Photo by Will Rollins

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger attended Israel’s 60th Independence Day Festival in Van Nuys honoring his longtime friend Benny Alagem who served the State of Israel and the United States.

Alagem, who served as an Israel tank commander, founded Packard Bell Electronics in 1986.

Text of Schwarzenegger remarks follow.

Well, first of all, I want to say thank you for the introduction. And I want to say thank you very much to Benny Alagem, because it was Benny Alagem that actually invited me to come here today. And I want to just say what a great friend Benny Alagem is to Israel , what a great friend he is to California and what a great friend he is to Maria and me. We really appreciate your friendship, your kindness and your generosity. A big hand to him.

I’m very happy to be here today for such a festive celebration of Israel ‘s 60th anniversary. And I remember so clearly that I was also there on the 50th anniversary, just 10 years ago, when we celebrated and I had the chance to also give there a little speech. But that celebration, even though it was great, was nothing compared to this one here today, with so many great government officials, elected officials, so many celebrities, so many important people, business leaders and then, of course, all of you, the thousands of people that are out here today. So a big hand to all of you for being here today.

People often talk about the miracle of Israel, but too much blood, sweat and tears have been shed for Israel to be considered a miracle. Because of all its achievements Israel, more than anything else, is a testament to the strength and to the tenacity of the Jewish people.

“The roots of independence lie in the heart, in the soul and in the will of the people,” wrote David Ben-Gurion, Israel ‘s first prime minister in 1961. That was 13 years after Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948; but of course the armies of five different nations viciously attacked the very next day.

When we look at Israel now, in 2008, a country still surrounded by enemies who speak openly of wanting to drive Israel into the sea, some might overlook the heroism and the courage that it took to establish Israel in the first place. The Holocaust had just wiped out one-third of the world’s Jews and a proud and resilient people had been almost destroyed, but they would not be defeated.

When it declared statehood six decades ago this small nation had just 650,000 people and lived in this little land that was 65 percent desert. And look what the Israeli people have done in these past 60 years against such overwhelming odds. They have literally made the desert bloom, created an oasis of democracy, an economic and military power and a nation that is among the world’s leaders in medical and technological innovation.

In the process, Israel has become a staunch ally and a friend of the United States and, I’m very proud to say, a great friend also of our great state of California.

Now, I have had the great pleasure of visiting Israel many times. As a matter of fact, way back in the ’70s already, as a bodybuilding champion judging the Miss Israel competition. It was a great trip, let me tell you. (Laughter) And then, of course, since then I went back as an actor and I also went back as the governor of the great state of California. So I got to know this country of Israel and its people very well. And I tell you, I love the Israeli people and I love your country. I have always had a place in my heart for everything that you have accomplished and everything that you have stood for.

And, of course, because of my longtime association with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, I kept a promise that I made a long time ago, before I became governor, to Rabbi Heir, who is the co-founder of the museum, that I would go to Jerusalem for the groundbreaking ceremony in 2004. I kept that promise, went over there. As a matter of fact, it was my first trip outside of the country when I became governor of California. And it was a terrific trip, let me tell you.

But meanwhile, the threats to Israeli existence have not gone away. If anything, they have become more serious. Israel has made peace with neighbors like Egypt and Jordan, but the rise of extremism in the Middle East makes Israel’s reality dangerous and difficult. But, like the people of Israel and all of you, I hope and I dream of a better day; a day when this extraordinary nation will be welcomed by its neighbors and that they can live in peace and in harmony.

And now, ladies and gentlemen and my dear friends, before I leave I want to bring out Bennie Alagem — Benny Alagem, if you can come out here on stage, come up here — because I want to present him today with an award, a well-deserved Cherished Friend of the Israeli and Jewish Community Award, because Bennie has been such a generous person. All of us that know him very well just call him simply a “mench,” because he’s an all-around good guy and the kindest and generous person that you can imagine.

And I just want to tell you a little story, just a tiny little story. When we had the inauguration this last time and I got re-elected to become governor, after I gave my inaugural speech we went back to my office. And my children played around in my office and they were running around, which I always tell them not to do. “This is the Capitol, it’s not at home. Don’t run around like crazy.” But they did and my daughter ran into one of the cabinets. And she really had a big injury on her forehead and so we had to fly her back to Los Angeles .

And Benny offered to fly her back with him on his private plane. And then on that plane she got a seizure because of that injury and she passed out. Bennie made phone calls from the plane to make sure there was an ambulance there when he arrived at Burbank Airport . And then when he arrived at Burbank Airport the ambulance was there; he did not go into his limo, but he went into the ambulance and drove with my daughter to the hospital, to the emergency room. And he sat there with her — because we were not with here, because we were still in Sacramento — he sat there with her until she was released and until she was fine.

That’s the kind of man Benny Alagem is. He wants to nurture. He nurtured my daughter, he nurtures Israel , he nurtures California , he nurtures his friends. He is a nurturing person, a selfless person and this is why he’s getting this great award here today.

Thank you very much, Benny. You’re a fabulous guy. Here is this award. Thank you very much for your great, great friendship and for everything that you’re doing for all of us. Thank you very much. A big hand for Benny Alagem.


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