Good afternoon. Mr. President, Excellencies, distinguished guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen.
Mr. President, over the years we have been privileged to be warmly welcomed and embraced by you in Italy, and I will always remember our visit with you at the Presidential Palace in Rome in 2010 and forever cherish receiving from you the Medal of Grand Officer of the Ordine al Merito della Repubbilica Italiana.
We hope you feel equally warmly welcomed and embraced in our country today and we are delighted that you have given us the pleasure and privilege of presenting you with the Anti-Defamation League’s Distinguished Statesman Award.
There is much you and the Anti-Defamation League have in common. You are a staunch defender of democracy, as are we. You have throughout your life taken strong and principled stands on critically important issues, as we do. That is the hallmark of a statesman.
You are truly a man of courage, compassion and understanding.
We thank you for your unflinching, uncompromising, unequivocal stand against the evil of anti-Semitism and your readiness to promptly, vigorously and clearly add your voice as Italy’s President in denouncing anti-Semitic and racist incidents.
We took note of your stirring remarks just a few weeks ago on the International Day of Commemoration of the Shoah, expressing your dismay at the rise of neo-Nazi fanaticism and violence in Italy that is “a form of racism that is once again primarily anti-Jewish.” In the same speech, you firmly committed to making certain the lessons of the Holocaust are not forgotten when you said they must remain “the cornerstone of an on-going and wide-ranging clarification effort and of a non-partisan conceptual and political battle that extends beyond the historic borders of the persecution and extermination of the Jews (and, let us not forget, of the Roma and Sinti).”
We remember that you firmly reject any attempt to distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Our own U.S. State Department has recognized your powerful statement some years ago by including in its 2008 report on Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism this powerful quote from you: “No to anti-Semitism, even when it masquerades as anti-Zionism.”
We remember your principled stance in defense of Israeli participation in the 2008 Turin Book Fair and your staunch opposition to anti-Israel calls to boycott the fair when you said “criticism of the Israeli government’s policies is entirely legitimate, particularly its actions within Israel. What is not acceptable is any position that denies the legitimacy of the state of Israel and its right to exist in peace and security.”
Your compassionate voice in support of the under-represented in Italian society, whether they are Sikh or Muslim or Jew, or children of new immigrants resonates with ADL’s one hundred year old mission to seek fair treatment and equal justice for all. Indeed, your moral compass and courage to speak and act against injustice wherever you see it are an inspiring example for all of us who can imagine a world without hate and work each day toward that lofty goal.
Mr. President, today, nearly seven decades after Italy was freed from the yoke of Fascism, Italy is a great modern democracy, built on the values of the Italian Resistance, providing boundless opportunities to its Jewish citizens to participate fully in the cultural, social, political and economic life of the nation.
While the painful memory of the suffering of Jews and millions of others under the wartime fascist regime can never be erased or even lessened, these memories impel us toward a common commitment to work together with all people of good will to ensure that respect for diverse cultures, languages, religions and political opinions will flourish and that anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia will be resisted with vigor and determination.
You have continually made your commitment to this vital battle a clear part of your public life and political leadership.
You and your country are warm, valued and respected friends and allies of the United States.
We treasure your long-time support of Israel and your advocacy on behalf of fair treatment for the Jewish state among the community of nations. No wonder Israel and Israelis have such high regard for you and see Italy as such a close friend among the leading members of the European community.
Mr. President, on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League, I am honored to present our ADL Distinguished Statesman Award to you for furthering the goals of democracy, for speaking out against the evil of anti-Semitism, for opposing terrorism, and for your steadfast friendship to Israel and the Jewish community.
You join an exceptional group of world leaders who have received this prestigious and special award including Presidents Ulmanis of Latvia, Flores of El Salvador, and Chirac of France, Prime Ministers Mitsotakis and Yilmaz of Turkey, Foreign Ministers Holst of Norway and Genscher of Germany and, of course Prime Minister Berlusconi and Foreign Minister Andreotti of your own country. You and they have contributed to significant international events furthering the cause of friendship and peace in our world. We salute you for standing with and standing up for the Jewish state which is so dear to us.
Mr. President, the menorah in Jewish tradition represents the triumph of good over evil, of light over darkness. It is with a deep sense of pride that I present to you this magnificent menorah designed by the great Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, this symbol of the Jewish people, this symbol of light and freedom.
Grazie, grazie, mille grazie. Thank you, thank you.