Senator Barack Obama
AIPAC Policy Conference.
The American Israel Political Action Committee invited both presidential
candidates: Senators Barack Obama and
John McCain to speak at their annual policy conference held
June 2008 in Washington, DC.
It is great to see so many good friends from across the country. I want to congratulate
Howard Friedman, David Victor and Howard Kohr on an extraordinary conference, and on
the completion of a new headquarters just a few blocks away.
Before I begin, I want to say that I know some provocative emails have been circulating
throughout Jewish communities across the country. A few of you may have gotten them.
They're filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for President.
And all I want to say is – let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because
he sounds pretty frightening.
But if anyone has been confused by these emails, I want you to know that today I'll
be speaking from my heart, and as a true friend of Israel. And I know that when
I visit with AIPAC, I am among friends. Good friends. Friends who share my strong
commitment to make sure that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable
today, tomorrow, and forever.
One of the many things that I admire about AIPAC is that you fight for this common cause from the bottom up. The lifeblood of AIPAC is here in this room – grassroots
activists of all ages, from all parts of the country, who come to Washington year
after year to make your voices heard. Nothing reflects the face of AIPAC more than
the 1,200 students who have travelled here to make it clear to the world that the
bond between Israel and the United States is rooted in more than our shared national
interests – it's rooted in the shared values and shared stories of our people. And
as President, I will work with you to ensure that it this bond strengthened.
I first became familiar with the story of Israel when I was eleven years old. I
learned of the long journey and steady determination of the Jewish people to preserve
their identity through faith, family and culture. Year after year, century after
century, Jews carried on their traditions, and their dream of a homeland, in the
face of impossible odds.
The story made a powerful impression on me. I had grown up without a sense of roots.
My father was black, he was from Kenya, and he left us when I was two. My mother
was white, she was from Kansas, and I'd moved with her to Indonesia and then back
to Hawaii. In many ways, I didn't know where I came from. So I was drawn to the
belief that you could sustain a spiritual, emotional and cultural identity. And
I deeply understood the Zionist idea – that there is always a homeland at the center
of our story.
I also learned about the horror of the Holocaust, and the terrible urgency it brought to the journey home to Israel. For much of my childhood, I lived with my grandparents.
My grandfather had served in World War II, and so had my great uncle. He was a Kansas
boy, who probably never expected to see Europe – let alone the horrors that awaited
him there. And for months after he came home from Germany, he remained in a state
of shock, alone with the painful memories that wouldn't leave his head.
You see, my great uncle had been a part of the 89th Infantry Division – the first
Americans to reach a Nazi concentration camp. They liberated Ohrdruf, part of Buchenwald,
on an April day in 1945. The horrors of that camp go beyond our capacity to imagine.
Tens of thousands died of hunger, torture, disease, or plain murder – part of the
Nazi killing machine that killed 6 million people.
When the Americans marched in, they discovered huge piles of dead bodies and starving
survivors. General Eisenhower ordered Germans from the nearby town to tour the camp,
so they could see what was being done in their name. He ordered American troops
to tour the camp, so they could see the evil they were fighting against. He invited
Congressmen and journalists to bear witness. And he ordered that photographs and
films be made. Explaining his actions, Eisenhower said that he wanted to produce,
"first-hand evidence of these things, if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency
to charge these allegations merely to propaganda."
I saw some of those very images at Yad Vashem, and they never leave you. And those
images just hint at the stories that survivors of the Shoah carried with
them. Like Eisenhower, each of us bears witness to anyone and everyone who would
deny these unspeakable crimes, or ever speak of repeating them. We must mean what
we say when we speak the words: "never again."
It was just a few years after the liberation of the camps that David Ben-Gurion
declared the founding of the Jewish State of Israel. We know that the establishment
of Israel was just and necessary, rooted in centuries of struggle, and decades of
patient work. But 60 years later, we know that we cannot relent, we cannot yield,
and as President I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security.
Not when there are still voices that deny the Holocaust. Not when there are terrorist
groups and political leaders committed to Israel's destruction. Not when there are
maps across the Middle East that don't even acknowledge Israel's existence, and
government-funded textbooks filled with hatred toward Jews. Not when there are rockets
raining down on Sderot, and Israeli children have to take a deep breath and summon
uncommon courage every time they board a bus or walk to school.
I have long understood Israel's quest for peace and need for security. But never
more so than during my travels there two years ago. Flying in an IDF helicopter,
I saw a narrow and beautiful strip of land nestled against the Mediterranean. On
the ground, I met a family who saw their house destroyed by a Katyusha Rocket. I
spoke to Israeli troops who faced daily threats as they maintained security near
the blue line. I talked to people who wanted nothing more simple, or elusive, than
a secure future for their children.
I have been proud to be a part of a strong, bi-partisan consensus that has stood
by Israel in the face of all threats. That is a commitment that both John McCain
and I share, because support for Israel in this country goes beyond party. But part
of our commitment must be speaking up when Israel's security is at risk, and I don't
think any of us can be satisfied that America's recent foreign policy has made Israel
Hamas now controls Gaza. Hizbollah has tightened its grip on southern Lebanon, and
is flexing its muscles in Beirut. Because of the war in Iraq, Iran – which always
posed a greater threat to Israel than Iraq – is emboldened, and poses the greatest
strategic challenge to the United States and Israel in the Middle East in a generation.
Iraq is unstable, and al Qaeda has stepped up its recruitment. Israel's quest for
peace with its neighbors has stalled, despite the heavy burdens borne by the Israeli
people. And America is more isolated in the region, reducing our strength and jeopardizing
The question is how to move forward. There are those who would continue and intensify
this failed status quo, ignoring eight years of accumulated evidence that our foreign
policy is dangerously flawed. And then there are those who would lay all of the
problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters, as if
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region. These
voices blame the Middle East's only democracy for the region's extremism. They offer
the false promise that abandoning a stalwart ally is somehow the path to strength.
It is not, it never has been, and it never will be.
Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten
Israel threaten us. Israel has always faced these threats on the front lines. And
I will bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel's security.
That starts with ensuring Israel's qualitative military advantage. I will ensure
that Israel can defend itself from any threat – from Gaza to Tehran. Defense cooperation
between the United States and Israel is a model of success, and must be deepened.
As President, I will implement a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion
in assistance to Israel over the next decade – investments to Israel's security
that will not be tied to any other nation. First, we must approve the foreign aid
request for 2009. Going forward, we can enhance our cooperation on missile defense.
We should export military equipment to our ally Israel under the same guidelines
as NATO. And I will always stand up for Israel's right to defend itself in the United
Nations and around the world.
Across the political spectrum, Israelis understand that real security can only come
through lasting peace. And that is why we – as friends of Israel – must resolve
to do all we can to help Israel and its neighbors to achieve it. Because a secure,
lasting peace is in Israel's national interest. It is in America's national interest.
And it is in the interest of the Palestinian people and the Arab world. As President,
I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state of Israel
and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security. And I won't
wait until the waning days of my presidency. I will take an active role, and make
a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start
of my Administration.
The long road to peace requires Palestinian partners committed to making the journey.
We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements. There is no room at the negotiating
table for terrorist organizations. That is why I opposed holding elections in 2006
with Hamas on the ballot. The Israelis and the Palestinian Authority warned us at
the time against holding these elections. But this Administration pressed ahead,
and the result is a Gaza controlled by Hamas, with rockets raining down on Israel.
The Palestinian people must understand that progress will not come through the false
prophets of extremism or the corrupt use of foreign aid. The United States and the
international community must stand by Palestinians who are committed to cracking
down on terror and carrying the burden of peacemaking. I will strongly urge Arab
governments to take steps to normalize relations with Israel, and to fulfill their
responsibility to pressure extremists and provide real support for President Abbas and
Prime Minister Fayyad. Egypt must cut off the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.
Israel can also advance the cause of peace by taking appropriate steps – consistent
with its security – to ease the freedom of movement for Palestinians, improve economic
conditions in the West Bank, and to refrain from building new settlements – as it
agreed to with the Bush Administration at Annapolis.
Let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians
need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper –
but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as
a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain
the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.
I have no illusions that this will be easy. It will require difficult decisions
on both sides. But Israel is strong enough to achieve peace, if it has partners
who are committed to the goal. Most Israelis and Palestinians want peace, and we
must strengthen their hand. The United States must be a strong and consistent partner
in this process – not to force concessions, but to help committed partners avoid
stalemate and the kind of vacuums that are filled by violence. That's what I commit
to do as President of the United States.
The threats to Israel start close to home, but they don't end there. Syria continues
its support for terror and meddling in Lebanon. And Syria has taken dangerous steps
in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, which is why Israeli action was justified
to end that threat.
I also believe that the United States has a responsibility to support Israel's efforts
to renew peace talks with the Syrians. We must never force Israel to the negotiating
table, but neither should we ever block negotiations when Israel's leaders decide
that they may serve Israeli interests. As President, I will do whatever I can to
help Israel succeed in these negotiations. And success will require the full enforcement
of Security Council Resolution 1701 in Lebanon, and a stop to Syria's support for
terror. It is time for this reckless behavior to come to an end.
There is no greater threat to Israel – or to the peace and stability of the region
– than Iran. Now this audience is made up of both Republicans and Democrats, and
the enemies of Israel should have no doubt that, regardless of party, Americans
stand shoulder-to-shoulder in our commitment to Israel's security. So while I don't
want to strike too partisan a note here today, I do want to address some willful
mischaracterizations of my positions.
The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region.
It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race, and raise
the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its President denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is
grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.
But just as we are clear-eyed about the threat, we must be clear about the failure
of today's policy. We knew, in 2002, that Iran supported terrorism. We knew Iran
had an illicit nuclear program. We knew Iran posed a grave threat to Israel. But
instead of pursuing a strategy to address this threat, we ignored it and instead
invaded and occupied Iraq. When I opposed the war, I warned that it would fan the
flames of extremism in the Middle East. That is precisely what happened in Iran
– the hardliners tightened their grip, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President
in 2005. And the United States and Israel are less secure.
I respect Senator McCain, and look forward to a substantive debate with him these
next five months. But on this point, we have differed, and we will differ. Senator
McCain refuses to understand or acknowledge the failure of the policy that he would
continue. He criticizes my willingness to use strong diplomacy, but offers only
an alternate reality – one where the war in Iraq has somehow put Iran on its heels.
The truth is the opposite. Iran has strengthened its position. Iran is now enriching
uranium, and has reportedly stockpiled 150 kilos of low enriched uranium. Its support
for terrorism and threats toward Israel have increased. Those are the facts, they
cannot be denied, and I refuse to continue a policy that has made the United States
and Israel less secure.
Senator McCain offers a false choice: stay the course in Iraq, or cede the region
to Iran. I reject this logic because there is a better way. Keeping all of our troops
tied down indefinitely in Iraq is not the way to weaken Iran – it is precisely what
has strengthened it. It is a policy for staying, not a plan for victory. I have
proposed a responsible, phased redeployment of our troops from Iraq. We will get
out as carefully as we were careless getting in. We will finally pressure Iraq's leaders to take meaningful responsibility for their own future.
We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything
in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That starts with aggressive,
principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions, but with a clear-eyed
understanding of our interests. We have no time to waste. We cannot unconditionally rule out an approach that could prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We
have tried limited, piecemeal talks while we outsource the sustained work to our
European allies. It is time for the United States to lead.
There will be careful preparation. We will open up lines of communication, build
an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress.
Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries
just for the sake of talking. But as President of the United States, I would be
willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader
at a time and place of my choosing – if, and only if – it can advance the interests
of the United States.
Only recently have some come to think that diplomacy by definition cannot be tough.
They forget the example of Truman, and Kennedy and Reagan. These Presidents understood
that diplomacy backed by real leverage was a fundamental tool of statecraft. And
it is time to once again make American diplomacy a tool to succeed, not just a means of containing failure. We will pursue this diplomacy with no illusions about the
Iranian regime. Instead, we will present a clear choice. If you abandon your dangerous
nuclear program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, there will be meaningful
incentives – including the lifting of sanctions, and political and economic integration with the international community. If you refuse, we will ratchet up the pressure.
My presidency will strengthen our hand as we restore our standing. Our willingness
to pursue diplomacy will make it easier to mobilize others to join our cause. If
Iran fails to change course when presented with this choice by the United States,
it will be clear – to the people of Iran, and to the world – that the Iranian regime
is the author of its own isolation. That will strengthen our hand with Russia and
China as we insist on stronger sanctions in the Security Council. And we should
work with Europe, Japan and the Gulf states to find every avenue outside the UN to isolate the Iranian regime – from cutting off loan guarantees and expanding financial
sanctions, to banning the export of refined petroleum to Iran, to boycotting firms
associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, whose Quds force has rightly been
labeled a terrorist organization.
I was interested to see Senator McCain propose divestment as a source of leverage
– not the bigoted divestment that has sought to punish Israeli scientists and academics,
but divestment targeted at the Iranian regime. It's a good concept, but not a new
one. I introduced legislation over a year ago that would encourage states and the
private sector to divest from companies that do business in Iran. This bill has
bipartisan support, but for reasons that I'll let him explain, Senator McCain never
signed on. Meanwhile, an anonymous Senator is blocking the bill. It is time to pass
this into law so that we can tighten the squeeze on the Iranian regime. We should
also pursue other unilateral sanctions that target Iranian banks and assets.
And we must free ourselves from the tyranny of oil. The price of a barrel of oil
is one of the most dangerous weapons in the world. Petrodollars pay for weapons
that kill American troops and Israeli citizens. And the Bush Administration's policies
have driven up the price of oil, while its energy policy has made us more dependent
on foreign oil and gas. It's time for the United States to take real steps to end
our addiction to oil. And we can join with Israel, building on last year's US-Israel
Energy Cooperation Act, to deepen our partnership in developing alternative sources
of energy by increasing scientific collaboration and joint research and development.
The surest way to increase our leverage in the long term is to stop bankrolling
the Iranian regime.
Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action
on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel. Sometimes there are no
alternatives to confrontation. But that only makes diplomacy more important. If
we must use military force, we are more likely to succeed, and will have far greater
support at home and abroad, if we have exhausted our diplomatic efforts.
That is the change we need in our foreign policy. Change that restores American
power and influence. Change accompanied by a pledge that I will make known to allies
and adversaries alike: that America maintains an unwavering friendship with Israel,
and an unshakeable commitment to its security.
As members of AIPAC, you have helped advance this bipartisan consensus to support
and defend our ally Israel. And I am sure that today on Capitol Hill you will be
meeting with members of Congress and spreading the word. But we are here because
of more than policy. We are here because the values we hold dear are deeply embedded
in the story of Israel.
Just look at what Israel has accomplished in 60 years. From decades of struggle
and the terrible wake of the Holocaust, a nation was forged to provide a home for
Jews from all corners of the world – from Syria to Ethiopia to the Soviet Union.
In the face of constant threats, Israel has triumphed. In the face of constant peril,
Israel has prospered. In a state of constant insecurity, Israel has maintained a
vibrant and open discourse, and a resilient commitment to the rule of law.
As any Israeli will tell you, Israel is not a perfect place, but like the United
States it sets an example for all when it seeks a more perfect future. These same
qualities can be found among American Jews. It is why so many Jewish Americans have
stood by Israel, while advancing the American story. Because there is a commitment
embedded in the Jewish faith and tradition: to freedom and fairness; to social justice
and equal opportunity. To tikkun olam – the obligation to repair this world.
I will never forget that I would not be standing here today if it weren't for that
commitment. In the great social movements in our country's history, Jewish and African
Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder. They took buses down south together.
They marched together. They bled together. And Jewish Americans like Andrew Goodman
and Michael Schwerner were willing to die alongside a black man – James Chaney –
on behalf of freedom and equality.
Their legacy is our inheritance. We must not allow the relationship between Jews
and African Americans to suffer. This is a bond that must be strengthened. Together,
we can rededicate ourselves to end prejudice and combat hatred in all of its forms.
Together, we can renew our commitment to justice. Together, we can join our voices
together, and in doing so make even the mightiest of walls fall down.
That work must include our shared commitment to Israel. You and I know that we must
do more than stand still. Now is the time to be vigilant in facing down every foe,
just as we move forward in seeking a future of peace for the children of Israel,
and for all children. Now is the time to stand by Israel as it writes the next chapter
in its extraordinary journey. Now is the time to join together in the work of repairing
- August 2008: Rabbi Dennis Shulman,
candidate for Congress in New Jersey's 5th district, and
Women Governors Janet Napolitano (AZ),
Kathleen Sebelius (KS) and Jennifer Granholm (MI)
- July 2008: AIPAC Speeches by Presidential Candidates
Sen. Barack Obama (IL) and
Sen. John McCain (AZ).
Also, State Rep. Jason Bedrick (NH)
- April 2008:
Sen. Barack Obama,
Sen. Hillary Clinton and
Amb. Dan Kurtzer.
- March 2008: Sen. Barack Obama
- March 2008: Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL)
- March 2008: Susie Stern and Steve Grossman
- February 2008:
Rep. Steven Rothman (D-NJ), NE Coordinator
for Obama campaign.
Michael Weinstein, Military Religious Freedom Foundation
- January 2008:
Rep. Josh Shapiro
and Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston.
- October 2007: Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA)
- August 2007: Sen. Mike Gravel (AK),
Democratic Presidential Candidate
- June, July, December 2007: Democratic Presidential Candidates
Sen. John Edwards (NC),
Sen. Joe Biden (DE),
Sen. Chris Dodd (CT),
Sen. Barack Obama (IL),
Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY),
Gov. Bill Richardson (NM)
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH)
speaking at the NJDC
- November 2007: Ruth Damsker, Montgomery County Commissioner
and Elie Wiesel, author and Nobel Laureat.
- May 2007: Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA 7) speaking
at CAIR, and interviews with
Marc Stier and
Andy Toy, Philadelphia
City Council candidates.
- April 2007: Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA 13)
- March 2007: Judge Anne E. Lazarus
candidate for the PA Superior Court.
- February 2007:
Rep. Mark Cohen,
Democratic Caucus Chairman
- January 2007:
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN 5), first Muslim elected to Congress
- November 2006: Candidates Lois Murphy and Jim Gerlach,
Pennsylvania's 6th district.
- October 2006: Patrick Murphy, candidate
for Congress in Pennsylvania's 8th district.
- September 2006: Alan Schlesinger, Republican
Senate candidate in Connecticut.
- August 2006: Peter Edelman, President of the
New Israel Fund
- July 2006: Joe Sestak, candidate for Congress
in Pennsylvania's 7th district.
- June 2006: Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY 2).
- May 2006: Charles Smolover, Vice-President
of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice
- April 2006: Ira Forman, Executive Director
of the National Jewish Democratic Committee
- March 2006: Alan Sandals, candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate
- February 2006: Matthew Brooks, Executive Director
of the Republican Jewish Coalition
- January 2006: Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA 2).
- December 2005: Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA 6).
- November 2005: Gov. Howard Dean, Chairman of
the Democratic National Committee
- October 2005: Bob Casey candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate.
- September 2005: Pennsylvania State Representative
- August 2005: Lois Murphy candidate for Congress
in Pennsylvania's 6th district.
- July 2005: Chuck Pennacchio candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate.
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