Amos Oz: Last chance for a Jewish State


At the recent eighth international conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Israeli author Amos Oz gave a landmark address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can watch Oz speak in his exacting, poetic Hebrew with English subtitles here. What follows is an excerpt, translated by Elise Shazar.

I would like to talk this morning about dreams that Israel should forget about as quickly as possible. I will start with the most important thing, that which is, in my opinion, a matter of life and death for Israel: if two states don't come into existence now and fast, there will be one state. If one state comes into existence, it will be an Arab one from the sea to the Jordan River. If an Arab state is established, I do not envy our children and grandchildren.

I said an Arab state from the sea to the Jordan River, I did not say a bi-national state.

Except for Switzerland, all bi-national or multi-national states have faired badly (Belgium, Spain) or have already collapsed into a bloodbath (Lebanon, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, FSU, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine). If two states do not come into existence immediately,  it is possible that  in order to delay the establishment of an Arab State from the sea to the Jordan River, a dictatorship of fanatic Jews will temporarily rise to power, a religious and racist dictatorship that will suppress with an iron fist both the Arabs and its Jewish opponents. A dictatorship of this kind will not last long. No dictatorship of a minority ruling over a majority has ever lasted in the modern world. Even at the end of this road, i.e. a dictatorship of a Jewish minority over the Arab majority, what waits for us is still an Arab State between the sea and the Jordan River, and perhaps also an international embargo, or a bloodbath, or both punishments together.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are among us a lot of wise men–perhaps some are even in this room– who are telling us over and over that there is no solution to the conflict, so they preach the idea of “conflict management.” I want to call your attention to the fact that conflict management will look exactly what last summer looked like. 

Conflict management means a continuum of the Second Lebanese War, the Third Lebanese War, the Fourth and the Fifth, a continuum of Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, Protective Edge and Stretched Bow and Iron Boots and Murderous Punches and maybe an intifada or two in Jerusalem and the territories until the PA collapses and Hamas, or another organization that is even more fanatic and extreme, rises to power. That is the meaning of conflict management in my opinion. And, I have to say in parenthesis that I do not represent anyone, no one chose me. If I prepare a good lecture, I sometimes manage to represent myself.

Let us talk for a minute or two about a solution of the conflict and not the management of the conflict. In the last 100 years or so (you can call them our 100 years of solitude) we have never had a better opportunity than now to end the conflict. Not because the Arabs have become more  Zionist, not because they are ready to suddenly recognize our historical right to this Land, but because Egypt and  Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, the Maghreb States and even Syria of Assad have a current enemy that is more immediate,  destructive and dangerous than the Jewish state.

Twelve years ago the Saudi peace proposal, which is the Arab Peace Initiative, you all know, was put on the table. I do not recommend that Israel rush to sign the dotted line of this proposal, but it is a proposal worthy of negotiations and bargaining. We should have acted thus 12 years ago, and if we had, circumstances would be different today.

If we had received such a proposal in the days of Ben Gurion, or Levi Eshkol, or the times of the three no's of the Khartoum Summit, we would have danced in the streets.

I will say now something which is controversial, and will be controversial. Since the 1967 war (at least), we have not won any wars. Not even the Yom Kippur war. War is not a basketball game in which someone who scores more points wins the trophy, the handshake and the applause of the fans. In war, as opposed to basketball, even if we burn more tanks than the enemy, fell more planes, kill more enemies and conquer more territory, that still does not mean we win. The victor in war is the one who achieves his goals, and the loser is the one who does not.

In the Yom Kippur War, the goal of Sadat was to shatter the status quo established in the Six Day War, and he succeeded. We lost because we did not achieve our goal, and we didn’t achieve our goal because we had no goal, and we could not have had a goal that we could achieve through force. Am I saying that military force is unnecessary? No way! At any point of time in the last 70 years, including this moment when we are sitting and talking in Ramat Aviv, our military force stands incessantly between us and destruction.  But only if we remember this: in regard to us and our neighbors, our military force can only be a preventive one– to prevent calamity, destruction and mass attack on our civilians. But we can’t win because we have no goals that can be achieved through military force. That is the reason that I see conflict management as a recipe for trouble after trouble, and of course defeat after defeat.

Many Israelis, too many Israelis, believe –or are brainwashed to believe– that if we only take a huge stick and hit the Arabs one more strong blow, they will be afraid and leave us alone for all time and everything will be alright. For the last hundred years we have been raising a bigger and bigger stick, and it has not helped. The right and the settlers tell us incessantly that we have a right to all of Western Israel, that we have a right to the Temple Mount. But what do they mean when they say right? A right is not something I really, really, really want. A right is not something that I feel strongly about.  A right is something that someone else recognizes as your right. If others do not acknowledge your right, or if only some people acknowledge what you think is your right, then what you have is not a right but a claim.

And that is the difference between Ramle and Ramallah, between Haifa and Nablus, between Beersheeba and Hebron. Most of the world, including most of the Arab and Muslim world, acknowledges today, happily or not, that Haifa and Beersheba are ours.   Except for Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, everyone accepts this. But no one in the world, except for the settlers, and maybe their extreme supporters in America, acknowledges that Nablus and Ramallah are ours. And that is the difference between a right and a claim. The settlers and their supporters say that we have a right to all of the Land of Israel and of course the Temple Mount, but they are telling us something else altogether.  Not that we have a right but that we have a religious obligation to hold on to every inch of it.

If I go to an ATM, I have the right to withdraw 2,000 shekels. But that doesn’t mean I have to withdraw the NIS 2,000 every time I go by an ATM. If I am standing at a marked crosswalk, I have the right to cross the road. And, if it's a green light, and perhaps there is even a policeman waving me on, I certainly have the right to cross the road.  But if I see a truck racing towards me at 100 km an hour, I have the full right not to fulfill that right.  Not to cross the road. I am speaking, for instance, about the Temple Mount. Why shouldn't Jews have the right to pray on the Temple Mount? But we have the right not to realize this right in this generation.

I want to tell you—there are those among us who have outgrown the 70 year old conflict: they are tired of it, bored with it. They want action. They want to lead us into war with all of Islam—with Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, and nuclear Pakistan. They are ready to go to war against the whole world.

And I ask you and I ask myself: to die for the right to pray on the Temple Mount? There is nothing about this anywhere in the Jewish writings. Under no circumstances.  To those who want a world war on the issue of the Temple Mount, I say do it without me or my children or grandchildren.  Also, the war against all of Islam is not enough for them.  There are those who are trying to lead us into war with the whole world.

You know, 40 years ago on the day after the 1977 rise of Likud to power, a senior editor of one of the dailies was so happy with the change of government, so euphoric, that he began his op-ed with the words, “The success of the Likud party in the elections in Israel restores America to its real dimensions.” Today I also identify an Israeli attempt to restore America to its real dimensions, to destroy the alliance between Israel and America for the benefits of an alliance between our extreme right and the extreme right in America.

We must never forget that at least twice in our history we found ourselves in a war against almost all of the world. And those two times it ended very badly. I see a day in the not too far future (and I hope I am wrong)  when airport personnel in Dublin, or Amsterdam or Madrid  refuse to process El Al passengers. When consumers refuse to buy Israeli products and leave it on the shelves. When investors and tourists stay away from this ostracized country. Ladies and gentleman, this is not futurology, we are half way there.  David Ben Gurion taught us that Israel cannot survive without the support of at least one superpower. Which superpower? It changes. Once it was Britain, once it was even Stalin's Russia, once Britain and France and in the last decades, America. But the alliance with America is not a natural force of nature.

Let me dedicate the next minutes to talk about one of the most important differentiations that an individual or a county can make –the differentiation between constants and variables.  It is dangerous to let those who cannot differentiate between these two concepts to navigate in the world. Kishon (*NOTE: Ephraim Kishon, the humorist) gives instructions to a friend “right at the post office, left at the crossroads, and right again when you get to the guy who is beating his kid.” It is not a joke.  There are those who remember how, for decades, we were intimidated, told that if we return the territories, Soviet forces will turn up near Kfar Saba. I cannot tell you for sure that if we withdraw from the territories everything will be wonderful, but I can tell you with certainty that there will be no Soviet forces.  That's the difference between permanence and change.  Let's talk about the present. The same powers that scared us for decades regarding Soviet forces near Kfar Saba are scaring us now by telling us that if we withdraw from the territories, missiles will fall on Tel Aviv, on the Ben Gurion airport, on Kfar Saba.  I can't be sure if that is true or not. But let me tell you  — with all the authority of a first sergeant in the IDF — that  missiles can already hit Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion airport and Kfar Saba, launched  not only from Kalkilya, but also from Iraq, from Pakistan and maybe even from Indonesia. Like the Soviet forces in Kfar Saba, there is a lack of differentiation between the constant and the variables. If not today, then tomorrow or the day after, it will be easy to accurately hit any point in the world from any other point in the world too. So should we send the IDF to conquer the whole world?

The fact that America is an allied superpower can change, and may change, (if we try hard enough it will change even quickly). But the fact that the Palestinians are our neighbors and that we live in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world, is a constant. Even the nuclear threat of Iran is a variable, not a constant.  Because even if we — or others in our name — bomb the nuclear facilities in Iran, we can't bomb the knowledge. Because nuclear Pakistan can become tomorrow, if not tonight, an Islamic state even more extreme than Iran and it already has nuclear weapons. Because there is no one who can prevent our rich enemies from buying ready made nuclear arms and using them against us. And mainly, because in a few years, anyone who wants to obtain weapons of mass destruction will be able to.  Here, too the constant has to be the power of deterrence of Israel. And the abilities of our enemies, (nuclear and other), is a variable that is not dependent on us.

Contrary to many of my friends in the dovish left, I cannot guarantee that if we leave the territories with a peace agreement, everything will be wonderful.  But I believe that if we stay in the territories, it will be worse. If we stay in the territories an Arab State will be eventually established from the sea to the Jordan River.

I want to criticize myself and some of my friends from the dovish left. There are millions of Israeli citizens who would give up the territories for peace but they don’t believe the Arabs. They don’t want to be suckers.  They are afraid. We should never decry that fear or mock it (and we have done this). You can try to defuse it, try to calm it and perhaps it won't hurt the dovish left to participate in this fear a bit, because there is room for fear. A person who is afraid, justifiably or not, should not be mocked or scorned. The question of peace in exchange for territories should be argued, not with mockery, not with disdain and not with anti-Semitic cartoons. People should argue as people who weigh one danger against the other.

And one more mistake that some of my leftist dovish friends make.  (I did not make this mistake), something they think peace is sitting high on a shelf in a toy store—you just need to reach out and touch it. Our father Rabin, almost touched it at Oslo but he was too miserly to  pay the price at the last moment and  didn’t bring us the toy.

Father Barak almost touched the toy at Camp David, but was too miserly to pay the price so came home without peace. And the same with Father Olmert. We have a miserly father, one who doesn’t love us enough, otherwise he would have brought us the peace that we so yearn for. I do not agree. I believe that peace has more than one partner. A juicy Arabic saying says that, “You can't clap with one hand.” After my lecture, you can try it for yourselves.

My Zionistic starting point has been for years as follows: We are not alone in this country; we are not alone in Jerusalem. I say the same to my Palestinian friends. You are not alone in this country. There is no choice but to divide this small house into two even smaller apartments. A two family home “and a good fence makes a good neighbor” to quote the poet Robert Frost. (*NOTE: the accurate quote is “good fences make good neighbors).

We hear here and there about the idea of a bi-national state, both from the extreme left and also from the extreme right, Moshe Arens for instance. I think the idea of a bi-national state is a sad joke. Not only because the fate of bi- national states in the world. But because of a much simpler reason:  you can't expect Israelis and Palestinians after 100 years of blood, tears and calamity to jump into a double bed and begin the honeymoon. If someone had suggested in 1945 just after World War II to unite Germany and Poland into a bi-national state, they would have confined him to an asylum.

I was one of the first, at the age of 28, that wrote a short time after the Six Day War that the occupation would corrupt us. In the same article, I wrote that the occupation would also corrupt the occupied. No, we and the Palestinians cannot become one happy family tomorrow because we are not one, we are not happy and we are not a family. We are two unhappy families. We need a fair divorce and not a honeymoon. Maybe with time there will be a common market, a federation, cooperation, but as a first phase this country is going to be a two family home because we are not going anywhere. We have nowhere to go. And the Palestinians are not going anywhere because they have nowhere to go either.

The long dispute between the Palestinians and Israel is not a Hollywood western portraying good against bad, but a Greek tragedy about  justice versus justice, and often, unfortunately, injustice versus injustice.

Because of these views I often get called a traitor, but I ask you: What should a surgeon, if he is a good doctor, ask himself when he encounters a patient with multiple injuries: “What comes first? What is urgent? What might kill the patient?”
In the case of Israel, it is not religious coercion, it is not even accessible housing, or even the price of Milky. The continued fight with the Arabs is becoming a war between us and the whole world. This war endangers our existence.

This is the moment which I should reveal out loud, in front of hundreds of people, the biggest military secret we have, the most censored one there is.  And the secret is that we are actually weaker and we were always weaker than all our enemies together. Our enemies have been soaked for years in wild rhetoric about destroying Israel and throwing the Jews into the sea.

They could have easily sent a million well equipped warriors against us, or two or three million, and we wouldn't be here today.  But they never sent more than a few tens of thousands. Because in spite of the wild rhetoric, the existence of Israel or its destruction was never a question of life and death for them.  Not for Syria, or Libya's Gaddafi, or Egypt, and not even for Iran of the Ayatollahs. If it was a question of life and death for them, we would not be here. We are maybe a question of life and death for the Palestinians, but luckily for us they are they are too small to overpower us in any case. But remember, the sum of all our enemies can overpower us if they have, God forbid, the real motivation, not only rhetorical motivation.

Our adventure in the Temple Mount could, God forbid, give them the needed motivation. I don’t know if we can end this conflict overnight, but I believe we could try. I believe that we could have reduced the Israel-Palestinian conflict to an Israel-Gazan conflict. I did not say to solve it, just reduce it, from an Israel- Palestinian conflict to an Israel-Gazan conflict, if we hadn’t said for years that Arafat is too much of a bloody murderer to do business with and Abu Mazen is too weak and harmless so why do business with him? We could have reduced the Israel-Palestinian conflict a long time ago to an Israeli-Gazan conflict and we can do it now too.

It is hard to be a prophet in the land of prophets—there is too much competition. But my long life experience has taught me that in in the Middle East, the words “forever”, “never”, or “not at any cost” usually mean something between 6 months to 30 years.

If someone told me when I was recruited to reserve duty in Sinai in the Six Day War to the Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur War that one day I would travel to Egypt or  Jordan with a Jordanian or Egyptian visa in my Israeli passport, I, the dove, the optimist, the peace monger would have told him “don’t exaggerate.” Maybe my children, my grandchildren, but not me. But I have traveled to Egypt and Jordan and I have Jordanian and Egyptian visas in my passport. 

In summary, I want to tell you in case you have not heard, that for decades we have been experiencing in this small country a Golden Age in literature, in cinema, in the arts, in high-tech, in science and even in philosophy. People usually talk about a Golden Age with nostalgia, after it has passed.  But Israel has been for several years in the midst of a wonderful and creative Golden Age and in terms of spiritual and intellectual creativity, the status of Israel is one of a universal superpower.

And I want to tell you something, that you may have not thought of but maybe think about it now: the city of Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew city, is in my view, a collective creation of the Jewish –Israeli people and it is a no less important and perhaps even a more important creation than, for instance, the Rabbinical Literature of the Diaspora. The city of Tel Aviv is perhaps even more important than the Hebrew Poetry of Spain. The city of Tel Aviv is perhaps no less wonderful than the Babylonian Talmud, and it is only one of the many collective creations  that we have crafted here in the land of Israel in the 100 years of our solitude.

Now comes a small confession:  I love Israel even in the times when I can't stand it.

You know why? A story: Stanley Fischer told me that he once went to Cyprus with his wife for a restful weekend. The flights to Cyprus leave Ben Gurion at 1:30 am and land at 2:30 am. At 2:30 in the morning Stanley Fischer and his wife are standing, very tired, waiting for their suitcases. And an Israeli passenger walks up to them and asks politely: “excuse me, are you the Governor of the Bank of Israel? Tell me, where should I exchange my money—here at the airport or tomorrow in the city?” That is what I like about Israel. This would never have happened to the Chancellor of the Bank of Germany or the Governor of the Bank of England or the President of the Bank of France.  That is why I love Israel even when I can't stand it. . 

I love Israel because of its directness, its bluntness. I love it because it is like this:

If I have to fall in the streets, I want to fall in the streets in Israel—not in London, not in Paris, not in Berlin and not in New York. Because someone will help me up onto my feet.   I know that once I stand up, there will be many that will want to see me fall again. But if I fall again, someone will help me up again.

I am concerned for our future. I am worried about the policy of the government and also ashamed of it.  I am concerned because of the growing fanaticism and violence, and I am ashamed. But I am happy to be an Israeli, and happy to be a citizen in a country where there are 8 million prime ministers, 8 million prophets, 8 million messiahs.  Everyone, every taxi driver with their own personal formula for instant redemption, everyone yelling all the time and no one listening.  I listen, because I make a living out of it.  

It is not boring here, and sometimes even very fascinating intellectually and emotionally. What I have seen in my lifetime is much less and also much more than what my parents and grandparents dreamt about. Thanks for the patience and tolerance.

Obama full speech from the U.N.


President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations this morning and had plenty to say about Iran, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Video of the speech is at the bottom of this article. The full transcript of his speech is below:

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: each year we come together to reaffirm the founding vision of this institution. For most of recorded history, individual aspirations were subject to the whims of tyrants and empires. Divisions of race, religion and tribe were settled through the sword and the clash of armies. The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable.

It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking. The leaders who built the United Nations were not naïve; they did not think this body could eradicate all wars. But in the wake of millions dead and continents in rubble; and with the development of nuclear weapons that could annihilate a planet; they understood that humanity could not survive the course it was on. So they gave us this institution, believing that it could allow us to resolve conflicts, enforce rules of behavior, and build habits of cooperation that would grow stronger over time.

For decades, the U.N. has in fact made a real difference – from helping to eradicate disease, to educating children, to brokering peace. But like every generation of leaders, we face new and profound challenges, and this body continues to be tested. The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.

For much of my time as President, some of our most urgent challenges have revolved around an increasingly integrated global economy, and our efforts to recover from the worst economic crisis of our lifetime. Now, five years after the global economy collapsed, thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized, and people are being lifted out of poverty. But this progress is fragile and unequal, and we still have work to do together to assure that our citizens can access the opportunity they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Together, we have also worked to end a decade of war. Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harm’s way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world. Today, all of our troops have left Iraq. Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.

For the United States, these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war-footing. Beyond bringing our troops home, we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties. We are transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law, while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we have begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so as to properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies, with the privacy concerns that all people share.

As a result of this work, and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago. But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates the dangers that remain. In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall. In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church. In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a horrific part of life. Meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which has not carried out an attack like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments, diplomats, businesses and civilians across the globe.

Just as significantly, the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended, and people grapple with what comes next. Peaceful movements have been answered by violence – from those resisting change, and from extremists trying to hijack change. Sectarian conflict has reemerged. And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction casts a shadow over the pursuit of peace.

Nowhere have we seen these trends converge more powerfully than in Syria. There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter. In the face of carnage, many retreated to their sectarian identity – Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd – and the situation spiraled into civil war. The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge. Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced. A peace process is still-born. America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis. Assad’s traditional allies have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime. And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.

The crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront. How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa – conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them? How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war? What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct? What is the role of the United Nations, and international law, in meeting cries for justice?

Today, I want to outline where the United States of America stands on these issues. With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons. When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly. I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the U.N. itself. The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity. It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocated in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; and Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods. It is an insult to human reason – and to the legitimacy of this institution – to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council. But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all. However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue, and in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them.

The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles. Now, there must be a strong Security Council Resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so. If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the U.N. is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws. On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.

Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria. I do not believe that military action – by those within Syria, or by external powers – can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria – that is for the Syrian people to decide. Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country. The notion that Syria can return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy. It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome they fear: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate. In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears of Alawites and other minorities.

As we pursue a settlement, let us remember that this is not a zero-sum endeavor. We are no longer in a Cold War. There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring it does not become a safe-haven for terrorists. I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war. And as we move the Geneva process forward, I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and surrounding countries. America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort, and today, I can announce that we will be providing an additional $340 million. No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to begin rebuilding their country – but it can help desperate people survive.

What broader conclusions can be drawn from America’s policy toward Syria? I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of America’s resolve in the region. Others have suggested that my willingness to direct even limited military strikes to deter the further use of chemical weapons shows that we have learned nothing from Iraq, and that America continues to seek control over the Middle East for our own purposes. In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades: the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, and accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems, and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.

I realize some of this is inevitable, given America’s role in the world. But these attitudes have a practical impact on the American peoples’ support for our involvement in the region, and allow leaders in the region – and the international community – to avoid addressing difficult problems. So let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency.

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region.

We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends upon the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when its necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attacks, we will take direct action.

And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global non-proliferation regime.

Now, to say these are America’s core interests is not to say these are our only interests. We deeply believe it is in our interest to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous; and will continue to promote democracy, human rights, and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity. But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action – particularly with military action. Iraq shows us that democracy cannot be imposed by force. Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community, and with the countries and people of the region.

What does this mean going forward? In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs, and America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy, and directly – or through proxies – taken Americans hostage, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.

I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight – the suspicion runs too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship – one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Since I took office, I have made it clear – in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani – that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, but that we are determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.

These statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it is the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. This isn’t simply an issue between America and Iran – the world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past, and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.

We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course. Given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government, in close coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China. The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential – in commerce and culture; in science and education.

We are also determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran: the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. I have made clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state. Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible, and I believe there is a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state. But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.

Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state. On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah whose ambition and potential are matched by the pain they feel in having no firm place in the community of nations. They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they recognize that two states is the only real path to peace: because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace. Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks. President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table. Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners, and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state. Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.

Now the rest of us must also be willing to take risks. Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state. Arab states – and those who have supported the Palestinians – must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution with a secure Israel. All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future. Moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work. So let us emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice, and support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.

Real breakthroughs on these two issues – Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace – would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa. But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations. It must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations. And by that measure, it is clear to all of us that there is much more work to be done.

When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope. And although the United States – like others – was struck by the speed of transition, and did not – in fact could not – dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change. We did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard, and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous, and more peaceful.

Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be. Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive. The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it too has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy – through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press, civil society, and opposition parties.

Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal from power. In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides. Our over-riding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society.

That remains our interest today. And so, going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counter-terrorism. We will continue support in areas like education that benefit the Egyptian people. But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a democratic path.

Our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: the United States will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests. But we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World – they are the birthright of every person. And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited; although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and will at times be accused of hypocrisy or inconsistency – we will be engaged in the region for the long haul. For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.

This includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Syria and Bahrain. Ultimately, such long-standing issues cannot be solved by outsiders; they must be addressed by Muslim communities themselves. But we have seen grinding conflicts come to an end before – most recently in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants finally recognized that an endless cycle of conflict was causing both communities to fall behind a fast-moving world.

In sum, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or public opinion. Indeed, as the recent debate within the United States over Syria clearly showed, the danger for the world is not an America that is eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war; rightly concerned about issues back home; and aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim World, may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe that would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. I believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional – in part because we have shown a willingness, through the sacrifice of blood and treasure, to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interests of all. I must be honest, though: we are far more likely to invest our energy in those countries that want to work with us; that invest in their people, instead of a corrupt few; that embrace a vision of society where everyone can contribute – men and women, Shia or Sunni, Muslim, Christian or Jew. Because from Europe to Asia; from Africa to the Americas, nations that persevered on a democratic path have emerged more prosperous, more peaceful, and more invested in upholding our common security and our common humanity. And I believe that the same will hold true for the Arab World.

This leads me to a final point: there will be times when the breakdown of societies is so great, and the violence against civilians so substantial, that the international community will be called upon to act. This will require new thinking and some very tough choices. While the U.N. was designed to prevent wars between states, increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states. And these challenges will grow more pronounced as we are confronted with states that are fragile or failing – places where horrendous violence can put innocent men, women and children at risk, with no hope of protection from national institutions.

I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect human rights. Yet we cannot and should not bear that burden alone. In Mali, we supported both the French intervention that successfully pushed back al Qaeda, and the African forces who are keeping the peace. In Africa, we are working with partners to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army to an end. And in Libya, when the Security Council provided a mandate to protect civilians, America joined a coalition that took action. Because of what we did there, countless lives were saved, and a tyrant could not kill his way back to power.

I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson. They point to problems that the country now confronts – a democratically-elected government struggling to provide security; armed groups, in some places extremists, ruling parts of a fractured land – and argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail. No one is more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens – a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi. But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better if Qadhafi had been allowed to kill, imprison, or brutalize his people into submission? It is far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.

We live in a world of imperfect choices. Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance, and the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order. But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye to slaughter. While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, and we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda or Srebrenica? If that’s the world that people want to live in, then they should say so, and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.

I believe we can embrace a different future. If we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better – all of us – at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order. Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals. Through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules. Through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, and not merely its aftermath. Through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized. And yes, sometimes, all this will not be enough – and in such moments, the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occuring.

Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks – one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution. A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully, and prevent the kind of wars that our forefathers fought. A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs, whether they live in New York or Nairobi; in Peshawar or Damascus.

These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary opportunities. Thanks to human progress, a child born anywhere on Earth can do things today that 60 years ago would have been out of reach for the mass of humanity. I saw this in Africa, where nations moving beyond conflict are now poised to take off. America is with them: partnering to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and to bring power to places off the grid.

I see it across the Pacific, where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation. I see it in the faces of young people everywhere who can access the entire world with the click of a button, and who are eager to join the cause of eradicating extreme poverty, combating climate change, starting businesses, expanding freedom, and leaving behind the old ideological battles of the past. That’s what’s happening in Asia and Africa; in Europe and the Americas. That’s the future that the people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve – one where they can focus on opportunity, instead of whether they’ll be killed or repressed because of who they are or what they believe.

Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change – to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history. Last month, I stood where fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream, at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for President. Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world. Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring? Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?

I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on. We are ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges with you – firm in the belief that all men and women are in fact created equal, each individual possessed with a dignity that cannot be denied. That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope. That’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world to the next generation.

Malala Yousafzai: ‘Our books and our pens are the most powerful weapons’


This is a transcription of the speech that Malala Yousafzai gave to the United Nations on 12 July 2013, the date of her 16th birthday and “Malala Day” at the UN.

In the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful.

Honorable UN Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-moon, respected president of the General Assembly Vuk Jeremic, honorable UN envoy for global education Mr Gordon Brown, respected elders and my dear brothers and sisters: Assalamu alaikum.

Today is it an honor for me to be speaking again after a long time. Being here with such honorable people is a great moment in my life and it is an honor for me that today I am wearing a shawl of the late Benazir Bhutto. I don't know where to begin my speech. I don't know what people would be expecting me to say, but first of all thank you to God for whom we all are equal and thank you to every person who has prayed for my fast recovery and new life. I cannot believe how much love people have shown me. I have received thousands of good wish cards and gifts from all over the world. Thank you to all of them. Thank you to the children whose innocent words encouraged me. Thank you to my elders whose prayers strengthened me. I would like to thank my nurses, doctors and the staff of the hospitals in Pakistan and the UK and the UAE government who have helped me to get better and recover my strength.

I fully support UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his Global Education First Initiative and the work of UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and the respectful president of the UN General Assembly Vuk Jeremic. I thank them for the leadership they continue to give. They continue to inspire all of us to action. Dear brothers and sisters, do remember one thing: Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.

[VIDEO: Malala speaks on education at U.N.]

There are hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for their rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goal of peace, education and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them. So here I stand. So here I stand, one girl, among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.

Dear friends, on 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.

I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. And my dreams are the same. Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It is true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. This is why they killed 14 innocent students in the recent attack in Quetta. And that is why they kill female teachers. That is why they are blasting schools every day because they were and they are afraid of change and equality that we will bring to our society. And I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist why are the Taliban against education? He answered very simply by pointing to his book, he said, “a Talib doesn't know what is written inside this book.”

They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would point guns at people's heads just for going to school. These terrorists are misusing the name of Islam for their own personal benefit. Pakistan is a peace loving, democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. Islam is a religion of peace, humanity and brotherhood. It is the duty and responsibility to get education for each child, that is what it says. Peace is a necessity for education. In many parts of the world, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorism, war and conflicts stop children from going to schools. We are really tired of these wars. Women and children are suffering in many ways in many parts of the world.

In India, innocent and poor children are victims of child labor. Many schools have been destroyed in Nigeria. People in Afghanistan have been affected by extremism. Young girls have to do domestic child labor and are forced to get married at an early age. Poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism and the deprivation of basic rights are the main problems, faced by both men and women.

Today I am focusing on women's rights and girls' education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But this time we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women's rights, but I am focusing on women to be independent and fight for themselves. So dear sisters and brothers, now it's time to speak up. So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity. We call upon the world leaders that all of these deals must protect women and children's rights. A deal that goes against the rights of women is unacceptable.

We call upon all governments to ensure free, compulsory education all over the world for every child. We call upon all the governments to fight against terrorism and violence. To protect children from brutality and harm. We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of education opportunities for girls in the developing world. We call upon all communities to be tolerant, to reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, color, religion or agenda to ensure freedom and equality for women so they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.

Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child's bright future. We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education. No one can stop us. We will speak up for our rights and we will bring change to our voice. We believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the whole world because we ware all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must not forget that millions of people are suffering from poverty and injustice and ignorance. We must not forget that millions of children are out of their schools. We must not forget that our sisters and brothers are waiting for a bright, peaceful future.

So let us wage, so let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first. Thank you.

Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden to the AIPAC Policy Conference [FULL TEXT]


Thank you, Mr. President.  (Applause.)  It’s great to be here.  It’s great to be here.  (Applause.)  Hey, Debbie.

Ladies and gentlemen, oh, what a difference 40 years makes.  (Laughter.)  I look out there and see an old friend, Annette Lantos.  Annette, how are you?  Her husband, Tom Lantos, a survivor, was my assistant, was my foreign policy advisor for years.  And Tom used to say all the time, Joe — he talked with that Hungarian accent — he’d say, Joe, we must do another fundraiser for AIPAC.  (Laughter.)  I did more fundraisers for AIPAC in the ‘70s and early ‘80s than — just about as many as anybody.  Thank God you weren’t putting on shows like this, we would have never made it.  (Laughter.)  We would have never made it.

My Lord, it’s so great to be with you all and great to see — Mr. President, thank you so much for that kind introduction.  And President-elect Bob Cohen, the entire AIPAC Board of Directors, I’m delighted to be with you today.  But I’m particularly delighted to be with an old friend — and he is an old friend; we use that phrase lightly in Washington, but it’s real, and I think he’d even tell you — Ehud Barak, it’s great to be with you, Mr. Minister.  Great to be with you.  (Applause.)

There is a standup guy.  There is a standup guy.  Standing up for his country, putting his life on the line for his country, and continuing to defend the values that we all share.  (Applause.)  I’m a fan of the man.  (Applause.)  Thanks for being here, Ehud.  It’s good to be with you again.

Ladies and gentlemen, a lot of you know me if you’re old enough.  (Laughter.)  Some of you don’t know me, and understand I can’t see now, but in the bleachers to either side, I’m told you have 2,000 young AIPAC members here.  (Applause.)  We talked about this a lot over the years.  We talked about it a lot:  This is the lifeblood.  This is the connective tissue.  This is the reason why no American will ever forget.  You’ve got to keep raising them.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder, a lot of us in this auditorium, defending the legitimate interest of Israel and our enduring commitment over the last 40 years.  And many of you in this hall — I won’t start to name them, but many of you in this hall, starting with Annette Lantos’s husband, who is not here, God rest his soul — many of you in this hall have been my teachers, my mentors and my educators, and that is not hyperbole.  You literally have been.

But my education started, as some of you know, at my father’s dinner table.  My father was what you would have called a righteous Christian.  We gathered at my dinner table to have conversation, and incidentally eat, as we were growing up.  It was a table — it was at that table I first heard the phrase that is overused sometimes today, but in a sense not used meaningfully enough — first I heard the phrase, “Never again.”

It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that it could never happen again was the establishment and the existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel.  (Applause.)  I remember my father, a Christian, being baffled at the debate taking place at the end of World War II talking about it.  I don’t remember it at that time, but about how there could be a debate about whether or not — within the community, of whether or not to establish the State of Israel.

My father would say, were he a Jew, he would never, never entrust the security of his people to any individual nation, no matter how good and how noble it was, like the United States.  (Applause.)  Everybody knows it’s real.  But I want you to know one thing, which some of you — I’ve met with a lot of you over the last 40 years, but the last four years as well.  President Obama shares my commitment.  We both know that Israel faces new threats, new pressures and uncertainty.  The Defense Minister and I have discussed it often.  In the area of national security, the threats to Israel’s existence continue, but they have changed as the world and the region have changed over the last decade.

The Arab Spring, at once full of both hope and uncertainty, has required Israel — and the United States — to reassess old and settled relationships.  Iran’s dangerous nuclear weapons program, and its continued support of terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah and Hamas, not only endanger Israel, but endanger the world.  (Applause.)  Attempts of much of the world to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel are increasingly common, and taken as the norm in other parts of the world.

All these pressures are similar but different, and they put enormous pressure on the State of Israel.  We understand that.  And we especially understand that if we make a mistake, it’s not a threat to our existence.  But if Israel makes a mistake, it could be a threat to its very existence.  (Applause.)  And that’s why, from the moment the President took office, he has acted swiftly and decisively to make clear to the whole world and to Israel that even as circumstances have changed, one thing has not:  our deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel.  That has not changed.  That will not change as long as I and he are President and Vice President of the United States.  (Applause.)  It’s in our naked self-interest, beyond the moral imperative.  (Applause.)

And to all of you, I thank you for continuing to remind the nation and the world of that commitment.  And while we may not always agree on tactics — and I’ve been around a long time; I’ve been there for a lot of prime ministers — we’ve always disagreed on tactic.  We’ve always disagreed at some point or another on tactic.  But, ladies and gentlemen, we have never disagreed on the strategic imperative that Israel must be able to protect its own, must be able to do it on its own, and we must always stand with Israel to be sure that can happen.  And we will.  (Applause.)

That’s why we’ve worked so hard to make sure Israel keeps its qualitative edge in the midst of the Great Recession.  I’ve served with eight Presidents of the United States of America, and I can assure you, unequivocally, no President has done as much to physically secure the State of Israel as President Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

President Obama last year requested $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel — the most in history.  He has directed close coordination, strategically and operationally, between our government and our Israeli partners, including our political, military and intelligence leadership.

I can say with certitude, in the last eight Presidents, I don’t know any time, Ehud, when there has been as many meetings, as much coordination, between our intelligence services and our military.  Matter of fact, they’re getting tired of traveling back across the ocean, I think.  (Laughter.)

Under this administration, we’ve held the most regular and largest-ever joint military exercises.  We’ve invested $275 million in Iron Dome, including $70 million that the President directed to be spent last year on an urgent basis — to increase the production of Iron Dome batteries and interceptors.  (Applause.)

Not long ago, I would have had to describe to an audience what Iron Dome was, how it would work, why funding it mattered.  I don’t have to explain to anybody anymore.  Everybody gets it.  (Applause.)  Everybody saw — the world saw firsthand why it was and remains so critical.

For too long, when those sirens blared in the streets of the cities bordering Gaza, the only defense had been a bomb shelter.  But late last year, Iron Dome made a difference.  When Hamas rockets rained on Israel, Iron Dome shot them out of the sky, intercepting nearly 400 rockets in November alone.  It was our unique partnership — Israel and the United States — that pioneered this technology and funded it.

And it is in that same spirit that we’re working with Israel to jointly develop new systems, called Arrow and David’s Sling, interceptors that can defeat long-range threats from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah — equally as urgent.  (Applause.)  And we are working to deploy a powerful new radar, networked with American early warning satellites, that could buy Israel valuable time in the event of an attack.  This is what we do.  This is what we do to ensure Israel can counter and defeat any threat from any corner.  (Applause.)

But that’s only the first piece of this equation.  Let me tell you — and I expect I share the view of many of you who have been involved with AIPAC for a long time.  Let me tell you what worries me the most today — what worries me more than at any time in the 40 years I’ve been engaged, and it is different than any time in my career.  And that is the wholesale, seemingly coordinated effort to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state.  That is the single most dangerous, pernicious change that has taken place, in my humble opinion, since I’ve been engaged.  (Applause.)

And, ladies and gentlemen, it matters.  It matters.  To put it bluntly, there is only one nation — only one nation in the world that has unequivocally, without hesitation and consistently confronted the efforts to delegitimize Israel.  At every point in our administration, at every juncture, we’ve stood up on the legitimacy — on behalf of legitimacy of the State of Israel.  President Obama has been a bulwark against those insidious efforts at every step of the way.

Wherever he goes in the world, he makes clear that although we want better relations with Muslim-majority countries, Israel’s legitimacy and our support for it is not a matter of debate.  There is no light.  It is not a matter of debate.  (Applause.)  It’s simple, and he means it:  It is not a matter of debated.  Don't raise it with us.  Do not raise it with us.  It is not negotiable.  (Applause.)

As recently as last year, the only country on the United Nations Human Rights Council to vote against — I think it’s 36 countries, don't hold me to the exact number — but the only country on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to vote against the establishment of a fact-finding mission on settlements was the United States of America.

We opposed the unilateral efforts of the Palestinian Authority to circumvent direct negotiations by pushing for statehood and multilateral organizations like UNESCO.  We stood strongly with Israel in its right to defend itself after the Goldstone Report was issued in 2009.  While the rest of the world, including some of our good friend, was prepared to embrace the report, we came out straightforwardly, expressed our concerns and with recommendations.

When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla in 2010, I was in Africa.  We spent a lot of time on the phone, Ehud and — the Defense Minister and I.  (Laughter.)  And Bibi and I spent a lot time on that phone with my interceding, going to the United Nations directly by telephone, speaking with the Secretary General, making sure that one thing was made clear, Israel had the right — had the right — to impose that blockade.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, that's why we refuse to attend events such as the 10th anniversary of the 2001 World Conference on Racism that shamefully equated Zionism with racism.  (Applause.)  That's why we rejected anti-Semitic rhetoric  from any corner and from leaders of any nation.  And that's why I’m proud to say my friend, the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, spoke out against the kind of language in Ankara just this Friday.  (Applause.)  By the way, he’s a good man.  You're going to be happy with Kerry.

And it was in the strongest terms that we vigorously opposed the Palestinian bid for nonmember observer status in the General Assembly, and we will continue to oppose any effort to establish a state of Palestine through unilateral actions.

There is no shortcut to peace.  There is no shortcut to face-to-face negotiations.  There is no shortcut to guarantees made looking in the eyes of the other party.

Ladies and gentlemen, Israel's own leaders currently understand the imperative of peace.  Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — they've all called for a two-state solution and an absolute  secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel; to live side by side with an independent Palestinian state.  But it takes two to tango, and the rest of the Arab world has to get in the game.  (Applause.) 

We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve.  Even some of you in the audience said, why do we even talk about it anymore?  Well, it's going to require hard steps on both sides.  But it's in all of our interests — Israel's interest, the United States' interest, the interest of the Palestinian people.  We all have a profound interest in peace.  To use an expression of a former President, Bill Clinton, we've got to get caught trying.  We've got to get caught trying.  (Applause.)

So we remain deeply engaged.  As President Obama has said, while there are those who question whether this goal may ever be reached, we make no apologies for continuing to pursue that goal, to pursue a better future.  And he'll make that clear when he goes to Israel later this month.

We're also mindful that pursuing a better future for Israel means helping Israel confront the myriads of threat it faces in the neighborhood.  It's a tough neighborhood, and it starts with Iran.  It is not only in Israel's interest — and everybody should understand — I know you understand this, but the world should — it's not only in Israel's interest that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, it's in the interest of the United States of America.  It's simple.  And, as a matter of fact, it's in the interest of the entire world. (Applause.)

Iraq's [sic] acquisition of a nuclear weapon not only would present an existential threat to Israel, it would present a threat to our allies and our partners — and to the United States.  And it would trigger an arms race — a nuclear arms race in the region, and make the world a whole lot less stable.

So we have a shared strategic commitment.  Let me make clear what that commitment is:  It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Period.  (Applause.)  End of discussion.  Prevent — not contain — prevent.  (Applause.)

The President has flatly stated that.  And as many of you in this room have heard me say — and he always kids me about this; we'll be in the security room — and I know that Debbie Wasserman Schultz knows this because she hears it — he always says, you know — he'll turn to other people and say, as Joe would say, he’s — as Joe would say, big nations can't bluff.  Well, big nations can't bluff.  And Presidents of the United States cannot and do not bluff.  And President Barack Obama is not bluffing.  He is not bluffing.  (Applause.)
 
We are not looking for war.  We are looking to and ready to negotiate peacefully, but all options, including military force, are on the table.  But as I made clear at the Munich Security Conference just last month, our strong preference, the world’s preference is for a diplomatic solution.  So while that window is closing, we believe there is still time and space to achieve the outcome.  We are in constant dialogue, sharing information with the Israeli military, the Israeli intelligence service, the Israeli political establishment at every level, and we’re taking all the steps required to get there.

But I want to make clear to you something.  If, God forbid, the need to act occurs, it is critically important for the whole world to know we did everything in our power, we did everything that reasonably could have been expected to avoid any confrontation.  And that matters.  Because God forbid, if we have to act, it’s important that the rest of the world is with us.  (Applause.)  We have a united international community.  We have a united international community behind these unprecedented sanctions.

We have left Iran more isolated than ever.  When we came to office, as you remember — not because of the last administration, just a reality — Iran was on the ascendency in the region.  It is no longer on the ascendency.  The purpose of this pressure is not to punish.  It is to convince Iran to make good on its international obligations.  Put simply, we are sharpening a choice that the Iranian leadership has to make.  They can meet their obligations and give the international community ironclad confidence in the peaceful nature of their program, or they can continue down the path they’re on to further isolate and mounting pressure of the world.

But even preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon still leaves them a dangerous neighbor, particularly to Israel.  They are using terrorist proxies to spread violence in the region and beyond the region, putting Israelis, Americans, citizens of every continent in danger.  For too long, Hezbollah has tried to pose as nothing more than a political and social welfare group, while plotting against innocents in Eastern Europe — from Eastern Europe to East Africa; from Southeast Asia to South America.  We know what Israel knows:  Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.  Period.  (Applause.)  And we — and me — we are urging every nation in the world that we deal with — and we deal with them all — to start treating Hezbollah as such, and naming them as a terrorist organization.  (Applause.)

This isn’t just about a threat to Israel and the United States.  It’s about a global terrorist organization that has targeted people on several continents.  We’ll say and we’ll do our part to stop them.  And we ask the world to do the same.  That’s why we’ve been talking to our friends in Europe to forcefully declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.  This past month I’ve made the case to leading European heads of state, as Barack and Israelis know, together we have to continue to confront Hezbollah wherever it shows — sews the seeds of hatred and stands against the nations that sponsor campaigns of terror.

Ladies and gentlemen, the United States and Israel have a shared interest in Syria as well.  Assad has shown his father’s disregard for human life and dignity, engaging in brutal murder of his own citizens.  Our position on that tragedy could not be clearer:  Assad must go.  But we are not signing up for one murderous gang replacing another in Damascus.  (Applause.)

That’s why our focus is on supporting a legitimate opposition not only committed to a peaceful Syria but to a peaceful region.  That’s why we’re carefully vetting those to whom we provide assistance.  That’s why, while putting relentless pressure on Assad and sanctioning the pro-regime, Iranian-backed militia, we’ve also designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization.

And because we recognize the great danger Assad’s chemical and biological arsenals pose to Israel and the United States, to the whole world, we’ve set a clear red line against the use of the transfer of the those weapons.  And we will work together to prevent this conflict and these horrific weapons from threatening Israel’s security.  And while we try to ensure an end to the dictatorship in Syria, we have supported and will support a genuine transition to Egyptian democracy.

We have no illusions — we know how difficult this will be and how difficult it is.  There’s been — obviously been a dramatic change in Egypt.  A lot of it has given us hope and a lot of it has given us pause, and a lot of it has caused fears in other quarters.

It’s not about us, but it profoundly affects us.  We need to be invested in Egypt’s success and stability.  The stable success of Egypt will translate into a stable region.  We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses.  Again, our eyes are wide open.  We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this:  There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel.  It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk.  It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists.  And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process.  And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty.  There’s no certainty about anything in the Arab Spring.

I expect President Obama to cover each of these issues in much greater detail.  I’ve learned one thing, as I was telling the President, I learned it’s never a good idea, Ehud, to steal the President’s thunder.  It’s never a good idea to say what he’s going to say the next day.  So I’m not going to go into any further detail on this.  (Laughter.)  But in much greater detail he will discuss this when he goes to Israel later this month, just before Passover begins.

I have to admit I’m a little jealous that he gets to be the one to say “this year in Jerusalem,” but I’m the Vice President.  I’m not the President.  (Applause.)  So I — when I told him that, I’m not sure he thought I was serious or not.  But anyway.  (Laughter.)

As will come as no surprise to you, the President and I not only are partners, we’ve become friends, and he and I have spoken at length about this trip.  And I can assure you he’s particularly looking forward to having a chance to hear directly from the people of Israel and beyond their political leaders, and particularly the younger generation of Israelis.  (Applause.)

And I must note just as I’m getting a chance to speak to 2,000 young, American Jews involved and committed to the state of Israel and the relationship with the United States, he’s as anxious to do what I got a chance to do when I was there last, Ehud with you, as you flew me along the line.  I got to go to Tel Aviv University to speak several thousand young Israelis.  The vibrancy, the optimism, the absolute commitment is contagious, and he’s looking forward to seeing it and feeling it and tasting it.

The President looks forward to having conversations about their hopes and their aspirations, about their astonishing world-leading technological achievements, about the future they envision for themselves and for their country, about how different the world they face is from the one their parents faced, even if many of the threats are the same.

These are really important conversations for the President to have and to hear and for them to hear.  These are critically important.  I get kidded, again to quote Debbie, she kids sometimes, everybody quotes — Democrat and Republican — quotes Tip O’Neill saying, all politics is local.  With all due respect, Lonny, I think that's not right.  I think all politics is personal.  And I mean it:  All politics is personal.  And it’s building personal relationships and trust and exposure, talking to people that really matters, particularly in foreign policy.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let me end where I began, by reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel.  It’s not only a longstanding, moral commitment, it’s a strategic commitment.  An independent Israel, secure in its own borders, recognized by the world is in the practical, strategic interests of the United States of America.  I used to say when I — Lonny was president — I used to say if there weren't an Israel, we'd have to invent one.

Ladies and gentlemen, we also know that it's critical to remind every generation of Americans — as you're doing with your children here today, it's critical to remind our children, my children, your children.  That's why the first time I ever took the three of my children separately to Europe, the first place I took them was Dachau.  We flew to Munich and went to Dachau — the first thing we ever did as Annette will remember — because it's important that all our children and grandchildren understand that this is a never-ending requirement.  The preservation of an independent Jewish state is the ultimate guarantor, it's the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people in the world.  (Applause.)

That was most pointedly pointed out to me when I was a young senator making my first trip to Israel.  I had the great, great honor — and that is not hyperbole — of getting to meet for the first time — and subsequently, I met her beyond that — Golda Meir.  She was the prime minister.  (Applause.)

Now, I'm sure every kid up there said, you can't be that old, Senator.  (Laughter.)  I hope that's what you're saying.  (Laughter.)  But seriously, the first trip I ever made — and you all know those double doors.  You just go into the office and the blonde furniture and the desk on the left side, if memory serves me correctly.  And Golda Meir, as a prime minister and as a defense minister, she had those maps behind her.  You could pull down all those maps like you had in geography class in high school.

And she sat behind her desk.  And I sat in a chair in front of her desk, and a young man was sitting to my right who was her assistant.  His name was Yitzhak Rabin.  (Laughter.)  Seriously — an absolutely true story.  (Applause.)  And she sat there chain-smoking and reading letters to me, letters from the front from the Six-Day War.  She read letters and told me how this young man or woman had died and this is their family.  This went on for I don't know how long, and I guess she could tell I was visibly moved by this, and I was getting depressed about it — oh, my God.

And she suddenly looked at me and said — and I give you my word as a Biden that she looked at me and said — she said, Senator, would you like a photo opportunity?  (Laughter.)  And I looked at her.  I said, well yes, Madam Prime Minister.  I mean I was — and we walk out those doors.  We stood there — no statements, and we're standing next to one another looking at this array of media, television and photojournalists, take — snapping pictures.  And we're looking straight ahead.

Without looking at me, she speaks to me.  She said, Senator, don't look so sad.  She said, we have a secret weapon in our confrontation in this part of the world.  And I thought she was about to lean over and tell me about a new system or something.  Because you can see the pictures, I still have them — I turned to look at her.  We were supposed to be looking straight ahead.  And I said, Madam Prime Minister — and never turned her head, she kept looking — she said, our secret weapon, Senator, is we have no place else to go.  We have no place else to go.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, our job is to make sure there's always a place to go, that there's always an Israel, that there's always a secure Israel and there's an Israel that can care for itself.  (Applause.)  My father was right.  You are right.  It's the ultimate guarantor of never again.  God bless you all and may God protect our troops.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Caught on tape: Kissinger


As far as the Nixon-Kissinger relationship goes, the March 1, 1973 tape is par for the course of their complicated relationship: hard-nosed considerations of policy leavened with Kissinger’s adoring appraisals of his boss’s genius, punctuated by Nixon’s hearty encouragement of such obsequiousness.

The conversation relates to Israel’s security, and includes a discussion of the Israeli and Egyptian bottom lines in the attempts by Kissinger, then the secretary of state, to head off the war that would explode six months later.

That glides into a discussion of a meeting with Golda Meir, then the Israeli prime minister, and her plea for pressure on the Soviet Union to allow Jews to emigrate and go to Israel.

That was not on the agenda, as far as Nixon and Kissinger were concerned: Their philosophy was détente first, and human rights would follow later – but they weren’t about to reveal the strategy to Meir.

“You didn’t give them any specific commitment,” Kissinger says, unaware of the tape Nixon had recording all his meetings with aides. “You prepare your meetings very carefully.”

“And also saying we weren’t planning anything, knowing damn well we will,” Nixon chimes in, apparently referring to his overtures to the Soviets.

Kissinger understands the butter-me-up-Buttercup cue, and lays it on thick, with the requisite dismissal of John F. Kennedy, Nixon’s bugbear even a decade after his assassination.

“Yesterday she was like a tiger,” Kissinger says of Meir. “But in your careful preparation and the subtlety with which you conducted the conversation, never a note in front of you, you take that for granted. You take Kennedy—he was supposedly an expert on foreign policy, but not only—he understood nothing. But Johnson in addition didn’t care. Johnson was bored by it.”

“Was he?” Nixon says.

“Oh yes,” Kissinger indulges.

There follows a Johnson anecdote, and then Nixon returns to policy.

“It’s important to get across to them, Henry, and I hope you’ve gotten to [Senator Jacob] Javitz [Republican of New York) and [Senator] Henry Jackson [Democrat of Washington] and the rest of them, by God, if the Jewish community in this country makes Israel exit permits the ambition of the Russian initiative … it will not work,” he says.

That’s when the conversation takes a dark turn unusual even for tapes notorious for detours by Nixon and his aides into expectorations of paranoid abuse.

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger says. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responds. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

There’s more: Nixon calls Jewish lobbying on the issue “unconscionable,” says getting the Soviets most-favored-nation status is critical, and Kissinger returns to flattery, referring to the back and forth with Soviet boss Leonid Brezhnev:

“You have outmaneuvered Brezhnev in a way that is almost pathetic.”

Nixon murmurs his assent.

Obama says GOP ‘tough talk’ doesn’t help Israel; Transcript of speech


DENVER (JTA) — Barack Obama said Republican “tough talk” was not protecting Israel.

In his speech accepting the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination Thursday night, Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) derided the Bush administration and his Republican rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for failing to contain terrorism.

“You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq,” he said, in a speech to an estimated 75,000 people at Invesco Field in Denver. “You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.”

Obama has accused Bush and McCain of undermining alliances through unilateralism. He favors intensifying diplomacy as well as sanctions in a bid to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Earlier in the evening, Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the Reform movement’s Washington public policy office, the Religious Action Center, delivered the invocation at the opening of the Thursday session of the convention. Saperstein asked for God’s blessing “on all the leaders of our nation,” but he singled out by name Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is suffering from terminal brain cancer, as well as Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

“May your name be invoked only to inspire and unify our nation, but never to divide it,” Saperstein said.



Following is prepared text of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech

To Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin; and to all my fellow citizens of this great nation;

With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest – a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours — Hillary Rodham Clinton. To President Clinton, who last night made the case for change as only he can make it; to Ted Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service; and to the next Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, I thank you. I am grateful to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time, a man at ease with everyone from world leaders to the conductors on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.

To the love of my life, our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, and to Sasha and Malia – I love you so much, and I’m so proud of all of you.

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story – of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren’t well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

It is that promise that has always set this country apart – that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

That’s why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women – students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors — found the courage to keep it alive.

We meet at one of those defining moments – a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can’t afford to pay, and tuition that’s beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government’s making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.

This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he’s worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.

Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land – enough! This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: “Eight is enough.”

Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we’ll also hear about those occasions when he’s broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record’s clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives – on health care and education and the economy – Senator McCain has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has made “great progress” under this President. He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisors – the man who wrote his economic plan – was talking about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a “mental recession,” and that we’ve become, and I quote, “a nation of whiners.”

A nation of whiners? Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every day and working as hard as ever, because they knew there were people who counted on the brakes that they made. Tell that to the military families who shoulder their burdens silently as they watch their loved ones leave for their third or fourth or fifth tour of duty. These are not whiners. They work hard and give back and keep going without complaint. These are the Americans that I know.

Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.

For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.

Well it’s time for them to own their failure. It’s time for us to change America.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President – when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job – an economy that honors the dignity of work.

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great – a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton’s Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She’s the one who taught me about hard work. She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she’s watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

What is that promise?

It’s a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It’s a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves – protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.

That’s the promise of America – the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.

That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes – cut taxes – for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I’ll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy – wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American – if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime – by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less – because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America’s promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our “intellectual and moral strength.” Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can’t replace parents; that government can’t turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.

Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility – that’s the essence of America’s promise.

And just as we keep our keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America’s promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have.

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just “muddle through” in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell – but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we’re wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That’s not the judgment we need. That won’t keep America safe. We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq. You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans – have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America.

So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can’t just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose – our sense of higher purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise – the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what – it’s worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don’t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven’t spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me. It’s been about you.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us – that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it – because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.

I believe that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming. Because I’ve seen it. Because I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it in Illinois, when we provided health care to more children and moved more families from welfare to work. I’ve seen it in Washington, when we worked across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable, to give better care for our veterans and keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands.

And I’ve seen it in this campaign. In the young people who voted for the first time, and in those who got involved again after a very long time. In the Republicans who never thought they’d pick up a Democratic ballot, but did. I’ve seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day than see their friends lose their jobs, in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise.

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It’s a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours – a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things. They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead – people of every creed and color, from every walk of life – is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

“We cannot walk alone,” the preacher cried. “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.