Good evening, everyone. Thank you so much for that incredibly warm welcome. And thanks for meeting someplace that gives me an easy commute. Some of you may know the ambassador’s residence is upstairs in the Waldorf Towers.
And thank you, Josh, for that incredibly generous introduction. I also want to thank Phil Darivoff, AIPAC’s northeast regional chair and co-chair of tonight’s dinner, and Bob Cohen, whom I look very much forward to working closely with as AIPAC’s president-elect. I’m really sorry that my good friend Lee Rosenberg—Rosy—is unable to be with us tonight. He is a rock for me personally and professionally and a wonderful source of wisdom and strength. But I’d like to begin above all by thanking all of you—for all the good work you do to strengthen the special relationship between America and Israel.
The United States and Israel share an unbreakable bond, rooted in common interests and common values. So I’d like to talk tonight about today’s U.S.-Israel relationship, particularly our efforts to address Israel’s security concerns in the region and to defend Israel’s legitimacy at the United Nations.
But let me begin on a personal note. I’ve been to Israel several times—starting with an amazing trip when I was just 14. I got to go because my late father sat on the board of TWA—some of you remember Trans World Airlines—and he and I and my younger brother flew on one of the very first flights from Tel Aviv to Cairo, right around the time of the Camp David Accords. But I also cherish a very special trip I made—my first official solo trip to Israel as an American official—in 2009, right after the release of the deeply flawed Goldstone Report. I had a pretty hectic schedule planned. But several friends, including if not especially Rosy, told me I had to see a place called Yemin Orde, so that’s where we started our trip. And as many of you know, Yemin Orde is a very special place, a youth village, perched on a hilltop not far from Haifa, which began in the 1950s as a haven for orphans from the Holocaust and immigrant children. It’s now home to more than 500 young people from North Africa to Yemen to Sudan who’ve suffered trauma, disruption, neglect, or poverty. Spending time with those kids, hearing their stories, seeing how this village—deeply religious and so socially moral—has given them the education and support to live as free citizens, I’ll never, ever forget. It was one of the most moving visits I’ve had anywhere, any place in the world.
So this for me over the years has been quite personal. And, at a moment when the Middle East is undergoing massive change, one thing will never change: the United States remains firmly and fully committed to the peace and security of the state of Israel.
I’m proud that, under President Obama, the security relationship between America and Israel has never been stronger. He again made his personal commitment plain in March in Jerusalem, where he delivered a simple message to Israel’s people: You are not alone. Israelis are not alone because of the incredible cooperation between our security establishments. Israelis are not alone because of the U.S. investment in the Iron Dome system that’s saving innocent civilians from Hamas rockets. Israelis are not alone because of the largest program yet to help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge so that it can defend itself—by itself. And Israelis are not alone because of our joint battles at the United Nations to defend Israel’s security and legitimacy.
We’re very clear about the threats that Israel faces. There’s Hamas, which denies Israel’s right to exist and deliberately targets Israel’s citizens. I’ve been to Sderot. I’ve touched the rockets and their shrapnel. And I know how horrendous the fear is. There’s also Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that fights for the Assad regime and stockpiles missiles to put Haifa and Tel Aviv in the crosshairs. As President Obama has said, Israel is justifiably deeply concerned about the risk of Hezbollah obtaining ever more advanced weapon systems.
And of course, there’s Iran. A nuclear-armed Iran would not only threaten Israel; it would also undermine the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, risk the security of Gulf states, and embolden a reckless government. A nuclear-armed Iran is not just Israel’s problem. It is a danger to the whole world, including the United States.
So we have built an extraordinary coalition, in significant part at the United Nations, that’s put Iran’s government under unprecedented economic pressure. Under President Obama’s leadership, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1929 in 2010, imposing the toughest sanctions ever on Iran. And on the basis of that resolution and unilateral sanctions that the United States and many other states have imposed, Iran’s currency has lost more than half its value. Inflation has soared to close to 40 percent. And Iran’s oil exports are down 1 million barrels per day from an average of 2.5 million barrels per day this time last year—a 40 percent decrease.
The best way to compel Iran’s government to forsake nuclear weapons is pressure combined with strong, principled diplomacy. President Obama has been clear: the time for diplomacy is not unlimited. This is not a danger that can be contained. And America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
So we understand the security challenges Israel faces, and we work very closely with our Israeli friends to tackle them. But my colleagues and I don’t just defend Israel’s security. We fight for Israel’s legitimacy, including at the United Nations.
Now, I know the United Nations isn’t everyone’s favorite place. At its best, the UN does exceptional things: rushing humanitarian aid and disaster relief to millions of innocents across the globe; empowering women and girls; keeping the peace in far-flung conflict zones; and helping save untold civilians from Libya’s Qaddafi. But the UN is not at its best when it comes to Israel. In fact, it’s often at its worst. At the UN, as you well know, Israel endures a barrage of obsessive, one-sided, and relentless criticism. That doesn’t just undermine the trust between the parties that Secretary of State Kerry is working so tenaciously to build. It also undermines the UN’s own highest values. So from President Obama on down, our view is clear: Israel-bashing at the UN isn’t just a problem for Israel. It’s a problem for all of us.
And we give that problem a huge amount of energy and effort. It’s true to say that not a day goes by that my colleagues and aren’t fighting for fair treatment of Israel at the United Nations. When the Goldstone Report was released, we insisted on Israel’s right to defend itself. When major UN events followed up on the notorious Durban conference, we twice refused to participate. And when the Human Rights Council turns again and again to Agenda Item Seven on Israel—its only standing agenda item on any country anywhere—we fight to end this blatant, structural bias.
But we don’t just play defense. Because we’ve led and most importantly because we’ve worked so closely with our Israeli partners at the United Nations, Israel is increasingly exercising all the rights and responsibilities of every other UN member state. That includes dramatically expanding Israel’s participation in Western and like-minded UN groupings. It means helping Israel win more leadership roles that they seek in UN bodies, from serving as vice president of the General Assembly to sitting on the board of UNICEF. And it means adopting important General Assembly resolutions, including one last year on entrepreneurship and development—sponsored by Israel, shepherded by my good friend Ambassador Ron Prosor, and passed with 141 votes.
Meanwhile, we aim to ensure that distractions at the UN don’t make it even harder to reach genuine peace. The United States will continue to oppose all unilateral efforts at the UN to bypass direct negotiations. And that’s why, when the Palestinians prematurely sought UN membership, we stood firm on principle. When the Palestinians forced a Security Council vote on settlements, we cast our sole veto of this administration. There are no short cuts to peace. And the United States will continue to work tirelessly to end this longstanding conflict by helping the parties establish, through direct negotiations, two states for two peoples—a secure, Jewish, and democratic state of Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state.
The pursuit of peace is all the more important and challenging during such turbulent times in the Middle East. The universal ideals that we cherish have been raised like a banner in some parts of the Arab world and trampled in others. Particularly urgent is of course the challenge of Syria. We urge those countries that still prop up Assad to stop fueling the conflict and to help end this massive tragedy. We continue to lead efforts to further isolate and pressure the Assad regime, to strengthen the moderate opposition, reduce the suffering, help Syria’s overwhelmed neighbors, and hasten a political solution that ends the slaughter and realizes the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.
We don’t know exactly how this wave of revolutions across the region will end. What we do know is that our commitment to Israel’s security will never waver. And we know that democracy is a wise, long-term bet—not just for our values but for our national security.
And that seems the right place to close: with the core, democratic values that Israel and America share.
As President Obama said in Jerusalem, “The source of our friendship extends beyond mere interests, just as it has transcended political parties and individual leaders.” Both America and Israel are nations of immigrants—defined by democracy, strengthened by diversity, rooted in community, ruled by law, fueled by freedom and entrepreneurship, and renewed by the common efforts of our citizens.
So let us never lose sight of what brings our peoples together. Let us continue to work to mend our imperfect world. And let us remember that Israel can always count on America as its greatest friend. America’s commitment to Israel spans generations and political parties. It is not negotiable. And it never will be.
Thank you all very much.
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