United States Mission to the United Nations
Remarks On Receiving the American Jewish Committee's Distinguished Public Service Award At the AJC's Women's Leadership Board's Annual Spring Luncheon
Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, NY
May 9, 2013
Thank you all. And thanks for meeting me on my home turf.
David, you’ve been a source of wise counsel and a tremendous friend. I am very grateful for all you do. It’s also an honor to share the stage with my friend, Ambassador Ron Prosor. We spend a good bit of time together, as you might imagine. Israel is lucky to have him at the UN.
I’m deeply moved to receive AJC’s Distinguished Public Service Award. My mother isn’t a member of the Women’s Leadership Board—not yet, at least—but I’m sorry she isn’t here to see this. She would have got a lot of naches. I’m proud to accept this honor as a tribute to the dedicated work by President Obama, his administration, and my colleagues at the U.S. Mission to the UN.
AJC has a distinguished history fighting for human rights, democracy, the Jewish people, and the state of Israel. I commend AJC and its leadership for your thoughtful approach. We all understand the UN’s flaws. But AJC has also understood the importance of the UN, and of working for change with persistence, patience, and principle. That’s not the easiest path, but it is the most constructive one, and I’m grateful.
I know the UN isn’t everyone’s favorite place. At its best, the UN does extraordinary things such as: keep the peace, help save untold civilians from Qaddafi in Libya, midwife the new nation of South Sudan, and empower women and girls worldwide. But the UN isn’t at its best when it comes to Israel. In fact, it’s sometimes at its worst. Anyone who cares about the international system has to be concerned when one member state is unfairly singled out. At the UN, Israel endures a barrage of obsessive, unbalanced, and relentless criticism. That undermines the trust between the parties that Secretary of State John Kerry is working so hard to build. It also undermines the UN’s own highest values. The UN should be a place where conflicts are cooled, not inflamed—where confidence is built, not eroded.
From President Obama on down, our view is that Israel-bashing at the UN isn’t just a problem for Israel. It’s a problem for all of us.
Israel faces challenges at the UN both to its security and to its legitimacy.
Let me start with security. Under President Obama, the security relationship between America and Israel has never been stronger. As he told Israelis in Jerusalem, you are not alone. You can see that in the incredible cooperation between our security establishments; in our investment in the Iron Dome system that’s saved Israeli civilians from Hamas rockets; and in the largest program yet to help Israel keep its qualitative military edge so that it can defend itself—by itself.
We are very clear about the threats to Israel’s security. There’s Hamas, which denies Israel’s right to exist and deliberately targets civilians. I’ve visited Sderot, and I’ve seen the rocket shrapnel, and it’s horrific. During the fighting last November, we steered the Security Council towards quickly endorsing the cease-fire agreement negotiated by Secretary Clinton, while avoiding unhelpful initiatives. Then, there’s Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that stockpiles missiles to aim at Haifa and Tel Aviv. As President Obama has said, Israel is justifiably concerned about the risk of Hezbollah obtaining advanced weapon systems.
And, of course, there’s Iran. Iran isn’t just Israel’s problem. It’s a threat to us all. A nuclear-armed Iran would undermine the world’s nuclear nonproliferation regime, raise the danger of nuclear terrorism, risk an arms race in the Middle East, and embolden a reckless government. So we’ve worked hard at the UN and elsewhere to build an unprecedented coalition that has put the Iranian government under more pressure than ever before. Under President Obama’s leadership, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1929, imposing the toughest sanctions ever against Iran. Iran’s currency has lost more than 50 percent of its value. Its inflation has skyrocketed to close to 40 percent. And Iran’s oil exports are down 1 million barrels per day from an average of 2.5 million barrels per day this time last year—a 40 percent decrease.
Now, pressure combined with strong and principled diplomacy is our preferred path to compel Iran’s government to forsake its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But the time for diplomacy is not unlimited, and President Obama has been clear. This is not a danger that can be contained. America will do what it takes to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
My colleagues and I not only fight for Israel’s security. We also fight nearly every day for Israel’s legitimacy.
When the deeply flawed Goldstone Report was released, we insisted on Israel’s right to defend itself. When major events were held to follow up on the notorious Durban conference, we twice refused to participate. And when the UN Human Rights Council turns to Agenda Item Seven on Israel, its only standing agenda item on any country in the world, we work to end this glaring, structural bias.
But it’s not all defense. We collaborate closely with our Israeli partners to support Israel in assuming its full and rightful place across the UN system. That includes dramatically expanding Israel’s participation in Western and like-minded groups, helping Israel win more leadership roles in UN bodies, and adopting a groundbreaking General Assembly resolution last year on entrepreneurship and development—which Israel sponsored and Ambassador Prosor shepherded, which garnered 129 votes.
At the same time, we aim to ensure that actions at the UN don’t make genuine peace harder to reach. So when the Palestinians prematurely sought UN membership, we stood firm on principle. When the Palestinians forced a Security Council vote on settlements, we cast our sole veto of this Administration. We did so because the conflict’s core issues can only be resolved by direct negotiations between the parties—not through diversions at the UN.
In recent days, the Arab Peace Initiative has been given new life and energy. That’s a significant step forward. The United States will continue to work tirelessly to end this tragic conflict by helping the parties establish, through direct negotiations, two states for two peoples—a secure, Jewish, and democratic state of Israel next to a sovereign, viable Palestinian state.
Still, we all know this remains a turbulent time in the Middle East—even an unnerving one. The transitions in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya all face uncertainty, turmoil, and sometimes setbacks. Indeed, we should brace ourselves for more turbulence ahead. But we also must not lose sight of our values or interests. When ordinary people stand up for their basic rights, we should stand with them. When nations long stifled by tyranny find their voice, we should stand by them. Free and democratic societies are ultimately more prosperous, more peaceful, and more stable. We do not know how exactly this wave of revolutions will end. What we do know is our commitment to Israel’s security will never waver. And democracy is a wise long-term bet—not just for our values but for our security.
The universal ideals we cherish have been raised like a banner in some parts of the Arab world—and trampled in others. It is only a matter of time before Bashar al-Assad and his murderous regime is relegated to the pages of history and Syria belongs to the Syrian people. We urge those countries that continue to prop him up to stop and to help end this massive tragedy. We remain deeply involved in efforts to further isolate and pressure Assad’s regime, strengthen the moderate opposition, reduce the suffering, assist Syria’s overwhelmed neighbors, and speed a solution that ends the slaughter and realizes the aspirations of the Syrian people.
We’re meeting today in a place that should embody our best values. Israel’s founders thought so too. On the Fourth of July 1947, in Jerusalem, David Ben-Gurion testified before the UN Special Committee on Palestine. The UN, he said, carried the world’s highest hopes for “stable and lasting peace, which is possible only if based on justice, equality, and cooperation between nations great and small.” The UN, Ben-Gurion said, embodied “a hope and a need for a comprehensive international system establishing relations between peoples on the rule of right instead of might; on mutual help instead of competition; on freedom, equality, and goodwill instead of oppression, discrimination, and exploitation.”
Ben-Gurion’s words still offer a stirring vision for what the UN can be. They still evoke a noble dream of a better planet. Let us remember those hopes—and come together in the holy work of mending our broken world.
Thank you so much.