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 but increasingly at the Jewish state. In its most
pernicious form, it argues that if only Israel did not exist, many of
the world's problems would go away.
Does this mean that Israel is above criticism? Of course not. Israel,
like any democracy, has imperfections but we strive to correct them
through open debate and scrutiny. Israel has independent courts, the
rule of law, a free press and a vigorous parliamentary debate – believe
me, it’s vigorous. I know that members of Congress refer to one another
as my distinguished colleague from Wisconsin or the distinguished
Senator from California.Members of the Obama Administration,
Members of Congress,
Leaders of AIPAC,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the world faces monumental challenges, I know that Israel and America will face them together. We stand together because we are fired by the same ideals and inspired by the same dream – the dream of achieving security, prosperity and peace. This dream seemed impossible to many Jews a century ago.
This month, my father celebrated his one-hundredth birthday. When he was born, the Czars ruled Russia, the British Empire spanned the globe and the Ottomans ruled the Middle East. During his lifetime, all of these empires collapsed, other powers rose and fell, and the Jewish destiny swung from despair to a new hope – the rebirth of the Jewish state. For the first time in two thousand years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend themselves against attack.
Before that, we were subjected to unremitting savagery: the bloodletting of the Middle Ages, the expulsion of the Jews from England, Spain and Portugal, the wholesale slaughter of the Jews of the Ukraine, the pogroms in Russia, culminating in the greatest evil of all – the Holocaust. The founding of Israel did not stop the attacks against the Jews. It merely gave the Jews the power to defend themselves against those attacks.
I want to tell you about the day when I fully understood the depth of this transformation. It was the day I met Shlomit Vilmosh over forty years ago. I served with her son, Haim, in the same elite unit in the army. During a battle in 1969, Haim was killed by a burst of gunfire. At his funeral, I discovered that Haim was born shortly after his mother and father had been freed from the death camps of Europe. Had he been born two years before, this daring young officer would have been tossed into the ovens like a million other Jewish children. Haim’s mother Shlomit told me that though she was in great anguish, she was proud. At least, she said, my son fell wearing the uniform of a Jewish soldier defending the Jewish state.
Time and again the Israeli army was forced to repel attacks of much larger enemies determined to destroy us. Recognizing that we could not be defeated in battle, Egypt and Jordan, embraced the path of peace. Yet there are those who continue the assault against the Jewish state and who openly call for our destruction. They seek to achieve this goal through terrorism, missile attacks and most recently by seeking to develop atomic weapons.
The ingathering of the Jewish people to Israel has not deterred these fanatics. In fact, it has only whetted their appetite. Iran’s rulers say “Israel 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."
These are unpleasant facts, but they are the facts. The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, the leading powers in the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history's greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own 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 armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them itself. Our world would never be the same. Iran's brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves.
We must also defend ourselves against the lies and vilifications. Throughout history, the slanders against the Jewish people always preceded the physical assaults against them and were used to justify them. The Jews were called the well-poisoners of mankind, the fomenters of instability, the source of all evil under the sun. Like the physical assaults, these libelous attacks against the Jewish people did not end with the creation of Israel. For a time after World War Two, overt anti-Semitism was held in check by the shame and shock of the Holocaust. But only for a time.