Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, held at the Hilton Hotel in London on Wednesday 12th February 1997.
It is just under four years since Norma and I last had the pleasure of dining with
the Board of Deputies -
A lot has happened in the world since I was last with you, and nowhere more so than in the Middle East. We've seen:
Some big set-
I know you will share my relief that the negotiations on Hebron were successfully concluded last month. This is a major step forward. I hope it will also prove to be a turning point in the peace process.
Enormous efforts went into the negotiations. The international community has given unstinting support to the process. The American role has been crucial and I pay tribute to their efforts.
Of course, the UK and the European Union are not directly involved in the peace negotiations.
But we remain determined supporters. We provide substantial aid, both bilaterally
and through the European Union, to support peace -
We are giving substantial aid to the Palestinians this year. It is in everyone's interests that we do so. A prosperous Palestinian economy would make a major contribution to peace.
Lynda Chalker was in the region a couple of weeks ago. She had a good look at how
our existing assistance is helping and also announced a water and sewerage project
for Hebron -
Perhaps the most significant outside involvement has come from within the Middle
East. I know that both King Hussein and President Mubarak played decisive roles in
bringing the two sides to agreement. The King's last-
But of course, none of this outside effort would have come to anything, if Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Arafat had not been willing to go the extra mile to find agreement. I am delighted that Mr. Netanyahu was able to take forward this part of the Oslo accords. I am sorry he was unable to join us tonight, but I know that his Government has only a slim majority in Parliament. He is attacked either for giving away too much in international negotiations or not enough. I sympathise. I know how he feels! But I am convinced he was right to reach an agreement on Hebron.
A majority in Israel clearly thinks so too. The Knesset passed the Hebron deal by
87 votes to 17. Opinion polls show two-
Peace in the Middle East must become lasting. If hopes were to fall away now, bitterness would be redoubled. So there is much still to be done.
The Hebron deal also clears the way for final status talks to re-
There can be no final peace in the Middle East without a peace between Syria and Israel. The Israeli Government has expressed its wish to resume negotiations with Syria. The Syrians have also said they want to get back to the negotiating table. I very much hope a way can be found to bridge their current differences.
I have already mentioned Your Majesty's role in the Hebron Agreement. I hope Jordan reaps the dividends of peace she deserves. We are trying to secure a fair economic agreement between Jordan and the European Union. I hope we will be successful. I hope also that investment and trade between Jordan and Israel will increase, following their recent agreements.
Britain and Israel have been friends for a long time. Our historical ties go back to the time of the British Mandate for Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel. Our friendship is based on mutual understanding and trust. It encompasses all the areas one would expect:
Later this month, President Weizman will pay a State Visit at the invitation of Her
Majesty The Queen. It will be an historic occasion. The first ever State Visit to
Britain by an Israeli President. And President and Mrs Weizman's British connections
I have already mentioned the role the Jewish community in Britain plays in expanding our ties with Israel. But your contribution to British life is invaluable.
Last month I gave a speech to members of the Conservative Party from the ethnic minorities. I told them that my aim was to make Britain the best place in the world to live. By that I meant a Britain that is tolerant. A Britain that is at ease with itself. And a Britain where everyone has the opportunity to make a success of life, regardless of colour, race, creed, or background. Black and white. African and Asian. Jew and Christian, Moslem and Hindu.
Opportunity for all can only be assured through national prosperity. You all know how healthy our economy now is: we have strong growth, low inflation and rapidly falling unemployment. I appreciate hugely the Jewish Community's contribution to Britain's economic life. I am sure you will also benefit from the uniquely favourable position in which we now find ourselves.
Choice in education is one of the cornerstones of my vision of Britain. Many Jewish parents would like their children to receive a Jewish education. I understand this. Britain has a long tradition of schools catering for particular religions within the state sector. We have worked hard on this issue. There has been an increase in the number of Jewish schools. And more are planned and I welcome this.
We must protect the diversity of our country. We have a good record of racial tolerance in Britain. It is one of the better places in the world to live. The Race Relations Act and the Public Order Act give a high level of protection. But I'm not complacent.
I know many of you are concerned about the activities of people who deny that the Holocaust took place. As I said in the House of Commons yesterday, I understand the hurt, offence and distress of those who suffered, or whose families suffered at that time. I want to take account of the views of the Jewish Community.
I believe such bigotry is best confronted with calm reason and education.
That's why the National Curriculum requires all 11-
That's why the Imperial War Museum is preparing a permanent exhibition on it.
We are keeping a close eye on this issue. I am determined that, with the help of such measures, the significance of the Holocaust will never be forgotten.
This is also why I am personally committed to the European Year Against Racism and will launch it in this country later this month. At the moment, the proposed European Centre to Monitor Racism and Xenophobia would not be able to gather information on racial harassment and violence. That is clearly unsatisfactory. We are therefore discussing this issue with our European partners. I want an effective Centre established as soon as possible.
The Government cannot legislate away the actions of every wayward individual. But
we can, and will, do our utmost to prevent organised activities against the Jewish
So I welcome the steps university authorities have taken to curb the activities of
The police and courts have a number of powers to restrict such activities. Intentional harassment is already a criminal offence. And the proposed Protection from Harassment Bill will give the authorities even greater powers to deal with these problems. The Bill should become law next month.
Terrorism is an evil that threatens civilised society across the world. The people
of Northern Ireland, the police and the security forces have to live day in day out
with the threat of IRA violence. Hamas and others have attempted to derail the peace
process in the Middle East with their murderous attacks. Such violence can never
be rewarded. No-
We all remember the horrific assassination attempt against Shlomo Argov in 1982. The memory of the bombings of the Israeli Embassy and Balfour House in 1994 is still fresh.
Fortunately, at least some of the perpetrators were caught. They have now been given long sentences by the courts. Quite right too.
The Government is committed to combating any terrorist activity in the UK. We will
not allow Britain to be used as a base by those who support terrorism overseas. That
is why the police and Security Service give such a high priority to countering the
activities of those trying to organise, or fund terrorism from the UK. Let no-
Like so many other issues, terrorism has become a problem spanning national boundaries. Terrorist groups may be active in one country, have their headquarters in another, recruit their members in a third and raise their funds in a fourth. An individual country cannot tackle them on its own. Effective international action against terrorism is therefore essential.
Britain is at the fore of international efforts. The Group of Seven industrialised
nations and Russia held a Counter-
Let me conclude by leaving you with three final thoughts. The right to live in peace
Here in Britain, we have many different peoples. My vision of Britain is one where this country is home for them all. Where they can live without fear of violence. Where Britain is the best place in the world to live.
While we strive to improve our own country, we do not forget the trials and tribulations of our friends around the world. That is why we will continue to join the Government of Israel, the Palestinian authorities and fellow Governments in the Arab world in their efforts to find a solution to the Middle East conflict. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians may sometimes feel alone as they search for that settlement, but they aren't.
They will have all the support we can offer them, as a Government, as a nation and as friends. That is why I am delighted to be here tonight.