Washington, D.C. – March 30, 2003
Thank you for your warm introduction. I would like to acknowledge AIPAC President, Amy Friedkin, Chairman of the Board Tim Wuliger, President-elect, Bernice Manocherian, Executive Director Howard Kohr, Israeli ministers, members of the Knesset, Ambassador Ayalon, members of the dias.
It is a special honor to greet Secretary of State Colin Powell, who just delivered an inspiring speech, members of Congress, and the diplomatic corps, as well as the more than 3,000 pro-Israel activists here tonight.
It is often said that the future cannot be predicted. But our future is clear, thanks to the 600 pro-Israel students here tonight from across the United States. You are the future.
Mr. Secretary, our meeting tomorrow will be an opportunity to discuss the vital issues facing our two countries. But let me take this opportunity to thank you for being a true friend of Israel. We applaud the efforts that you have made since taking office in advancing the cause of peace and security in the Middle East. We have followed with great admiration your efforts to mobilize the international community to disarm Iraq and bring democracy and peace to the region, to the Middle East and to the rest of the world.
Just imagine, Mr. Secretary, how much easier it would have been if Israel had been a member of the Security Council.
To members of Congress and all friends of Israel on Capitol Hill, both Republicans and Democrats, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. The people of Israel, indeed the Jewish people are indebted to you for your bipartisan support for the state of Israel since its establishment in 1948. You assured Israel’s security and you stood with us in terms of war and peace, in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry, and bring other exiles to a new homeland. This is a work still in progress, as many challenges still lie ahead. We count on you, members of the House and Senate, to continue your historic role in supporting Israel.
We meet tonight at the crossroads of history. This generation, like others before it, is witnessing great changes in the affairs of nations. We are present at the creation of a new international reality, and hopefully a radically different Middle East. A coalition of free nations, led by the United States of America, is taking on the emerging threat of the 21st century – that of terrorist organizations allied with rogue regimes, armed with weapons of mass destruction.
Israel salutes the president and the people of the United States for the courage and determination in ridding the world of this clear and imminent danger. As President Bush pledged after September 11th, the United States will not rest until all terrorist organizations with global reach have been dealt with.
Today, as in the older wars of the 20th century, the United States is the pillar of fire, leading the camp of democracies against the evil of tyranny. The challenges before us are enormous, but so are the opportunities. At this time of great flux in world affairs, when global alliances and structures are strained and tested to the limits, I am here to tell you that the U.S.-Israel relationship, like a lighthouse in stormy waters, stands tall and stands strong, now and forever.
Israel and the United States have always been united by common values. After 9/11, unfortunately, we are also bound by a shared determination to protect our civilians and home fronts. For decades, Israel fought on the front lines of world terror. Tragically, the U.S. has been struck as well, and now our resolve is strengthened by common experience. As Vice President Cheney stated recently, "nations that have not experienced acts of terror such as September 11th have not come to grips with the nature of the threat." It is sometimes argued that not all terrorists are bad. To that we say loud and clear that a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist, no matter where, when or why. There is no compromise for terror.
Let me assure you that since the terror threat to America’s skies and cities is identical to that faced by Israelis in busses and cafes, the people of Israel more than anyone else clearly know what is at stake. We stand by America. We stand by America now and forever.
While the world has changed, one thing remains constant. Israel and the United States share a unique and rock solid relationship based on shared values of democracy, liberty and aspiration for a better future. We are sister nations, built by immigrants who sought freedom from persecution.
Mr. Secretary, your pride in being a son of immigrants mirrors my own. In America as in Israel, the freedom to pursue life and liberty means that each and every one of us enjoys the freedom to reach our highest potential.
The U.S.-Israel relationship, based on these common values, is not one of convenience, nor is it depended on the political party of the day. It is deep, bipartisan, and lasting.
The outpouring of emotion in both our countries following the Shuttle Columbia tragedy symbolized the depths of our ties. Colonel Ilan Ramon, Captain Rick Husband, and the brave men and women of the Columbia mission will remain in our memories forever. For Israelis, the inspiring words of President Bush to the bereaved families will never be forgotten.
From the highest levels of our governments to our soldiers manning Patriot and Arrow missiles on the battleground, ours is a relationship truly unique in history. And at the center of our cooperation is AIPAC. Day in and day out, AIPAC works to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship in every congressional district across America. The founding principle of AIPAC is that every voice, every individual makes a difference, and what a difference you have made.
You have educated generations of activists and leaders. You have helped bolster America and Israel’s vital interests. In recent weeks, you helped secure the administration’s commitment to provide some supplemental aid to Israel at this crucial time. For this we are grateful to the American people, and the Bush administration, to you Mr. Secretary, and of course to AIPAC.
Let me assure you that America’s generosity and tremendous support for Israel is never ever taken for granted. And just as you stand by us, the people and the government of Israel stand by you.
Like the United States, Israel has the responsibility and moral obligation is to defend its people. Since September 2000, the State of Israel has gone through one of the most difficult periods ever. We are in the third year of yet another campaign of terror. Just today, the cold, deadly hand of this despicable, devil destroyed once again the lives of dozens of Israelis, innocent families, this time in the heart of peaceful city of Netanya.
From this podium, I would like to send my prayers to the wounded and their families. I would also like to send our thoughts and prayers to the brave men and women of the coalition forces, who are also facing brutal acts of terror, and are doing everything in order to protect the world, including the State of Israel.
This war is aimed at crippling Israel’s society, including our economy. Over these long months, our security forces and economic resources have been stretched to their limits. Our flourishing tourist industry has ground to a halt. The number of tourists visiting Israel in 2002 declined to levels not seen in almost 40 years. Foreign investment has declined. Israel’s economy and tax base have contracted. The high cost of defending our home front from Iraqi aggression has further taxed our resources. Israel’s economy is suffering, is suffering too much. And this supplemental aid that you will transfer us in the near future is something that is important to the recovery of our economy.
The will of our people is strong and will prevail. Let me assure you that Israel will overcome these challenging times. Despite the dangers that we face, Israel remains committed to peace with our Palestinians neighbors and the countries that surround us. We have peace already with Egypt. We have peace with Jordan. And we will do everything in order to see if there is a way to reach a peace with the Palestinians. We are dedicated to this mission. The yearning for peace is deeply ingrained in our people. I want to remind our neighbors that Israel is not your enemy. Do not allow extremists to divert your attention to elusive ideologies at the expense of dealing with the real challenges to our region.
Israel shares President Bush’s vision on the resolution of the Middle East conflict, and is committed to the ideas in principle set forth in the president’s speech of June 24, 2002. Israel’s historic record is clear. Whenever a real partner for peace emerged in our region, Israel responded with an outstretched hand.
We are deeply concerned about the suffering of the Palestinian population that you have mentioned. For too long, the Palestinian leadership has ignored the need of its own people in pursuit of campaign of terror against us. I’m looking toward the Palestinian leaders and I’m asking myself so many times, "Why they don’t pay attention to the suffering of their own people?"
We are hopeful, however, that the recent changes in the Palestinian Authority will finally provide real leadership for the Palestinians. The election of Abu Mazen as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority is a first step in the right direction. If Abu Mazen will really fight terror, including its infrastructure, and incitement – in the radio, in the television, in the education system, it will find a true partner on our side. We are working closely with the Bush administration in the hope that this first step will lead to a new and different leadership, as called for its president’s vision. We want to have peace. We all want to have peace. We want peace, but we want to have a partner that will follow with us towards this peace that we are looking for.
As the former finance minister, I was personally involved with the White House in the effort to transfer the tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority in ways that would not compromise Israel’s security. We are supervising this money, and we hope, of course, they won’t take an advantage to take this money in order to use it for implementing terror against Israelis.
In ways that would not comprise Israel’s security, we are willing to do much more than transferring the money. Now, when I am foreign minister, I am looking forward to see what can be done to narrow the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians. I am equally committed to doing what we can to ease the humanitarian plight of Palestinians. But to do so and to allow us to move forward on the path to peace, we need a true Palestinian partner, one with a will to stop the violence and incitement once and for all.
Even as we speak, allied forces are engaged in combat in Iraq. While Operation Iraqi Freedom is advancing, it is not a simple undertaking and involves high risks. The tyranny of Iraqi rulers today has its roots in ancient Babylon of biblical times. The prophet Jeremiah referred to the dangers posed by Babylon, Iraq of today, to the region, and to God’s punishment for the cruel despots of the land of two rivers. Some would say Jeremiah prophesied current events. He said, and I quote, "I will raise against Babylon and assembly of great nations from the north country, for she has sinned against God."
Tonight, I would like to offer our prayers for the safety of the heroic men and women of the coalition forces. Your courage and bravery are for a great and historic cause. Success in Iraq will pave the way for new hope in the Middle East, for new hope for Israel, for new hope for the rest of the world.
Freedom, democracy, and human rights should no longer be foreign terms for the people of the region. Believe me, nothing will make us happier than knowing that Israel is no longer the sole democracy in the Middle East.
Until this happens, however – and it will take time, we know it – Israel must remain vigilant in the face of gathering threats from near and far. The combination of rogue regimes, terror organizations and weapons of mass destruction is one that threatens us as well. The state of Israel was established to ensure that never again would the Jewish people face the threats of annihilation.
We have worked closely with the U.S. to counter these emerging dangers. Iran continues to pursue nuclear arms while supporting deadly terrorist organizations such as Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad – the organization that implemented the terror attack this morning in Netanya. As an official investigation by the Argentina has just confirmed, Iran planned and conducted the murderous attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994. We know that Iran was also behind the terrorist attack on our embassy in Argentina in 1992. Iran’s involvement in terror reaches the highest level of the regime.
Dear friends, one of the topics of this Policy Conference is the power of one, the power of the individual. This is not only a political concept but also a separate Jewish value practiced by men and women through the generations. One example recently uncovered was a New York attorney. During the Holocaust, he signed 300 affidavits for refugees, claiming each as his brother to allow them entry into the United States. He later faced the authorities who found it hard to believe he had 300 brothers. The federal agents left his home in silence, however, after he calmly but forcefully replied that "every Jew around the world is my brother."
This brotherhood between Israel and Jewish communities around the world is the essence of our existence. Israel is yours just as it is ours. It belongs to the entire Jewish people, and Israel needs you today more than ever before. We need your involvement, your commitment, and your investment. Please come to Israel, and send your children so they too can partake in the historic narrative of the Jewish people, and join with us as we celebrate in the next coming months the miracle of Israel’s 55th anniversary. United we shall remain strong. Am Yisrael Chai.
Thank you very much.