The American-Israel Relationship: An Unbreakable Bond

(As prepared for delivery)

I want to thank you for inviting me to join you here today.  And I want to thank you for allowing me to share this stage with my colleague and good friend Roy Blunt.

Roy and I respectfully disagree on some of the most important issues facing our nation – whether we can afford the President’s $726 billion tax plan without shortchanging homeland security, foreign assistance, education and health care; whether we ought to offer a prescription drug benefit for seniors under Medicare; and whether Social Security – the most successful government program in American history – should be privatized.

But let there be no doubt: When it comes to America’s national security, the protection of our citizens, and the free world’s fight to eliminate terrorism wherever it rears its head, we speak with one voice.

All Americans pray for a quick, successful conclusion to the war in Iraq and our troops’ safe return.  We pray for the end of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime and the liberation of the Iraqi people.

And we pray for real peace in the Middle East, where Israel is surrounded not by unelected despots who preach death and destruction, but by democracies that recognize her inherent right to exist, by leaders who reject – and actively combat – the use of terrorism, and by societies dedicated to the principles of peace and prosperity.

Until that day dawns, however, we must not delude ourselves: The United States of America has interests and allies throughout the Middle East, but it only has one true friend there – the State of Israel.

That American-Israel bond was sealed just 11 minutes after Israel’s creation in 1948.  That’s how long it took Harry Truman to make ours the very first nation to recognize the new Jewish State.

And that bond will never be broken.

“I had faith in Israel before it was established,” said President Truman.  “I have faith in it now.  I believe it has a glorious future before it – not just as another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”

The United States and Israel share the “great ideals,” the democratic values that make us the object of both envy and hatred – free elections, free speech, basic human rights, and the rule of law.

We are both nations of immigrants.  We both serve as safe havens to the oppressed.  And we are partners for peace.

John Kennedy recognized the moral dimension to the U.S.-Israel relationship 43 years ago:

“Let us make clear,” said President Kennedy, “that we will never turn our back on our steadfast friends in Israel, whose adherence to the democratic way must be admired by all friends of freedom.”

Today, on behalf of the new Democratic leadership team in the House of Representatives, I assure you that our commitment to this proud tradition is stronger than ever.  And it is unwavering.

Our Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, has a long record of support for Israel and as an advocate for democracy and human rights.  The new Chairman of our Democratic Caucus, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, also is a committed supporter of Israel.

And throughout my 34 years of public service, I have always worked hard to advocate for the State of Israel and to foster a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

Let me say, the President’s recent request to include $9 billion in no-cost loan guarantees –  which cost the American taxpayer nothing – and $1 billion in military aid in the Supplemental Appropriations Bill is, I believe, necessary and appropriate.

Israel is suffering through a severe economic recession caused in large measure by the unmitigated campaign of terror being waged against it.  Its per capita GDP has fallen 6 percent in the last two years.  And its defense spending now exceeds 11 percent of GDP – the highest of any democracy.

American aid for Israel honors our special relationship and recognizes the constant threat that she has lived under since her creation 55 years ago this May 14th.  And I believe this aid package demonstrates our strong bipartisan commitment to help Israel weather these unprecedented challenges.

Some, of course, believe the American-Israel relationship is predicated on politics.  There will always be a few.  Even worse, there are those, on both the left and right, who assert that the “Jewish lobby” drives American policy in the Middle East, and even our current action against Hussein.

Syndicated columnist Bob Novak has described the conflict with Iraq as “Sharon’s War.”   Patrick Buchanan has written: “Who would benefit from a war of civilizations between the West and Islam?  Answer: one nation, one leader, one party.  Israel, Sharon, Likud.”

And Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia told a group in Reston on March 3rd that “were it not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war in Iraq, we would not be doing this.”

Let me be as emphatic and clear as I possibly can: Comments like these – regardless of where they come from – are not simply untrue, they are truly toxic.  And they have no place in our public discourse!

When Jim Moran’s comments were first reported in the press, the Democratic leadership immediately castigated them as false, offensive and completely inappropriate. 

But you, the backbone of AIPAC, must know that this Democratic leadership, indeed the entire Democratic Caucus, decisively responded to this situation – without hesitation and with virtual unanimity.

We reject scurrilous charges that have no basis in fact and which only serve to foment an unadulterated, destructive lie.

American support for the State of Israel is the product of principle and conscience, not politics.

Now, permit me to say a few words about our on-going military effort to disarm Saddam Hussein.

Our cause in Iraq is just and necessary.  Hussein is one of the foremost threats to American national security, as well as to Israel and neighboring countries in the Middle East.

As I explained in a speech here in Washington two weeks before the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the United States and the nations of the world that are prepared to defend freedom must not be frozen into inaction by the international community’s inability to marshal anything more than mere words.

We gave Hussein every opportunity to disarm, and to avoid war.  But this vanquished aggressor believed that he could continue to prey on international irresolution.

He miscalculated, and now he is suffering the “serious consequences” envisioned by Resolution 1441 – as well as previous Resolutions – referred to repeatedly over the last 12 years.

While we must continue to focus on the immediate objective before us – disarming Hussein and ending his reign of terror – we must strive to lay a solid foundation for the future of Iraq and the peace and security of the entire region.

In that regard, I am especially pleased to have signed a bipartisan letter this week with Roy Blunt, as well as Congressmen Henry Hyde and Tom Lantos, that urges President Bush to adhere to the principles he articulated last June concerning the on-going Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Above all, we state in our letter, any roadmap towards peace must require Palestinians to unconditionally cease the campaign of terror and violence against Israel.

I understand that some believe the United States and others nations must demonstrate more “even-handedness” on the Palestinian question.  But we must guard against making muddled parallelisms between justified defensive actions by Israel and terrorist tactics that are designed only to inflame and destroy.

Our bipartisan letter also supports the President’s call for new Palestinian leadership – a leadership dedicated to peace and prosperity for her people, a leadership that has real authority, and a leadership that is free from the taint of terrorism.

In short, the Palestinian people need a leadership free of Yasir Arafat, who, in the name of legitimate grievances, has employed grossly illegitimate means and thus forfeited any claim to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people.

The appointment earlier this month of Mahmoud Abbas to serve as the Palestinians’ first prime minister is a positive development.  However, at this early date, none of us knows whether he will be granted the power and independence that will be required to rein in Palestinian support for terrorism and to curb corruption.

Such power is without doubt a prerequisite for the peace that I know the Israeli people, as well as the Palestinian people, seek.

Let me close by saying that I believe Americans never felt closer to the Israeli people than on September 11th, and in the months that have followed.  We appreciate more than ever what the citizens of Israel must live with every day.  The apprehension.  The fear.  The random, unjustified attacks that target innocent men, women and children.

And like our Israeli brothers and sisters, we are determined – in the name of freedom and the future of our children and grandchildren – to never give in to the forces of oppression and darkness.

For as David Ben-Gurion recognized more than half a century ago, we will ultimately be judged not by our wealth or military strength but by our moral worth and human values.

The American-Israel relationship, based as it is on our shared values, shall endure.  And I pledge to you that I will always work to strengthen that bond.

Thank you, AIPAC, for all you do for our great nation; for all you do for the State of Israel; and for all you do to battle the scourge of terrorism and to spread the cause of freedom and liberty.

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