AIPAC President Michael Kassen



AS DELIVERED



It's great to follow my high school classmate Marcia Fudge. Go Red Raiders!

Good morning. Welcome to Washington. Welcome to the AIPAC Policy Conference. Thank you for being here, for making AIPAC a priority and for joining together for three of the most important days effecting Israel's future.

I want to thank AIPAC's board of directors for their hard work and devotion, and give special recognition to a wonderful friend and superb leader, our chairman of the board Lee Rosenberg.

I'm pleased to share with you that the AIPAC board has named an extremely talented leader to follow me as president next year. Warmth, humor, sound judgment, and a great passion for our work make this man one of our most articulate and effective advocates for a strong U.S.-Israel alliance. Please join me in congratulating AIPAC president-elect Bob Cohen of New York.

Ladies and gentlemen, as you heard earlier from our panel of experts, we gather at a moment of incredible change. We meet at a time of growing danger. Each of us has different reasons for caring about Israel, but all of us are here because we know Israel is threatened. The neighborhood in which Israel lives is in turmoil. While in the past Israel has faced challenges and dangers, at least there were semi-stable governments on her borders. That is no longer the case.

Syria, threatening to become the next haven for al-Qaeda and a terrorist highway for chemical and biological weapons; Lebanon, providing a perch for Hezbollah; Egypt, struggling through domestic chaos; the Sinai, becoming the Wild West for terrorist smugglers; Gaza, re-arming for the next opportunity to attack; Jordan, where Islamic radical elements are trying to weaken the kingdom; and Iran, only a few hundred miles away, marching ever-closer toward a nuclear capability.

Israel is confronted by mounting threats, surrounded by conflict, with no resolution in sight. Where can Israel turn for a reliable ally? Europe? Asia? The one country in the world, the only country in the world that Israel has been able to count on -- to count on to meet the challenges of the last six decades has been the United States of America.

Today, that relationship is more important than ever before. And so, on the eve of Israel's 65th anniversary, the question that we, the guarantors of that friendship, must ask ourselves is: Are we doing everything we can to ensure that America will stand by the side of the Jewish state now and always?

To answer the question we have to focus on political changes taking place on our own shores. Since 1948, Congress has been a bedrock of support for the U.S.-Israel alliance. It happened because we approached leaders one-on-one and educated them about why Israel matters to America. We helped them understand how a strong Israel serves America's interests abroad and guarantees a stable ally in an unstable region of the world. We helped ensure that our leaders had the chance to enhance their understanding of Israel's challenges by traveling there and seeing the land for themselves. And we met with candidates for Congress so that, no matter who won election, we knew our leaders and they knew us. That formula worked. It still works.

But here's the challenge. What happens when our leaders come and go at such a rate that nearly half the entire Congress changes in just four years? It sounds impossible, but that unprecedented change is exactly what has just taken place. In the last three elections, more than 40 percent of the members of the House and Senate either retired or were defeated. We welcomed more than 210 new members of Congress in just the last two elections alone.

Think about how that kind of change would feel if it was affecting your business, your child's school, your church or synagogue, or your doctor's office. And this challenge is magnified. In district after district, in state after state, more candidates with a chance of winning are running for office. Hence, the number of candidates we need to get to know and educate is multiplying. And each of them needs exponentially more money to run an effective campaign. In the last election, candidates for Congress spent upwards of $3 billion on campaigns, an amount inconceivable a generation ago. Simply put, for our community to continue to have political impact, we need more people contributing to pro-Israel candidates of their choice.

This new reality of much higher congressional turnover has numerous other implications for our work. You and I may understand the mounting threats confronting Israel, but what about all of these new candidates running for office? What about your new member of Congress? Was he or she ready on day one to vote on complicated foreign policy matters? The fact is, important roles on congressional committees vital to the U.S.-Israel relationship are increasingly held by individuals with little foreign policy experience. Most of the freshmen members of Congress, who are replacing veteran foreign policy experts, come to office having never visited Israel. Some have not yet traveled beyond America's shores.

We cannot take it for granted that our policymakers will get it when it comes to Israel. The nation's leadership is changing and the life experiences of these new leaders are inherently different. Today, more people arriving in Congress were born after the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 than those who remember the birth of the state of Israel. It's to be expected with the passage of time. Their association and connection to Israel is different, as it will be for successive generations. But we have to recognize that fact and work to educate our country's leaders about the past as they vote on issues which will affect our future.

And there is another dimension as well. We also have to recognize a growing allure of isolationism among some of our new leaders. In the wake of two wars and a battered economy, we see signs of an increasing desire to disengage from world events and focus inward. This growing yearning to untangle from what is perceived as too complicated a world affects both parties, conservatives and liberals alike. They just want out. For Israel, even the tendency toward isolationism is extremely dangerous.

While America's leadership has undergone change, so too has our electorate. In the last election, non-white voters made up a historic 28 percent of those voting, up from 19 percent in 2000. Evangelical Christians at 27 percent also represented a growing share of the voting public. These and other groups will have increasing political influence in the years ahead. In 30 years, when the students here are in their 50s, America's population should balloon to 400 million people, and the majority will be minority. We're talking about a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-racial population.

All these changes -- congressional turnover, increased costs of campaigns, isolationist inclinations, and demographic shifts -- all of these were trends we saw coming. We anticipated these changes. And thanks to the activism of the men and women in this room, we've been able to adjust to new realities and make the most of new opportunities. But we must do more to continue to keep pace with rapid change.

So what does that mean? In the political realm, we have asked AIPAC Club members to join our newly-formed Congressional Club, to encourage them to give to the political process. But let me ask you, are you contributing to pro-Israel candidates? Are you a member of the Congressional Club? Is everyone in your family and business circle who could be giving to pro-Israel candidates doing so?

In addition, we are working to expand the number of new members of Congress who visit Israel. But we need your help. Encourage your members of Congress to make this critical visit. We also are working to increase involvement within the American Jewish community through our synagogue initiative. And we are pleased to welcome 250 congregations and their leaders.

But let me ask you, is your synagogue represented here? And if so, how many -- how many more members of our congressional family could have joined you to lend their voices, resources and advocacy? We are working with a growing number of our friends in the Christian, Latino and African-American communities to increase their involvement with -- in AIPAC. We are -- applause -- we are thrilled that AIPAC each year looks more like America.

But still, we are only at the beginning. We all know that we have much more work to do to fulfill our shared potential. And we need your help so AIPAC can continue to reach beyond its traditional Jewish base of support. And of course, if we are going to ensure that we are stronger in the future than we are today, we must pay special attention to the men and women who will be leading our movement in the decades to come. It's wonderful to see more than 2,000 high school and college students at this conference.

But let me ask you, how many more students who care deeply about Israel are not here? How many students are struggling to find a path where they can be involved and make a difference? Are we doing everything we can to say to them, there's a place for you here; be part of AIPAC?

Ladies and gentlemen, we must do everything we can to involve and increase the number of pro-Israel Americans advocating for a strong U.S.-Israel alliance. We know that when it comes to making Israel safer and America stronger, we matter. Our work matters. AIPAC matters. But we can only keep pace with the tidal wave of change if we each resolve to engage more, educate more, give more.

At this hour, as Israel remains threatened, at this hour, when we are fortunate enough to bear witness to a modern nation, leading the way in every discipline imaginable, you and I have a shared interest in seeing America and Israel kept safe, secure, and strong. Together, we can shape the arc of history. We know what can be achieved by building friendships and successful partnerships with our nation's leaders. And we understand what is at stake if we fail.

So I return to my opening question: Are we doing everything we can to ensure that America will stand by the side of Israel now and always? For the sake of the United States, for the sake of Israel, our only answer can be, must be, yes. Thank you. Thanks.