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Address of the President of Georgia at “Friends of Zion” Museum in Jerusalem

Address of President Zourabichvili at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, where she was granted with the highest award of the American organization.
Shalom, საღამო მშვიდობის,
Your Excellency, Mrs. Miri Regev, already my friend,
Your Excellency, Mr. Friedman, the Ambassador of the United States of America, big Friend of Georgia
Dear President of the Friends of Zion, Dear Mike and our firend,
Mr. Chairman of the Department of Antiquities, Mr. Israel Hason
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I am very proud to represent Georgia in these ceremonies of remembrance and of resistance, I would say, that are being held for the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust. It is a privilege to be here in this beautiful city of Jerusalem. (I would compete with you with Tbilisi, but let’s see...), this eternal city that founded by King David of Israel.
It is an honor to be received here and to receive this prestigious award from the Friends of Zion, which has been bestowed before me on much more important leaders. It is an honor that this award is linked to late President Shimon Peres, who will ever be remembered for his service to the cause of peace.
These ceremonies remembering 75 years since the Holocaust are of the utmost necessity. Of course, one could ask why, and why not simply forget this tragedy, this disaster for humankind that was the Holocaust? The answer is simple.
Remembrance is vital. Only if humans remember, can they – can we all - prevent the repetition of things past, of things intolerable, of things unacceptable. Memory is what distinguishes human beings from the animal world, memory and the capacity to recognize where we all failed collectively, where we all faltered, where we faulted, and the ability to acknowledge past faults and crimes, the ability to repent and to learn.
Rememberance and Resistance, because we can never be confident enough that indifference, ignorance, weakness and intolerance will not prevail once again, when we see our societies closing in, rejecting the other, the other’s opinions, culture, race, religion. Resistance, because once again in many countries that call themselves civilized and where democracy and freedom are supposedly highly-valued, suddenly the cancer of antisemitism, racism, discrimination is reappearing, intolerance is striving. Hate speech has found an unexpected ally in social media, where anonymity, together with irresponsibility, allow what should not be allowed to find its expression, at no other cost but that of our common values and dignity.
The inexistence of antisemitism in itself cannot be a reason for pride, in the same way that one cannot pride oneself of not being a criminal or not being a thief. But we, Georgians, can be proud of something else and that is the quality of bonds that have existed between Georgian and Jews, and I would say between Georgians and Georgians, for there was never any distinction made in Georgia on the basis of ethnic origin or religion, despite the fact that in Georgia, Christianity has been part of the identity since the first century and more so since the state conversion in the 4th century.
Religion has never divided us, even less opposed us, but on the contrary has been a factor for mutual respect and enrichment. It has been at the core of our multi-secular bond. The first Jews seeking refuge in Georgia at the time of the destruction of the first Temple, brought with them monotheism in a then-pagan Georgian society. Jews brought also at that time the robe of Prophet Elijah and later they brought the Holy Tunic of the Christ to Mtskheta, then capital of Georgia, which became known as the New Jerusalem. The oldest Bible of Lailashi is preserved with the utmost love and care in Georgia. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Georgia offered refuge to another wave: that of the Jews fleeing Spanish persecutions. In recent history, Georgian Jews have been part of the movement of national independence, which at the end of the 19th century prepared the restoration of independence and have participated to the establishment of the new Georgian state in 1918.
Because religion has always united us, we need not praise ourselves with tolerance. You tolerate what you do not know, do not like or do not completely understand… we had neither of these feelings so we totally accepted this integral part of Georgia that was the Jewish community, the departure of which in large numbers at the time of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment was seen with deep regret. We could have said – keep the Jews in.
This acceptance goes further and deeper: we have fought together at different times, helped and supported each other at all times. In difficult times; and difficult times we have both experienced in many forms: invasions, hostile empires, wars, repressions… Both our people and both our states have had more than their share of hardship and tragedies and that has forged yet another bond of mutual understanding, of mutual respect and friendship. That friendship of 26 centuries that we have inscribed in our national list of intangible cultural heritage, and now want to be recognized as a part of the world’s immaterial heritage.
Today’s award ceremony and decoration is a tribute not to me as a person, not even only to the President of Georgia. It is, in my humble view, a tribute to the Georgian people as a whole and to this multi-secular bond and to those that have carried it through centuries. Priest Grigol Peradze, which we have remembered today, is a symbol, he was more than merely Georgian, he was beyond and above any nationality, for he was and is a symbol of universal humanity. That very deep sense of humanity that can defeat Auschwitz and Dachau, as well as any form of totalitarianism. At the same time, we are proud that he was Georgian. It is notable that he has been canonized by the Georgian Orthodox Church because of having saved Jewish lives and he has become even more of an example and a role model that can inspire future generations.
For me, personally, this award is also a way to remember Misha Kedia, my uncle, who helped to save practically all the Georgian Jews that were part of the Georgian emigration in Paris during France’s occupation.
I also consider that this ceremony and this award is in honor of Georgian Jewish Rabbi David Baazov, who helped save Christian Georgians at the time of the Ottoman occupation of a part of South Georgia in 1918. And in honor of all who have helped to develop our ties and have enriched our mutual history. In that regard, I have a few minutes ago myself given the Georgian merit award to four women who impersonate these ties:
-           RIVA BABALIKASHVILI, who has taght many Georgian virtuoses and Georgian-Israeli virtuoses;
-           PNINA BAT TSVI–LIPMAN, who successfully helped Georgia in re-branding in Israel and who herself is the child of Holocaust survivors;
-           LEA BARDANI, Georgian Jew born in Israel, who during the 2008 war supported all our soldiers that were healing here in Israel;
-           TINA SHIMSHILASHVILI, Georgian Jewish Poet.
Our bond is inscribed in culture and history: Georgia was one of the main protector nations in Jerusalem and has twice supported the reconstruction of the Christs tomb; 39 monasteries including that of the Holy Cross with its famous Rustaveli fresco, are testimonies of this important role.  Our common archeological expeditions will only uncover more and more of this common past.
But our bond is not only in the past, it is very much inscribed in the present.  Because we feel so naturally at ease with one another, Georgian Jews have found here the land of their ancestors while keeping their language and culture. That is why Israelis find it so attractive and natural to come and stay in Georgia, come and invest, come and share our traditions and culture.  
Our bond is also inscribed in today’s real world: again we find ourselves, both our countries, small nations faced with outside threats and having to defend our existence, independence and sovereignty.  Both of us faced with global challenges that are now the fate of the whole planet.  Both are fighting the common threat of terrorism, our soldiers in the peace missions around the world, your soldiers on your borders. Both our countries can pride themselves of having the same strategic partner, the United States and of receiving their invaluable support and that of President Trump, in defending our freedom and sovereignty – and would you please pass my deep thanks. Today’s award for me is also another sign of the support of the United States to Georgia, which has been since our independence a constant and has been today reaffirmed in the newly passed Georgia Support Act.
We have one common future: because of our past we know that nothing can overcome us, nothing can defeat us in the end, we know for having been around for more than 26 centuries, that if we have come until here and until today, and survived everything, we’ll continue to defend our sovereignty and independence for centuries to come. Resilience is something we have in common and a strong belief in the future, a future that will not allow any tragedies of the kind that we have to remember these days.
Thank you very much!
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