Speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference
delivered 22 March 2010, Washington, D.C.
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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]
Thank you, very much.
I think it was Woody Allen who said that he spent a lifetime trying to arrive late at a Jewish event -- and never made it. I came on time with my wife Sara, the mother of Avner and Yair, and itís very good to be with all of you.
Members of the Obama Administration; Senators, Members of Congress; my colleagues, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Minister Uzi Landau, Ambassador Michael Oren; and the distinguished ambassadors who are here from many countries, Howard Kohr, David Victor, Lee Rosenberg; all the leaders and all the members of AIPAC; and the 1300 students who came from around this country:
My friends, as the world faces monumental challenges, I know that America and Israel will face them together. We stand together because we're fired by the same ideals and inspired by the same dreams -- the dreams of achieving prosperity, security, and peace for all.
Now, this dream seemed an impossibility to most Jews a century ago. You know, this month my father celebrated his 100th birthday. Thatís not his only achievement, but when he was born, the Czars ruled Russia, the British Empire spanned the globe, and the Ottoman Empire ruled the Middle East. During his lifetime, all three of these empires fell. Others rose and fell. And the Jewish destiny, the pendulum of Jewish fate, swung from the depths of despair to a new hope and a new beginning -- the rebirth of the Jewish state.
See, for the first time in two thousand years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack. And before that -- understand what transformation this was -- before that, in our dispersion, we were powerless, absolutely powerless to defend ourselves against an unremitting barrage of -- of savagery from the bloodletting in the Middle Ages, to the expulsion of the Jews from England, and then from Spain and then from Portugal, to the wholesale slaughter of Jews in the Ukraine, to the pogroms in Russia, culminating in the greatest horror of all -- the Holocaust.
The founding of Israel didnít stop the attack on the Jews. But it merely -- well itís more than merely -- it gave the Jews the power to defend themselves against these attacks.
I want to tell you about the day that I realized what this transformation was. It was the day I met Shlomit Vilmosh over 40 years ago. I was 19 years old. I served with her son, with Shlomitís son, Haim, in the same elite military unit. And one dark night during a battle in 1969, Haim was killed in a burst of gunfire. At his funeral, in a kibbutz in -- in the Galilee, I learned something. I discovered that Haim had been born shortly after his mother and father had been freed from the death camps of Europe. If Haim had been born two years earlier, this daring young Israeli officer would have been tossed into the ovens like a million and a half other Jewish children. Haimís mother, Shlomit, told me that though she was in great anguish, she was proud. "At least," she told me -- and this is something Iíll never forget as long as I live - "At least," she said, "my son fell wearing the uniform of a Jewish soldier defending the Jewish state."
And time and again Israelís soldiers were forced to repel the attacks of much larger enemies committed to our destruction. Yet, when Egypt and Jordan realized that we could not be defeated in battle, they embraced the path of peace and we value the peace treaties weíve achieved with both countries. Yet, there are those -- there are those who continue the assault against the Jewish state. There are those who openly call for our destruction. They seek to achieve this goal through terrorism, missile attacks, and most recently by developing atomic weapons.
Itís instructive that the ingathering of the Jews to Israel doesnít deter them. In fact, it whets their appetite. Iranís rulers say ďIsrael is a one bomb country." The head of Hezbollah says: "If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide."
My friends, these are unpleasant facts, but they are the facts. The greatest threat to any living organism, to any nation, is not to recognize danger in time -- not to recognize the facts.
Seventy-five years ago, many leaders around the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of historyís greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. Indeed, they deserve every applause. They helped save the world, but they were too late to save six million of my own people, the Jewish people. The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.
Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime --
[shouts of protest interrupt Netanyahu's speech]
[protests are quelled]
A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace that the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists. It might even be tempted to use them and our world would never be the same. Iranís brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is certainly first and foremost a threat to my country, to Israel, but itís a threat to the entire region; itís a threat to the entire world. Israel thus expects the international community to act swiftly and to act decisively to thwart this danger. But we always reserve the right of self-defense.
And my friends, we have to defend ourselves also against lies and against vilification. Throughout history -- Throughout our history, the slanders against the Jewish people always preceded physical attacks against us. In fact, they were used to justify those attacks. The Jews were called the well-poisoners of mankind; the fomenters of instability; the source of all evil under the sun. Unfortunately, as in the case of the physical attacks, these libelous attacks against the Jews did not stop with the creation of Israel. Itís true that for a time, overt anti-Semitism was held in check by the -- by the shame and the shock of the Holocaust. But only for a time.
In recent decades the hatred of the Jews has reemerged with increasing force, but with an insidious twist. It is not merely directed at the Jewish people. Itís increasingly directed at the Jewish state. And in its most pernicious form, it argues that if only Israel did not exist, many of the worldís problems would go away.
Now, I want to be clear. This doesnít mean that Israel is above criticism. Of course not. Israel, like any democracy, has its imperfections; but we strive to correct them through open debate and through scrutiny. Israel has independent courts, the rule of law, a free press and a vigorous parliamentary debate. Believe me, itís very vigorous. Well youíve through -- you've just gone through a week of healthcare voting. In Israel, every week is healthcare week. It doesnít stop.
And I know that in this city members of Congress refer to eachother as "My distinguished colleague from Wisconsin," "the distinguished Senator from California." In Israel, Members of Knesset donít speak of their distinguished colleagues from Beíer Sheva or Kiryat Shmona. We say -- well, you don't know -- well, you don't want to know what we say.
Because in Israel, self-criticism is a way of life, and we also accept that criticism is part and parcel of the conduct of international affairs. But Israel should be judged by the same standards applied to other nations and to other democracies. Sometimes I think thereís a -- Sometimes I think there's a triple standard: one standard for the dictatorships, a second standard for the democracies, and a third standard is a standard for Israel. We should be judged by one standard. And allegations made against the State of Israel must be grounded in fact. One allegation that is not grounded in fact is the attempt to describe the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland. This is -- This is one of the great lies of modern times.
In my office, I have a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israelís Department of Antiquities This ring was found right next to the Western wall, but it dates back 2800 years ago, two hundred years after King David declared Jerusalem as our peopleís capital. Now, this ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and his name is inscribed in it -- on it in Hebrew. The name is: Netanyahu. Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. Now thatís my last name. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob. One of Benjaminís brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. You see, nearly 4000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon, and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.
Ladies and gentlemen, the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. Itís our capital.
In Jerusalem, my government has maintained the policies of every single Israeli government since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews -- thatís almost half the cityís Jewish population -- live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within five minutes from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows -- everyone: Americans, Europeans, Israelis certainly, Palestinians -- everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement and therefore building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.
And I want to say one more thing about our policies in Jerusalem. You know, nothing is -- nothing is rarer in the Middle East than tolerance for the belief[s] of others. But itís only under Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem that religious freedom for all faiths has been guaranteed -- and we shall continue to guarantee that religious freedom for everyone.
Ladies and gentlemen, while we cherish our homeland, we also recognize that Palestinians live there as well. We donít want to govern them. We donít want to rule them. We want them as our neighbors, living freely in security, dignity, and peace. Yet Israel is unjustly accused of not wanting peace with the Palestinians. Nothing could be further from the truth. My government has consistently shown its commitment to peace in both word and deed.
From day one, we called -- I called on the Palestinian Authority to begin peace negotiations without delay; and I make that same call today. President Abbas, come and negotiate peace. You know, that -- thatís so elementary and so obvious. Youíd think we donít have to say it because leaders who truly want peace should be able to sit face-to-face with each other and negotiate the peace. You canít successfully end a negotiation for peace if you donít begin it, so I call on the Palestinian leadership, come and negotiate peace.
Of course, the United States can help the parties resolve their problems but it cannot solve the problems for the parties. Peace cannot be imposed from the outside. It can only come through direct negotiations in which we develop mutual trust -- that mutual trust that is necessary to forge a common future.
Last year, I spoke of a vision of peace in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state. Just as the Palestinians expect Israel to recognize a Palestinian state, we expect the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state.
My government has removed hundreds of roadblocks, barriers, earth ramps, checkpoints, and this has facilitated tremendous Palestinian movement. And as a result, we have helped spur, -- actually an incredible boom given todayís world economy -- an incredible boom in the Palestinian economy. You have coffee shops, restaurants, businesses, shopping malls, even multiplex studios. Just go to Ramallah and Jenin. And that's not come about out of sheer error. We have made it possible. You cannot do this if you cannot move trucks, goods, people, customers. That's been our policy. And we added to that an unprecedented moratorium on new Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria. This is what my government has done for peace.
Now I ask you, what has the Palestinian Authority done for peace? Well, you can judge for yourself. They've placed preconditions on peace talks, waged a relentless international campaign to undermine Israelís legitimacy, and promoted the notorious Goldstone report that falsely accuses Israel of war crimes. In fact, theyíre doing that right now at the UN at the grotesquely misnamed UN Human Rights Commission. And I want to use this opportunity to thank President Obama and the Congress of the United States for their efforts to thwart this libel, and I ask for the continued effort this week to fight this lie.
Regrettably, the Palestinian Authority has also continued the unabated incitement against Israel in their state-controlled media, in their schools and other institutions that come directly under their control, and some others too. A few days ago, in a public square near Ramallah, the Palestinians named this square after a terrorist who murdered 38 innocent Israeli civilians including 13 children, including an American citizen, the photographer, Gail Rubin. They named a public square after this murderer and the Palestinian Authority did nothing.
Ladies and gentlemen, peace requires reciprocity. It cannot be a one-way street in which Israel makes all the concessions and the Palestinian Authority makes none. That's got to change. Israel stands ready to make the compromises necessary for peace, but we expect the Palestinians to compromise as well -- to do their part.
But thereís one thing Iíll never compromise on and that one thing is Israelís security. Let me express to you the difficulty of trying to explain Israelís security predicament to the citizens of the United States -- a country that's 500 times the size of Israel. So, I thought how I could best bring it home, and I ask you to imagine that the territory of the United States was compressed down to the size of New Jersey. Now, I'm not picking at New Jersey because our ambassador, Michael Oren, comes from New Jersey. It happens to be the right size.
So now, you squeeze the United States down to the size of New Jersey and next you put on New Jerseyís northern border an Iranian terror proxy called Hezbollah which fires 6,000 rockets into that small state. Then imagine that this terror proxy amasses another 50,000 rockets to fire at you. Now Iím not finished. You take New Jerseyís southern border and you put another Iranian terror proxy on it and you call it Hamas. And it too fires 6,000 rockets into your territory while smuggling even more lethal weapons into its territory.
You think youíd feel a little vulnerable? You'd think youíd expect some understanding from the international community when you have to defend yourself? I think any fair-minded person would recognize that we face security problems and challenges unlike any other nation on earth. And therefore -- And therefore, a peace agreement with the Palestinians must have effective security arrangements on the ground -- not just on a piece of paper -- on the ground.
We must make sure that what happened in Lebanon and Gaza doesnít happen again in the West Bank. Now let me explain what our main security problem with Lebanon is. Itís not Israelís border with Lebanon. Itís Lebanonís porous border with Syria through which Iran and Syria smuggle thousands and thousands of rockets and missiles to Hezbollah. And our main security problem with Gaza is not Israelís border with Gaza. Itís Gazaís border with Egypt under which there are about a thousand tunnels dug through which Hamas smuggles weapons to fire at us.
My friends, experience has shown that only an Israeli presence on the ground can prevent or limit weapons smuggling. And this is why a peace agreement with the Palestinians must include an Israeli presence in the eastern border of a future Palestinian state. If peace with the Palestinians proves its durability over time, we can review security arrangements. We are prepared to take risks for peace, but we will not be reckless with the lives of our citizens and the life of the one and only Jewish state.
Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Israel want a future in which our children no longer experience the horrors of war. We want a future in which Israel realizes its full, great potential as a global center of technology, anchored in its values, living in peace with all its neighbors. I envision an Israel that can dedicate even more of its scientific and creative energies to help solve some of the great problems of our time, foremost of which is finding a clean and affordable substitute for gasoline. And when we find that alternative, we will stop transferring hundreds of billions of dollars to regime[s] which support terror worldwide.
I am confident that in pursuing these goals, we have the enduring friendship of the United States of America, the greatest nation on earth. The American people have always shown their courage, their generosity, their decency. From one President to the next, from one Congress to the next, Americaís commitment to Israelís security has been unwavering. In the last year, President Obama and the U.S. Congress have given meaning to that commitment by providing Israel with military assistance, by enabling joint military exercise, and by working on joint missile defense.
So too -- So too, has Israel been a staunch and steadfast ally of the United States. As Vice President Biden has said, America has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel. I say that too. For decades, Israel served as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism. Today, it is helping America stem the tide of militant Islam. Israel shares with America everything -- and I mean everything -- that we know about fighting a new kind of enemy. We share intelligence. We cooperate in so many ways, countless ways which Iím not at liberty to divulge.
This cooperation is important for us, for Israel, but it is also helping save American lives. Our soldiers and your soldiers fight against fanatic enemies that loathe our common values. In the eyes of these fanatics, we are you and you are us. To them, the only difference is that you are big and we are small. You see, you are the "Great Satan" and we are the "Small Satan."
Now, thereís an important point here: This fanaticismís hatred of Western civilization predates the establishment of modern Israel by a thousand years. Militant Islam does not hate the West because of Israel. It hates Israel because of the West -- because it sees Israel as an outpost of freedom and democracy that prevents them from overrunning the Middle East. That is why when Israel stands against its enemies -- it stands against Americaís enemies.
President Truman, the first leader to recognize Israel, had this to say: I have faith in Israel and I believe it has a glorious future -- not just as another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.1
My friends, we are gathered here today because we believe in these common ideals of our great civilization. And because of these ideals, I'm certain that Israel and America will always stand together.
1 Actual statement: "I had faith in Israel before it was established, I have faith in it now. I believe it has a glorious future before it -- not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization" (Truman, 26 May 1952). Source: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/presquote.html
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