“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, Lonny.
Welcome to Washington for this extraordinary AIPAC conference. I’m told that the attendance far surpasses any other conference, and it’s always been one of the biggest gatherings that Washington hosts every year. So I congratulate you for being here in these numbers with this energy and enthusiasm.
I also thank my friend Bernice, who has served so well on behalf of AIPAC, and congratulate Howard Friedman, the incoming president. I thank Howard Kohr, your executive director; Amy Friedkin; and everyone who works so hard for AIPAC not just when there is a great gathering, like this conference, but every single day, working with us in the Congress working here in Washington.
I want to take just a few minutes to discuss some of the significant challenges facing the United States, Israel and our world today. As you know better than most, events in the Middle East are absolutely critical to our hope for a safer, more secure world, a world in which every nation is free from the threat of global terrorism. And a strong, lasting relationship between the United States and Israel is essential to our efforts to build that world of peace and security.
As all of us know, our future here in this country is intertwined with the future of Israel and the Middle East. Now there is a lot that we could talk about, and obviously much has been discussed. But in the short period that I have been given the honor of addressing you, I want to start by focusing on our deep and lasting bond between the United States and Israel.
Now, these are bonds that are more than shared interests. These are bonds forged in a common struggle for human rights, for democracy, for freedom. These are bonds that predate the creation of the state of Israel, that really predate the creation of the United States because they are rooted in fundamental beliefs and values about the dignity and rights of men and women to live in freedom, free from fear, free from oppression. And there is no doubt that these incredibly strong bonds and values will remain as the lodestar of our relationship with our democratic friend and ally, Israel.
Now, Israel is not only, however, a friend and ally for us, it is a beacon of what democracy can and should mean. It is, after all, a pluralistic democracy. It is, as many of us know from personal experiences, a very dynamic democracy with many points of view, and those are expressed with great frequency and vigor. So if people in the Middle East are not sure what democracy means, let them look to Israel, which has been and remains a true, faithful democracy.
But we know that the goal, the important, essential goal of a democratizing Middle East is complex, and it is not without risks. A few months ago, I went for the second time to Iraq and Kuwait and Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I returned home with hopefulness about what I had seen and learned, but also with a sense of caution about how we should proceed. In Iraq I saw firsthand the daily challenges confronting the Iraqi people. I met with a number of our troops, the brave young men and women who are on freedom’s frontlines in Iraq. I met with our civilian representatives in the embassy and other agencies who are also risking their lives to help the Iraqi people.
And I met with representatives of the former interim Iraqi government and the newly elected Iraqi government, as well as private Iraqi citizens.
Now I came away with several overwhelming impressions. First, no matter what one thinks about events that have unfolded in Iraq, there is no doubt that the American military has performed admirably, with professionalism, and that every young man and woman who wears the uniform of our country deserves our support, whether they be active duty, guard, or reserve troop.
You know, it is on trips like that — despite the often dangerous circumstances, I wish I could bring every one of my constituents — all 19 million of them and any others who could come — to see firsthand. I flew from Baghdad to Fallujah in a Blackhawk helicopter; met with the Marines who had liberated Fallujah from the insurgents and terrorists.
I met with many others of our Marines and soldiers who are committed to their mission to try to bring freedom to the people of Iraq. They, as well as the troops I saw in Kuwait and in Afghanistan, are committed to this fundamental belief that people deserve the right to be free, deserve the right to select their own government, deserve the right to plot and plan for a better future for themselves and their children.
I hope that each of you, as you travel through your states and communities, will make it a point to thank these young people, because they’re paying a very high price: 1,600-plus lost their lives; thousands and thousands have returned home grievously injured. Because of the advances in battlefield medicine and the new body armor that our troops wear, many are surviving injuries that would have left previous generations of young men and women dead.
So there is no doubt that America has started down a path, with blood and treasure, to try to create the condition for democracy and freedom in the Middle East — which has consequences for the entire region, for our security, and certainly for Israel’s.
At this critical time in this complicated situation we find ourselves in, I think it’s important to recognize the extraordinary stand that Prime Minister Sharon and the democratically elected government of Israel have taken as they face the risks and challenges of disengagement and as they try to deal with the newly elected Palestinian leadership.
The prime minister — whom I am pleased to note will follow me to this stage — and the state of Israel that he has devoted his entire life to serving are taking a tremendous risk.
I believe it is our obligation as friends and supporters and allies of Israel to support Israel’s efforts for peace, stability and security. Now, this means doing more than providing Israel with economic aid so that it can remain strong in the face of ongoing threats. We must also demand that President Abbas dismantle the structures of terror that the Palestinian leadership has employed for so long.
You know, in a democracy, even a fledgling democracy, leaders must be held accountable. And President Abbas must be held accountable for the actions taking place under his leadership. I know that you are asking your senators and representatives to sign on to a letter to President Bush about this, and I’m proud to support these efforts because there can be no doubt that as Israel and its democratic government take these steps and we support them, there has to be reciprocity on the other side as well.
And making progress toward peace and security also requires the end of the barrage of hate and incitement that is still officially sanctioned by the Palestinian Authority. Now, I was relieved to learn this week that the Palestinian Authority removed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion from its website. Reportedly, it had been included on the website under the heading “history of Zionism,” but what was it doing there in the first place even though we are relieved that it is no longer there?
We must continue to be vigilant about monitoring hate and incitement and anti-Semitism, not only by the Palestinian Authority but throughout the Arab world. Saudi textbooks characterize Jews as wicked. Iranian news reports, obviously representing the opinion of their government, have lent credence to Holocaust deniers. This is an issue that all of us need to be concerned about.
And five years ago, I stood with my friend, Elie Wiesel, to denounce this incitement, this violence, this anti-Semitism in Palestinian textbooks. And I’ve been working on this issue because to me it is one of those basic issues that — how do we expect to have a democratically elected Palestinian government if their textbooks are still preaching such hatred, and if we allow this if we allow this dehumanizing rhetoric to go unchallenged. Because what is happening is young minds are being infected with this anti-Semitism, and that is going to run counter to what we hope can happen over the next years as we do work for peace and stability.
So we must continue to shine a bright spotlight on these messages of hatred and these enticements for martyrdom in these textbooks and on the media that take young minds and twist and pervert them and create a new generation of terrorists and insurgents.
About a year and a half ago, I held a hearing with Senator Specter on the Palestinian media, and I confronted the Palestinian Authority representative about this issue, whom we had invited to come and address the Senate committee. I urged him to acknowledge that when it comes to children, whoever those children are, shielding them from hate and violence should be the number one priority of their families and their governments and the entire global community to prevent this hatred from festering.
Using children as pawns in a political process is tantamount to child abuse, and we must say it has to end now!
And, of course, that infection is contagious, and it can spread beyond the Palestinian territories. It can spread into other parts of the Arab world, and it can impact what goes on there.
And of course, one of the areas I am deeply concerned about is Iran, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, because a nuclear-armed Iran would shake the foundation of global security to its very core. Israel would be most immediately and profoundly threatened by this development, but Israel would not be alone. Knowing of Iran’s historic and present ties to terrorist networks, how would we feel, here in America, if the Iranians could start producing nuclear weapons at will? How would the Europeans feel if Iran could start nuclear weapons at will?
So let us be unequivocally clear. A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, but it is not just unacceptable to Israel and to the United States. It must be unacceptable to the entire world, starting with the European governments and people.
I know that during your conference and in the lobbying that you will be doing on Capitol Hill, you’re trying to draw attention to the threat that is posed by a nuclear Iran. And I commend you for these efforts; this is one of our most serious security and foreign policy priorities. And we need to make working with our allies to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon a top priority.
Now one of the terrorist groups that Iran supports is Hezbollah. And we know that Hezbollah poses a direct and dire risk to the stability of the Middle East. Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon — which is very good news for the Lebanese people — also creates an opportunity for Hezbollah to wreak havoc.
So we need to remain vigilant about the terrorist threat and work to stop the flow of support to Hezbollah from Syria and Iran. And we need to convince our European allies of Hezbollah’s threat to order in the region and to the civilized world, and convince them to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
And the Europeans must do more to cut off the funding and the fund-raising that goes on in Europe for Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad as soon as possible.
Now, there are many other important and pressing issues that must be on our agenda, but I know that as you travel to the Hill to meet with your representatives and senators, you will be presenting a very thoughtful and compelling analysis of these and other challenges we face. I thank you for not only being willing to stand up for our values and our relationship with Israel, but also to take your responsibilities as citizens seriously, to lobby and to advocate, to persuade and to dissuade, to discuss these critical issues with all who will listen.
We are living at an extraordinary moment in history. There are some days when I am very optimistic, and there are other days, I have to confess, when I’m pessimistic. I guess that just goes with the territory. But what I am absolutely convinced of is that our common values, values shared and exemplified by our country and by Israel, are the right values, the values that everyone should have an opportunity to be exposed to and to understand and, hopefully, to emulate.
There is no other option in the world that, as Tom Friedman said, has been flattened. We can communicate with each other, we can be transported over long distances quickly, we can follow events in other places far away. And therefore, we need to recognize that our struggle, our ongoing struggle for freedom and democracy is the only way that we can ensure that in this shrinking, flattened world, our children will have a chance for peace and security.
We cannot shrink from the duty that this time has imposed upon us. We can have great — and we should — great debates and discussions about what are the best ways to proceed and to pursue these common objectives. We need that. We need that debate and discussion because we are in uncharted territory. No one has all the answers, and we need the combined intelligence and good ideas of as many people as possible.
So what you are doing today is not only on behalf of AIPAC, not only on behalf of Israel, not only on behalf of the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Israel; it is truly on behalf of the kind of world we want for our children and, for those lucky enough, grandchildren.
And we cannot grow weary. This is a long, arduous path. Israel, Israelis, the American Jewish community and the broader diaspora know about this struggle and this path better than most.
So if we resolve not to grow weary, but to pursue these values together, I am ultimately not only optimistic, but confident that the world will see a better and brighter day, and our children will thank us for making it possible.
Thank you all very much. God bless you.