Address to the American Israel Political Affairs Committee Conference
delivered 2 March 2015, Washington, D.C.
Thank you all and thank you, Michael. Itís a great honor to be here.
Before I begin, I want to thank Howard Kohr for the invitation, and to congratulate Lillian on her selection. Iíd also like to -- Iíd also like to give a shout-out to Bob, who has done so much for this organization, and for the U.S.-Israel partnership.
In 1942, a 28-year-old Polish diplomat and Roman Catholic named Jan Karski disguised himself as a Jew, donning an armband with the Star of David, and smuggled himself through a tunnel into the Warsaw ghetto. Later, posing as a militiaman, he infiltrated the Nazi death camp of Belzec, and escaped carrying hundreds of documents on a miniature microfilm. Karski eventually made his way to London, where he showed the documents to Ignacy Schwarzbart, a Jew and representative of Polandís government-in-exile. Schwarzbart immediately sent the following cable to the World Jewish Congress in New York:
Jews in Poland almost completely annihilated STOP read reports Deportation ten thousand Jews for death STOP in Belzec forced to dig their own grave Mass suicide Hundreds children thrown alive into gutters Death camps in Belzec Treblinka District Malkinia Thousands dead not buried in Sobibor District Wlodawski mass graves Murder pregnant women STOP Jews naked dragged into death chambers Gestapo men asked payment for quicker killing Hunting fugitives STOP Thousands daily victims throughout Poland STOP Believe the unbelievable STOP.
Six years later, on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion issued the declaration that created the State of Israel. For generations, Jews had dreamed of being a free nation in their own land, Eretz Israel, a vision articulated by Theodore Herzl in 1897 at the First Zionist Congress. But the Shoah gave this long-held dream what the declarationís authors called greater "urgency."
The savagery Karski witnessed was also a major impetus behind the creation of the institution where I currently represent the United States: the United Nations.
I began my career as a journalist. Moved by the harrowing images of prisoners in Serb concentration camps, I traveled to the Balkans, where I covered the horrors of a war in which kids were picked off their bicycles by snipers, Bosnian Muslim women were systematically raped, and some 8,000 unarmed men and boys were murdered in Srebrenica -- the largest massacre in Europe since World War Two. I also saw the citizens of Bosnia look in false hope to UN peacekeepers to protect them. In the end, they found rescue only from a U.S.-led coalition that finally intervened to stop the slaughter.
I was chilled by what I saw and chilled equally by the slowness of the worldís response. I didnít understand how the world could say we had learned the lessons of the Holocaust and "never again" -- only to witness Sarajevo, Srebrenica, the Rwandan genocide, and so much more.
Those questions were the impetus behind my first trip to Israel nearly two decades ago. So much of what I saw there left an enduring impression, but nothing so much as the Childrenís Memorial at Yad Vashem. The descent into a dark, underground cavern, illuminated by a sea of projected yahrzeit candles paying tribute to the memory of one and a half million children murdered by the Nazis. Projected in that darkness, a stream of photographs of the individual faces of the children who were killed, as their names, countries, and ages echo in the void, implanting themselves in oneís consciousness and into oneís conscience.
You do not need to be Jewish to feel the searing loss held by that darkness. A loss, like the tiny specs of light reflected in that cavernous room, that is immeasurable. Infinite.
Of course, the story of the creation of Israel -- and of the United Nations, for that matter -- is about much more than a reaction against the evils of the Holocaust. The story is also the story of thousands of years of Jews yearning for a homeland. And it is the story of a set of principles -- reflected in Israelís founding document -- which envisaged a State, "based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel." A State that would, "be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."
So it is bitterly unjust that the United Nations -- an institution founded upon the idea that all nations should be treated equally -- is so often used cynically by Member-States to treat Israel unequally. These attacks on Israelís legitimacy are biased. They are ugly. And the United States of America will not rest until they stop.
Now, as a few of you may have heard, the Prime Minister of Israel is in town. Rumor has it that he may be giving a couple speeches. You may also have heard -- You may also have heard lately of "tension" in the relationship between the United States and Israel.
Let me today separate out a few different issues: politics, policy, and what the United States does each and every day to combat anti-Semitism around the world and to fight attacks against Israel at the United Nations.
We believe -- firmly -- that Israelís security and the U.S.-Israel partnership transcends politics, and it always will. That is a very important statement you all have made. It was the same bond that led President Truman to make the United States the first country to recognize Israel 11 minutes after it declared its existence in 1948. And it is why we have stood by Israelís side every minute since.
Our commitments to our partnership with Israel are bedrock commitments -- rooted in shared, fundamental values, cemented through decades of bipartisan reinforcement. This partnership should never be politicized, and it cannot and will not be tarnished or broken. Now, debating the most effective policy, both within our respective democracies and among partners, is more than useful, it is a necessary part of arriving at informed decisions; politicizing that process is not. The stakes are too high for that.
On policy, the negotiations that we and our partners have entered into with Iran -- negotiations aimed centrally at denying Iran a nuclear weapon -- have generated reasonable debate. My colleague and dear friend, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, will speak in depth about Iran later tonight. But I am struck that when I read about alleged policy differences on the Iran nuclear negotiations, I rarely see mention of the foundational strategic agreement between the United States and Israel -- an agreement that undergirds our entire engagement with Iran. The United States of America will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Period.
Now, let me put President Obamaís commitment to denying Iran a nuclear weapon in context. The Obama administration has invested more than 20 billion dollars in foreign military financing for Israel -- far more than for any other country, and more than at any previous time in the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship. And -- and the President not only committed to denying Iran a nuclear weapon before negotiations with Iran began, he has reiterated the same commitment during negotiations, and he will keep his commitment whether negotiations collapse or produce a diplomatic solution that meets our bottom lines.
Maybe the President has made this point so often that it isnít heard in the same way anymore, but we have to keep repeating it -- talks, no talks, agreement, no agreement -- the United States will take whatever steps are necessary to protect our national security and that of our closest allies. We believe diplomacy is the preferred route to secure our shared aim; but if diplomacy should fail, we know the stakes of a nuclear-armed Iran as well as everyone here. We will not let it happen.
There will never be a sunset on Americaís commitment to Israelís security. Never.
Now let me turn to aspects of the U.S.-Israel partnership that get far less attention -- what the United States is doing every day to combat anti-Semitism around the world, and to have Israelís back at the United Nations.
We are living in an era where anti-Semitism is surging by every measure -- reported harassment, polling data, violent attacks -- and we should all be extremely disturbed by it.
Last summer, we saw rallies about the Gaza violence in Dortmund and Frankfurt, at which protesters chanted, "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!"; and a similar rally in Paris, where protesters marched on a synagogue chanting, "Jews to the oven."
We see children who have to walk through phalanxes of heavily armed soldiers to get into their Jewish schools, and congregants forced to walk through metal detectors to enter their synagogues.
And we have seen murder. The attack in Paris, and the attacks before it on the Jewish school in Toulouse, and the Jewish museum in Brussels. Last monthís attack on a synagogue in Copenhagen.
Then there are the signs we cannot see, but that are no less chilling. Jews thinking twice before shopping in a Kosher shopping market, putting on a kippah, or hanging a mezuzah outside a home.
In 2004, all 55 countries in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including the United States, convened in Berlin to make an historic pledge to combat all forms of anti-Semitism. When, last November, the countries re-assembled to mark the 10th anniversary of that pledge, President Obama asked me to lead the Presidential Delegation to the meeting.
What I told the leaders gathered there is what you already know, anti-Semitic attacks are not only a threat to the Jewish community, they are a threat to European liberalism and pluralism -- the very ideals that Jan Karski was willing to risk his life for. I told the European gathering that, while freedom of expression is a sacred right, criticism of Israel can never be used as a justification for incitement to violence. And I told them that when leaders speak up, nations take notice. Unfortunately, President Obama was one of the few leaders to send a cabinet-level representative to this important and necessary conference. Even more alarming, only two-thirds of the countries that participated in the 2004 anti-Semitism conference were represented in 2014. Given that the situation has only gotten worse, I asked the European policy makers there, "Doesnít this issue -- at the very least -- merit the same show of solidarity and commitment from governments today as it did decades ago, a decade ago?"
We believe it demands that and more. We believe that as anti-Semitism rises, so too must our collective resolve to defeat it. That is why in recent years, the United States has been relentlessly pushing countries to take swift, robust steps to address it, from developing hate crimes legislation; to prosecuting vigorously the perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts; to designating senior officials to coordinate efforts to combat anti-Semitism, as the United States did back in 2004.
Now the last place you might expect meaningful action to combat anti-Semitism is at the United Nations. As you all know, it was forty years ago, in 1975, that the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution -- with the support of 75 of the then-142 Member States -- that resolution officially determined that, "Zionism is a form of racism." When Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN at the time, passionately objected to the resolution, when he passionately objected to the resolution, he told the General Assembly, "The abomination of anti-Semitism has been given the appearance of international sanctionÖWhat we have here is a lie."
And it was precisely because of this lie, and the fact that the General Assembly does not act fairly toward Israel, that we worked over the last year with Israel, the European Union, Canada, and other nations to convene the first-ever meeting on anti-Semitism in the very same UN General Assembly that gave us "Zionism is racism."
The late great Moynihan would not have believed the scene in the General Assembly hall on January 22 this year, when more than fifty countries, including a good number that had voted for the 1975 resolution -- and people of all faiths -- took the podium not only to denounce anti-Semitism and attacks like the barbarous killings in Paris that had occurred on January 9th, but also to commit their countries to take concrete steps to stop its alarming rise. Going forward, all countries now need to be held to those pledges.
Let me give you just a sampling of what we have done across the UN system to defend Israel and its right to be treated like any other nation:
When 18 biased resolutions against Israel were proposed during the UN General Assembly last September -- as they are every fall -- we opposed every one of them.
When the UN Human Rights Council held a special session last July to create a Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged human rights violations committed in the context of military operations in the Palestinian Territories, we cast the sole "no" vote on a profoundly flawed resolution that focused overwhelming criticism on Israel without once mentioning Hamas. Not once. And this after Hamas had fired approximately four thousand rockets on Israel from Gaza last year.
Before the United States joined the UN Human Rights Council in 2009, more than half of all of the country-specific resolutions adopted there were focused on Israel; today, weíve helped lower that proportion to less than a third. But let me stress -- the Human Rights Council has still adopted many more resolutions criticizing Israel than it has on North Korea, a totalitarian state in which roughly 100,000 people are currently being held in gulags and where children are forced to witness the execution of their parents.
At the Security Council, we have also guarded vigilantly against any resolution that threatens Israelís security or undermines the pursuit of peace. That is why in December we opposed efforts to pass a deeply imbalanced Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood and successfully rallied other countries to do the same. As I told the UN Security Council at the time, the United States recognizes, as do many Israeli leaders, that a two-state solution is vital to ensuring the preservation of a Jewish and democratic Israel. And we stand ready -- we stand ready as we always have, to support and engage with the parties in working toward that two-state solution. But progress toward that solution will require brave leadership and tough decisions. And as successive U.S. administrations have made clear for decades, Israeli settlement activity damages the prospects for peace. Nor will one-sided actions in international bodies or accession to international treaties, such as actions against Israel at the International Criminal Court, help us get to a negotiated solution.
It is a false choice to tell Israel that it has to choose between peace on the one hand and security on the other. The United Nations would not ask any other country to make that choice, and it should not ask it of Israel.
We have pressed the UN Security Council to respond when Israelis are victims of terror. For seven years leading up to 2012, the Council would not even issue a single press statement condemning an attack on Israel. Last year, it issued three, including one denouncing the sickening kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers: Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach.
Day in and day out, we fight for Israelís full and equal participation in UN bodies. While membership in these groups may sound bureaucratic, these are the organs where actual policies are hammered out. They matter. For years Israel was the only UN Member-State that was excluded from a regional body at the UN in Geneva and the only group that had no group to caucus with in New York in the General Assembly committee that addresses human rights. I was determined to change this. And we did. In January 2014, after a sustained, full court diplomatic press, we helped secure for Israel permanent membership in whatís called the "Western European and Others Group" -- the group that we belong to -- and in February 2014 we secured Israelís membership in the like-minded human rights caucus from which it had long been excluded in New York. Now no one will have to fight those battles again. Unfortunately, there are so many more, so many more battles.
Confronting anti-Israel bias is part of a long bipartisan American tradition at the UN. It is part of the legacy of every single U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations who has come before me -- from my predecessor, Ambassador Rice, who fought tirelessly for Israelís equal treatment and helped put in place the toughest multilateral sanctions regime in history against Iran -- back through master diplomats from both parties, from Moynihan to Kirkpatrick, Albright to Holbrooke.
Why does the U.S. put so much into this effort? I would borrow the explanation that President Johnson gave shortly after the Six-Day War, when the Soviet premier asked him why the United States was supporting Israel -- a nation so vastly outnumbered by neighboring countries with which it was at war. Johnson responded, "Numbers do not determine what is right." That was true for Americaís support for Israel in 1967, and it is true for Americaís support for Israel today.
And the reason it is right, as Johnson said, is because we believe in Israel. We believe in the values of pluralism, freedom, and democracy that it represents. And we believe that the Jewish people should always have a homeland that is safe and secure.
But thereís another reason -- thereís another reason we put so much into ensuring Israel gets the seat it deserves at every table, and can take part in responding to the great challenges of our time: Given the equal opportunity to contribute, Israel has shown time and again how much it has to offer the world.
Consider Israelís participation in the UNís responses to global humanitarian crises like the recent Ebola outbreak -- a cause to which Israel contributed one of the highest per capita amounts of money and resources -- at the same time as it delivered mobile Ebola treatment units to the affected countries. Or think about its rapid deployment following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, of an entire field hospital together with 200 personnel, which it deployed with the help of the United States within four days of the earthquake. If those are not modern day -- if those are not modern day embodiments of tikkun olam, I donít know what is.
There is a broader reason why we fight relentlessly for Israel to be treated equally at the UN, and that is to bring the UN closer to meeting the goals of its charter. As everything I have said up to this point should make clear, I am under no illusions about the flaws and contradictions within the UN.
But we do not have the option of walking away. Whether bringing countries together to expand the global coalition confronting ISIL, or enabling peacekeeping missions to stop atrocities, the UN can help advance Americaís and Israelís shared interests. The problems we see at the UN, including anti-Israel bias, do not exist because of the UN organization, per se -- the UN is the venue where various countriesí biases are aired. We will never accept this, ever. But we cannot kid ourselves into thinking that giving up on the UN will cure this problem. Instead, we must commit ourselves to forging -- through our principles, our arguments, and our sweat -- the world that we seek.
That is what Ambassador Moynihan saw so clearly in 1975, when he told the UN as it prepared to pass that infamous resolution, "What we have at stake here is not merely the honor and the legitimacy of the State of Israel -- although a challenge to the legitimacy of any member nation ought always to arouse the vigilance of all members of the United Nations. For a yet more important matter," he said, "is at issue, which is the integrity of the whole body of moral and legal precepts which we know as human rights."
Those stakes have not changed. And if we are to confront todayís threats -- whether they stem from terrorist fighters or deadly diseases, from totalitarian governments or crushing poverty -- we need more countries that share our commitments and values, so we can make the world more just and more secure.
Let me conclude. For Israel, too often the right to be treated equally -- and at times, even the right to exist at all -- has been challenged. Israelís history, in part, is the story of perpetually overcoming these challenges. It is a story that is still being written, as the obstacles persist in so many forms -- from virulent anti-Semitism around the world, to the terrorists and regimes that continue to threaten Israel. And throughout this shared history, the United States has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our partner, through thick and thin.
Several decades ago when, like today, some were citing tension in the ties between the United States and Israel, a wise Senator from Massachusetts said, It is worth rememberingÖthat Israel is a cause that stands beyond the ordinary changes and chances of American public life. In our pluralistic society, it has not been a Jewish cause -- any more than Irish independence was solely the concern of Americans of Irish descent. The ideals of Zionism," he went on, "have, in the last half-century, been repeatedly endorsed by Presidents and Members of Congress from both parties. Friendship for Israel is not a partisan matter," he said, "It is a national commitment."
That year was 1960, the Senator was John F. Kennedy. But his words hold true today. The bond between the United States and Israel is still a national commitment. It should never be a partisan matter. The bond runs much deeper than any one issue, or any one generation. Now, as then, we cannot, and we will not, lose sight of that.
Thank you so much. Thank you.
Text Source: usun.state.gov
Audio and Image Source: C-SPAN.org
Page Updated: 3/17/21
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