Thank you. I want to thank my friends, first and foremost the Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein. He's pretty good in English too. To Deputy Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, a very, very able Knesset member, I can tell you, and very able Deputy Minister. To my childhood friend, Natan Sharansky. We were both children when you came out – well, younger. To Duvdev and to all the members of the Board of Governors: I see Michael Siegal here and so many other friends. And most especially Jimmy Tisch. He is the real article, I mean, he takes a position and he does it here, before that in the Conference of Presidents, before that in the Federations of New York. He also knows something about business – not much. He knows a great many things and he's put them forward on behalf of our people and the partnership between us and the launching of the joint initiative. And I deeply value that. I value your commitment. I value your investment in this, in this, which is an investment in our future. And this is what all of you do. And this is what we try to do.
Now, we face many challenges. The immediate challenge before us is to get these three teenagers back home safely. Our working assumption is that are alive. We're doing everything we can to bring them back alive from the clutches of Hamas. There's no question Hamas perpetrated this savage act of kidnapping, no question whatsoever. We have another working assumption that they are in the territories of Judea, Samaria, most likely in Judea. We can't rule out completely other possibilities but we have reason to believe that that is the case and we're operating on these premises. We also are taking action against Hamas, which is a terrorist organization that not only attacks our citizens, but is devoted, is committed to our destruction. And it is part and parcel of a larger witch's brew of Islamist radical murderous forces that are sweeping the Middle East. It is one of the great challenges that face us today.
Israel has had remarkable achievements. In our sixty-six years, our population has grown ten-fold. Our economy has grown a hundred-fold – one hundred times. Our GDP per capita has grown over thirty times. We've done this in the face of great adversity. We've become a global technological power, as you know, and the world's leading powers and leading companies are coming to Israel to partake of our great skills in innovation. But as we build the country, we have to also fend off these attacks and meet three great challenges. I don't mean only to the Jewish state, I mean to the Jewish people because the future of the two, as you know, is intertwined.
The first challenge is the rising tide of anti-Semitism, especially in Europe. There there is an amalgamation of anti-Semitism from the hard left, the hard right and the Islamist anti-Semitism that is now permeating Europe. And that is changing the situation of the Jews of France and the Jews of Belgium and Jews elsewhere, not only with the violent attack that Speaker of the Knesset Edelstein referred to. It's a systemic change and I think that the important thing to do in the face of anti-Semitism there and elsewhere in Eastern Europe is to first attack it. Don't bow to it. We have the ability to do something that we never had in the history of anti-Semitism in antiquity and especially in the Middle Ages and modern times. We have the ability to speak out against it. We have a state; we have the Jewish Agency; we have our institutions.
And one of the first things that we have to do in the face of this campaign of hatred, which is based on lies, is to attack the lies and speak the truth. And we should do that proudly and forcefully. It's crucial, including the DBS campaign and this shameful, shameful decision by the Presbyterian organization in America. This is what they have to say today? I mean, the whole Middle East is aflame with terrible tyranny and terror. Hundreds of thousands are being butchered, millions are being displaced, Christians are persecuted everywhere, churches are burnt. And the only place that's safe, the only beacon of freedom and human rights and human dignity, where Christians are protected – Christians are protected – is Israel. I suggested to that body that they come to the Middle East, see Israel for the enlightened, beleaguered democracy that it is and then take a bus tour to Libya, Syria, Iraq, and see the difference. I only have two suggestions for them: One, that it be an amour-plated bus; and two, that they don't say that they're Christians.
I think we have to fight anti-Semitism and the vilification of Jews and the Jewish state forcefully, proudly, incessantly. And that is a job that we all share. That's the first thing. Of course, bringing those communities to Israel, making sure that Israel is worthy of this, as my friend Yuli said, is our joint responsibility, but we must speak out against anti-Semitism. That's the first task.
The second is to address the larger regional convulsion that is taking place here. The entire area from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Khyber Pass has been uncorked. Essentially, for the last one hundred years, most of this area was governed by an arrangement done by two young diplomats – almost a hundred years ago. One of them is actually, a year later, was instrumental in passing the Balfour Declaration, but very few people know the contribution of Mark Sykes to Zionism. He became an ardent Zionism a year later. But they drew a map. That map held intact for half a century with colonial powers and the other half with dictatorial regimes – secular dictatorships. First the colonial powers collapsed after World War Two and the dictatorial regimes collapsed with the so-called Arab Spring. Some spring. And what's uncorked, what is bursting out with full force, are centuries-old hatreds between Sunnis and Shiites, sect against sect, tribe against tribe, and this is just sweeping through the region.
This puts of course the lie to the sacred cow that has been forever slain that the core of the conflict, always in the singular, in the Middle East was the Israeli-Palestinian problem. It seems laughable now, but people were saying that seriously until very recently. The Middle East is undergoing a tremendous convulsion. You see it now not only in the countries that I mentioned, especially in Iraq, and there are two main camps that are fighting one another: The radical Shiites, led by Iran, and the radical Sunnis, led by Al-Qaeda and ISIS and others, battling each other. They're both, both of these camps, are mortal enemies of Israel and the United States and just about everything in between. And when your enemies are fighting one another, don't strengthen either one of them. Weaken both. There is a task to be done in Iraq to prevent the overtaking of Iraq by ISIS, or for that matter, by Iran, to prevent what happened, its takeover, like the one it did in Lebanon or in Syria, and whatever advice we have, we give to our American colleagues in other forums.
But one thing you don't want to happen and must not be allowed to happen, for the sake of the Jewish future, for the sake of the Jewish state, for the sake of the American state and everything in between, is to have one of these sides arm themselves with atomic weapons. You just imagine these fanatics armed with atomic bombs. That has to be stopped. Now, my concern is that as we speak, within a week or two weeks, there could be an agreement that in practice enables Iran to be a threshold nuclear military state with a capability to produce nuclear weapons in short order. That problem of preventing any one of these sides from having, keeping and employing weapons of mass death has just been addressed in Syria. There they removed chemical weapons. Notice what I said: Removed. Those stockpiles of chemicals and the weapons and the means to produce both were removed. They were dismantled and removed from Syria.
The deal that is being discussed with Iran is not that arrangement. It's not dismantle and remove; it's keep and inspect. Suppose the deal in Syria would have been, alright, Basher Assad, you can keep your chemicals, you can keep your weapons, you can keep the means to produce them. We'll put inspectors there and we'll put them under lock and key so that if you break the lock it will take you a few weeks or a few months to get it back. What would you say? What would anyone say? Happily, that is not the case and 92% or 93% of the chemical weapon stocks have been removed and we have to make sure that 100% is removed.
That is not what is being discussed in Iran: Basically, to keep that capacity, remove the bulk of the sanctions and keep the bulk of the capability, some of the centrifuges spinning and the others in, they call it mothball. You know what it means, mothball? You ever had a coat mothballed in the closet? You open the closet, take out the mothballs, take out the coat, you've got the coat. That's a bad deal. Better no deal than a bad deal, because if Iran is allowed to park as a nuclear threshold state, that will change history. Iran is a terror regime that is bent on dominating the Middle East and beyond. And if it has nuclear weapons capability, that will be a pivot of history. It must not be allowed to happen.
I raise this with you because we're talking about a partnership in the Jewish future. I think a partnership in the future of peace and stability in the world, and I raise it here because I welcome and urge all of you, each and every one of you, to participate in your own way to say this. Speak out on this while there's still time.
And the third thing that – is that enough challenges? The third one is something that I think gives us the power, the force, the moral force, to address all these challenges and many others and to achieve the great things we have achieved, and that is to strengthen Jewish identity. Now we've embarked on a great partnership. It's exactly that: A partnership. And we want to strengthen it in every, in innovative programs, which we are launching, because ultimately the power of nations and the power of our nation, the power of our people, is based on the strength and depth of our identity.
I read recently a slim volume of a wonderful historian. Some of you might remember him, Will Durant. Yeah? Most audiences I never get any response to, but Will Durant wrote many years ago "The Story of Civilization" – eleven volumes describing the history of ancient China right up to Napoleon roughly. And then he wrote a very slim volume which he called "The Lessons of History". He wrote it with his Jewish wife, Ariel. What a partnership. Anyway, after a lifetime of study of history, he says, here are the lessons of history. Every line is pregnant with meaning and wisdom, but I want to summarize it for you. Now, do you want the good news or the bad news?
I'll give you first the bad news. The bad news, if you really read what he's saying, he's saying in history, numbers count and the nations with the big numbers have an advantage because, you know, they have a bigger GDP. They can have bigger military machines, armies. And they have power and they dominate the smaller nations. Of course, there are cycles of rise and decline and so on, and even fall.
Now you want the good news? The good news: He says that there are exceptions to this rule, and the exceptions to the rule, both in the challenging demography, challenging geography – he gives one example. He says perhaps the best example of mustering cultural, the forces of culture and leadership is the young State of Israel. This is over forty years ago, so you know, we've had a few challenges in these forty years and we've been able to overcome them with what he calls "a force of culture". And the force of culture is really the strength of identity, the appreciation of our heritage, the education we give to our children, the pride we have in our history, in our state, in our common bond. That is really what we're working together to give to the next generation to ensure our future.
I know that each of you is deeply committed to this goal. I know you dedicate a good portion of your lives and in many ways your entire lives to it. And I want to thank you for it, for investing in our common future, in our culture, in our bond.
Thank you all and thank you, Jim. Thank you very much.