Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all very, very much. It is a real honor to be here at AIPAC's Policy Conference. It's a particular honor to be here with my good friend and one of Congress's strongest pro-Israel allies that you will hear from in just a minute, Steny Hoyer.
Tonight we celebrate a friendship between two countries, simple in concept but mighty in force. This friendship is centered on commitment to community and dedication to faith. It values education, human progress, and the guarantee of opportunity for all. With this friendship the world is a better place.
The alliance between the United States and Israel is often tested but never shaken. We've helped protect each other. We've helped protect our friends, and we've helped protect humanity. If there is a tsunami, our military and aid ships are the first to set sail. If disease is ravaging a nation, whereas is the case of AIDS in Africa, an entire continent, we send help, and we save lives. Israel shares our moral compass. When massive earthquakes struck Haiti and Turkey, Israel was among the first to offer assistance, and hundreds of Israeli rescue workers responded. They responded to the deadly terrorist attacks in East Africa, saving the lives of Africans injured in the attacks on our America's embassies.
For those of us who visited Israel, you know what a special place it is. You've walked down the Tayelet in Tel Aviv on Thursday afternoon, and you've seen the people leisurely lingering in cafes as the waves of the Mediterranean crash in the background. But for many Americans the only images of Israel that they see are blown out clubs and cafes, missiles firing, death, and tragedy. That in itself is a tragedy. These news stories often miss the beauty and the human element of why our nations care so much for one another. But these stories do serve as a constant reminder of the threat Israel faces and why Israel needs our friendship and needs it now.
Now, Asher Afriat needs no reminders. Asher is a friend to many of us, and he's here tonight. You see Asher owns a travel company in Israel, and he leads many of the AIPAC tours. Several months ago, when rockets were flying over Israel, Asher sent me an e-mail. He was up early in Tel Aviv on his way to pick up some tourists. He saw some young reservists with packed military bags waiting to be picked up.
He yearned to drop everything and jump in the truck with them, but as he drove his favorite radio station was interrupted by code red alerts. A somber mood took over, he wrote. But a few minutes later Asher passed the entrance to the Benjamin Forest, a magnet for mountain bikers and one of his favorite riding places. The parking lot was jam packed with cars and hundreds of bikers coming ready to shred the countryside.
Despite rockets flying, they all came. Asher wrote he could barely stand the urge to pull over and get his own bike out, but he pressed on now with a big smile on his face. And in his e-mail he observed how surreal is this moment, how incomprehensible is this reality we live in. Yet for me that moment of Asher's reflected the true essence of Israel with all its pain and beauty.
Now, we're here together tonight. We're here together people of all faiths to support Israel and support the U.S.-Israel relationship. I want to give special notice to the over 2,000 students who are here with us tonight. And and in particular to all our Christian brothers and sisters who are with us, we salute you, and we thank you for standing with us, standing with Israel. Thank you for standing with us to defend the gift that is Israel.
Israel is a gift to all free-loving people around the world, and the Jewish people know and realize this gift better than anyone. The creation of the modern state of Israel had a special effect on what it means to be a Jew. Before 1948 we Jews often had difficulty defining ourselves publicly, and instead we were defined by stereotypes, the craven hook-nosed man counting money behind closed doors, secretive, untrustworthy.
The caricatures were ugly, and unfortunately, some still linger. But after Israel was created people around the world began to see something else. They saw farmers and warriors and creative souls. They saw innovators, scientists, and chemists giving back to the world and saving lives.
The survival of Israel and what it says about its Jewish and Arab citizens is a bulwark against ever returning to the days of our being the eternal outsider, the wandering Jew. Throughout my entire political life, I've never known a time where I've questioned America's resolve and support for Israel. I've never questioned America's historic support for the little guy against the bully. I've never questioned the role we play as protectors of liberty and defenders of justice until now.
It is only recently where I've begun to worry. I worry that some of our nation's leaders are complacent. I worry that some in Washington think we must retreat to our domestic politics and reduce focus overseas. I worry that in the pursuit of comedy with Israel's foes some will seek distance. I worry that they indeed overlook the gift that is Israel. And I worry that Israelis worry, and these worries are not unfounded. Israel is under attack.
A while back I received a briefing in Israel from one of the engineers of the Iron Dome system. His name was Avi. Avi's presentation was impressive. He demonstrated through slides and video the precision and agility of the anti-rocket defense system. Avi beamed with pride as he explained how countless lives were saved by the Iron Dome technology, how families were spared despite deadly rockets aimed at their homes, how mothers were relieved to see their children safe while sirens wailed at terrorist rockets overhead.
Now, five days later, still in Israel, I met with Avi again. His enthusiasm was gone, and there was pain in his eyes. He spoke with great emotion as he told us of the one rockets that had gotten through. It somehow slipped past the defense system, hitting the town of Batsheva and killing an innocent Israeli. He was tortured by that experience, but Avi went back to work, determined to perfect the system that had already saved countless lives.
Now, the importance of the Iron Dome's capability was driven home again recently during the conflict in Gaza. Make no mistake, the Iron Dome has to be right 100 percent of the time or Israelis die. As important as they are, defensive systems like Iron Dome, David's Sling, and the Arrow are not panaceas. True peace will require an end to Iranian-backed weapons smuggled into Gaza.
True peace will also require a recognition by Hamas and the Palestinians that violence does not help but hurts their cause. And only when Palestinian militants lay down their arms can we hope to achieve peace.
And my message to you tonight is this. Our enemies know that if they divide the United States from Israel, they will defeat Israel, and they will be one step closer to defeating America. That is their goal. That is their mission, and we must not ever, ever let them succeed.
Now, three weeks from tonight we'll be sitting down with our families to celebrate Passover, and the words will read from the Haggadah seem as relevant today as ever, "In every generation they rise against us to destroy us." Just listen to President Ahmadinejad or Ayatollah Khomeini speak anywhere at any time, and their intentions are clear. Iran is a direct and immediate threat to Israel, to our other allies in the region, and to the civilized world.
But some in Washington hold the view that Iran is all bluster, that Iran can be contained and negotiated with, but that impression is wrong. We need to be clear-eyed that the nuclear talks with Iran cannot be unending and that they may fail. We need to recognize that military action against Iran may become necessary to protect America, Israel, and our allies. America must be prepared to lead from the front, and the challenge should not be Israel's alone to bear.
In Syria tens of thousands of people have been brutally and relentlessly slaughtered by an evil dictator intent on massacring his people. Our hearts ache as we see mass graves, all too familiar to us Jews. But Syria is not just a moral challenge. It's a strategic challenge. The United States cannot and should not stand aside and just let the chips fall where they may. We've got to be on the side of those looking to end Assad's tyranny.
We cannot guarantee that those who succeed him will be greater friends to our nation or Israel any more than Assad was. But without action we can guarantee that more innocent lives will be lost. We will have failed to shape the outcome of this conflict, and we will guarantee that Syria's future leaders will not have known the helping hand of America when the Syrian people so desperately needed that help.
Beyond just Syria, the entire Middle East is in an epic state of political transition and uncertainty. The stakes could not be higher. And when there is no American leadership, there is no leadership. Bottom line, Israel's security goes hand in hand with America's security, and America's security depends on freedom and democracy growing and open societies hearing our message. America's security depends on putting a stop to the bullying on the worldwide playground and to all of you here tonight at AIPAC, the future depends on your voice.
It must be heard on Capitol Hill and it must be heard by this administration and it must be heard around this country by the American people. We must now and forever stand with Israel, or we risk losing the great promise of America.
Thank you very much AIPAC. Thank you for all you do. Good night. Thank you.