Remarks at Conference on Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations

It is a real pleasure to be here and to be here with all of you. Some of you I have known for a number of years, others I am meeting for the first time this evening. It is a great honor and a personal privilege to be seeing all of you here in Jerusalem.

I want to thank Mort for his kind introduction, his friendship and his leadership. I want to thank Malcolm for all he has done and does every single day, which I think consumes about 25 hours a day in terms of commitment and dedication.

I would also like to thank the JCRC and UJA Federation of New York for sponsoring my trip to Israel. And particularly, I want to thank my friends Susie Stern and Ezra Levin for their respective leadership role at the Federation and presidency of the JCRC.

I am pleased that so many of you could be here to discuss the pressing issues that we face and that Israel confronts today. I am particularly pleased to be here with the Minister. Minister Elon and I had a very good visit in Washington-we think about two months ago or so. Time has gone by so quickly. During our meeting, we discussed the prospect of what could be done to encourage more tourism to Israel-how we could get the word out.

Since then, I have contacted the State Department with respect to its advisory for travel to Israel in comparison to its advisory for travel to Pakistan. I think, as you could hear from the Minister’s description of the difference between the two advisories, it is very out of line with what the reality is and what the prospects are for safe, enjoyable, tourism and business travel. We will continue to try to press the State Department for a more realistic assessment and advisory.

You know, it occurred to me that rather than wait for the State Department to change the advisory, I would simply come to Israel myself. And by doing so, I could perhaps, through the good graces of the press, communicate effectively-not just to New Yorkers but literally to our entire country-the following message: Israel needs the support of Americans today. And visiting Israel, just as it was when I first came more than 20 years ago, is an extraordinary, profoundly moving experience.

I listened closely as the Minister recited the statistics about the drop in Catholic and Protestant travel. Well, I think we should do something about that Mr. Minister and I am making this offer to you: my office and I will work with the leaders-the religious and secular leaders-of Catholic and Protestant churches and organizations to try to send the word out to come visit Israel. Because otherwise the leaders of organizations such as all of yours represented tonight, who are surprisingly and thankfully, and miraculously, even in this time, boosting the numbers of Jewish tourists to Israel, will no longer have the company of their fellow Americans. I hope that we can make the case, a very strong case, that all Americans at this time in Israel’s history need to show moral, emotional, psychological and financial support with their physical presence here in the country. And I am committed to sending the word out.

Since I arrived this afternoon, I have been thinking about how I began my first trip here 20 years ago. I took the car ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as I did today. I must say, it is always a great, extraordinary joy for me to first see Jerusalem in the distance as I approach the outskirts of the city. This afternoon, when I went into my hotel room and pulled open the curtains, I could see the Old City and it was a view that just absolutely caught my heart. It reminded me what I have believed and believe even more firmly now: Israel is a place that deserves our support, not only at this moment of peril, but at all times.

I hope that because we are here talking about what we can do to support Israel now, each of you will consider yourselves an emissary, an ambassador-not only to the groups that you represent-but to your friends and neighbors, to Jews and non-Jews alike. Because each of you in this room has the potential to do even more than you already do to reach out to a variety of communities, to encourage and even perhaps to lead, some non-Jewish groups, encouraging them to return to Israel. I believe that by relaying your own emotional experiences and connections with this country, we could meet the challenge that the Minister has laid before us.

Regardless of whether we are successful in changing the State Department advisory, I hope and believe we can change the reality and that people once again come back to Israel, just as Bill and I did on a religious pilgrimage so long ago. It was such a joy at that time because we were totally unknown, we could walk anywhere, we could visit any site, linger in cafes, casually wander around the Knesset talking to people and go from one end of the country to the other. It was during that 10-day trip that Bill and I developed such a strong connection with Israel.

In the 6 times I have returned, I have served in an official and public capacity. Some trips were for tragic occasions, such as the funeral of Prime Minister Rabin. Other times I came to visit the people who were doing good work in Israel and fostering the connection between our two countries. Endeavors such as one we’ve enjoyed tonight-the wonderful chorus of young people, in the Sheba Choir, which consists in part of children who are being helped by the generosity that many of you and your organizations represented here, have committed to Israel and to young Israelis.

Every one of my visits has been a pleasure and an honor. Tonight, I come with a special obligation and responsibility, not only to be here, but to try to demonstrate as clearly as I can, that the solidarity with Israel that we felt before September 11th has been deepened and strengthened. Now, even more, we, Americans understand and identify with the kind of challenges, the insecurity, the threats and the violence that have stalked Israel.

I want to say a special word of thanks, to Mort and Malcolm for this event, for Mort’s leadership and for hosting us tonight. I want to commend Malcolm who really did something that I want to recognize. Malcolm recently led a delegation of New York police officers and firefighters to Israel. That trip in a very real way epitomized the linkage we feel between New York and Israel, and I thank you for that, Malcolm. New York and Israel may be distant on the globe, but they are neighbors in the heart, and events like that spread that feeling far beyond the Jewish community in New York and we need to do more of that.

I have to confess that in the days leading up to my departure, I had a number of friends-from all walks of life and all religions-ask me why I was going to Israel and wasn’t I afraid? I imagine some of you have been asked the same questions. My response was always the same-that I believe it is imperative that we do everything within our power not to give the terrorists any victory of any sort. If one of us decides not come to Israel, that is a victory for those who would try to isolate Israel, to disrupt its relations and to drive fear into the hearts of Israelis and Americans alike.

Certainly since September 11th, all of us have realized the challenges Israelis have faced on an everyday basis. How does one live ones life in the face of continuing violence, of suicide bombers, whether they blow themselves up at a pizzeria or a discothèque, or drive airplanes into tall buildings and the Pentagon.

We are now defining a challenge, a threat, the likes of which we have never had to deal with before. Even in Israel’s past, the suicide bomber was not the weapon of choice on every occasion. And yet, we must go on. We must go on to live our lives, to conduct our business and to follow our values even more strongly than before. Here we are in a position in which we are facing this common threat together and relying on our common values and our common interests to confront it and to defeat it.

I come to Israel obviously as a Senator from New York, but also I come as a concerned American. As a New Yorker, I know the bond between my state and Israel has always been strong because of the close family relations and because of the religious connections. And now I believe these bonds are even stronger because of what we have suffered together.

On Wednesday of this past week, I went out to Fresh Kills in Staten Island. To those of you who may not be familiar with it, Fresh Kills is where all of the debris from the World Trade Center Ground Zero has been barged and trucked. That is where, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, detectives, FBI agents and, other law enforcement personnel engage in the painstaking task of sorting through thousands-hundreds of thousands-of tons of debris.

Why? Because to us, unlike our adversaries, all those lives lost in that terrorist attack are valuable and precious. And so, for hours these law enforcement agents sit and watch conveyer belts going by, to identify human remains, personal effects and evidence. Because we will not rest, until we’ve done everything we can to make sure every family who lost a loved one knows what happened. We will continue with our struggle against terrorism. We will continue either until the terrorists themselves recognize that their efforts to undermine Israel and to destroy American lives cannot and will not succeed, or until they are totally disrupted and eliminated.

I want to thank Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli government for the very strong support, which has been given to President Bush and to our government in our fight against terrorism. We are grateful that Israel has not only stood with us, but supported us as we have attempted to put together an alliance to root out terrorists wherever they may be found.

I also want to thank Prime Minister Sharon and his government for the immediate show of sympathy and offers of help that flowed from Israel as soon as the news was heard. I received a call-almost immediately after the attack-offering any supplies or any additional help that was required such as sending trauma experts and emergency response experts who deal with the terrorism in Israel. Thankfully, we did not require Israel’s outside help on that front. But the offer was so significant and more than welcome because it was the first call I got. And I know why it came. It came because Israel and Israelis recognize that we’ve always been closely identified with one another. And now we have moved even beyond that. We have become one-with our democracy, one with our freedom, one with our value about human life, and one in our resolve against those who try to undermine and destroy it.

I believe it is important to be as clear as possible about it. Americans and Israelis, based on my experience, are fundamentally peace-loving people who want to go on with their own jobs, businesses, their lives and their families. We see a future in our own lands that is being made and built by hard work, responsibility and effort. We are also a people, both Israel and America, who will defend ourselves no matter what the cost, and everyone must accept that. Just because from time to time, we may be seen as more preoccupied with the stock market, how well our business is doing, what school our child gets into, how big our house might be, or what kind of new car we drive – the world must never mistake that for our rock solid resolve to defend ourselves. I believe that there are those in our world today who just still don’t understand that fundamental fact.

I also believe it is imperative that Yasir Arafat recognize that his own willingness not only to tolerate but also to use violence cannot succeed. It simply will not succeed. No matter what he or anyone speaking for him may say, you know and I know that the responsibility for the violence and the collapse of the Camp David discussion rests squarely on his shoulders. He has failed as a leader, and his inability or unwillingness reign in the forces of violence and terrorism, demonstrate he is not ready or willing to be a leader.

As we look at the situation today, we know that Yasir Arafat leaves a trail of violated vows and deaths along the path that could have and should have led to peace and life. We know that he continues to exploit children in pursuit of his own aim as he encourages them every chance he gets to march through the streets of Jerusalem as martyrs. He allows them to be taught to hate Jews and to hate and not accept Israel.

We also know-and let there be no mistake-that the violence permitted by Arafat can still be ended by Arafat. If he chooses to act, if he chooses to renounce terrorism and other acts of violence, he can demonstrate that it is not just rhetorical, but it is backed it up by action. He can and must apprehend, prosecute, and imprison known terrorists. He can make sure that once the perpetrators are identified, they remain in prison so that it is not a revolving door, but it is a true and fitting punishment. So let’s speak plainly. Yasir Arafat knows who the terrorists are, he knows where they are, he knows what they are doing, and there is simply no longer any excuse possible for his failure to act to stop terrorism.

He must fulfill his promise to assure that the Palestinian Authority police is the only Palestinian armed force. He must dissolve the armed militias that attack Israeli civilians and soldiers alike. The US State Department has confirmed that elements of Arafat’s own special security forces and Al-Fatah faction have been deeply involved in the violence. In particular, it is Araftat’s Force 17 and the Tanzim wing of Fatah that have been so identified.

I have grave concerns about what has occurred this past week because it appears that the violence is about to escalate even further. The Palestinians have introduced new weapons and that is a very sobering development. One weapon has the capacity to destroy a tank. The other new technology, the Qassam-2 rocket, was recently fired into Southern Israel. Thankfully it exploded in an open field and no one was hurt, but unfortunately it may be a harbinger of what is to come.

The arms shipment aboard the Karine A rid whatever illusions might have still remained. As you know, the IDF seized the Karine A which was loaded with 50 tons of illegal weapons, including long-range missiles, mortars, mines and explosives-most of which were manufactured in Iran. It became clear that this was different from the spontaneous, ongoing, local homegrown terrorism we’ve seen from the Palestinians thus far.

The connection between Iran and the Palestinians is especially troubling. I think the revelation of the Karine A puts on the table a very dangerous collaboration. Iran poses a great danger not only to Israel, but to the entire region, to the United States and to all nations that cherish a democratic way of life. Despite the efforts of some within Iran to make much-needed reform in the government, the fact remains that Iran is the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

Iran is ruled by a regime that has the potential, through its ongoing relationship with the Russians, to acquire nuclear power and missile technology. Within the last several weeks we have heard that Russia plans to complete construction of the nuclear power plant at Bushehr as soon as 2004. While Russia claims that the reactor is only for peaceful purposes and will be under international control, I fear that once the nuclear genie is out of the bottle, it will be very difficult to contain. The consequences of Iran becoming a nuclear power would be devastating. Not only because of the threat to Israel, but because of its connection with terrorists around the globe.

We are told that Iran spends approximately 100 million dollars a year to underwrite terrorist attacks worldwide. We know that they finance training camps and provide weapons to all kinds of terrorist groups from the Lebanese Hezbollah to Hamas to the Palestinian Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

We also know that Iran has already developed a sophisticated missile program. Although the tests of the Shihab-3 missile have not yet been successful, Iran is clearly determined to continue those tests. Iran is also working on the Shihab-4, which will have a range of 2,000 kilometers.

If you put missiles, nuclear power and terrorism together you have a dangerous brew that could ignite a horrific conflagration. We have to do whatever we can to prevent Iran from gaining a ballistic, military and nuclear advantage. I will be discussing these issues with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Foreign Minister tomorrow.

I believe it is important for Americans to recognize that Israel is like a canary in a mine shaft, what matters to Israel at this moment-right now-will largely determine what happens to us and the rest of the world. Along with our efforts to reign in and hold accountable Iran, we have to similarly ask with respect to Syria, to keep pressure on it to abandon its ties to terrorism and to stop being a safe-harbor for hate.

Pointing out these dangers may lead some to be pessimistic or even fatalistic. It may lead some throw up their arms and say: “There is no point in our efforts to renew any kind of negotiation with the Palestinians,” or, “We cannot expect anything good to come from negotiations because we had such high hopes in the past that were shattered when violence ensued.”

I, however, neither see the situation that pessimistically nor do I think that those are the only lessons to be drawn. I believe the past teaches us that while we are working together to limit and eliminate the threat, we must recognize that there is not likely any singular military solution to resolve the problems we have just discussed. We certainly can defend ourselves, which we must, but we also have to continue not only to stand strongly for the peace and security of Israel, but to reaffirm America’s commitment to engagement in the region. America cannot afford to withdraw or disengage. We have to continue to do everything possible through whatever contacts and influence we have to defeat terrorism and advance the prospects-however remote they may seem tonight-for a secure and lasting peace.

The hard truth is, both of our countries are facing a time of great peril. Israelis have known this for a long time. Americans now know it and expect it. And what does one do at such a time? Well, I think we support our friends and our allies. I think we redouble our efforts of both defense and whatever it takes to root out and destroy the terrorists who threaten us. It also requires us to never, ever become pessimistic and fatalistic about our future.

One of my favorite verses from the Bible occurs when God gathers his people together to explain their obligations to him and to each other. He tells them, “Before you I have placed life and death, the blessing and the curse. You must choose life so that your descendants will survive.”

My friend, Susie Stern, told me earlier today that the parents of many of the victims of the discothèque bombing have erected a banner to commemorate the loss of their children. In English and in Hebrew the banner reads, “We will not stop dancing.”

The challenge for us now is how we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory imperatives. How will we live with the paradox of defending ourselves and standing against terrorism, while choosing life and going on dancing? That is our challenge and I stand with you as we work to do it.
Thank you very much.

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