

If we lead with action, our hearts will follow suit. Thank you very much.