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Dr. Michael B. Oren, Ambassador of Israel, Address to AJC
Dr. Michael B. Oren, Ambassador of Israel, Address to AJC

April  28, 2010


I begin by bringing you back years ago, to May 8, 1945, VE-Day.  The 
day the Nazis quit. People were cheering, dancing in the streets. But 
one man was not dancing and not celebrating. One man sat alone, 
depressed, in his room. He was the leader of Zionist movement and his 
name was David Ben-Gurion.

Where the Allies saw victory, Ben-Gurion saw defeat. A third of the 
Jewish people had been massacred. The survivors were forbidden to 
immigrate to Palestine and the Jewish community there—the Yishuv—was 
left without funds, without arms.  And the ultimate blow—a new 
president now sat in the White House, a former Haberdasher devoid of 
diplomatic experience or the character to act. Sixty years of struggle 
to settle the Land of Israel was wasted, it seemed; the Zionist 
enterprise was dead. "Sad," Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary while the 
world outside rejoiced. "Terribly sad."

Jewish history is rife with such moments—the destruction of our 
Temples, the exiles and the inquisitions. And always at such moments, 
we Jews have asked:  is there hope still, can we go on?

Today, confronting the daunting threats to Israel's security and 
legitimacy, we, too, might be tempted to succumb to despair. Indeed, 
there are moments these days when the challenges facing Israel seem 
overwhelming at best, at worst insurmountable.

The first of the perils facing Israel are those associated with 
peace. How, might you ask, can peace be perilous?

Peace is a vision that we all share, a vision of two states—Jewish 
and Palestinian—living side-by-side free of the fear of violence and 
further territorial claims. But realizing that vision will require 
painful sacrifices in the territories we regard as the cradle of 
Jewish peoplehood. And making peace will entail colossal risks.

Keep in mind that Israel has already withdrawn from two territories—
from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005—in order to generate the 
conditions conducive to peace. But we did not get peace. We received 
more than 15,000 rockets, and 1,000 deaths from suicide bombers. We 
reaped war.

A vastly greater danger could be posed by a Palestinian state 
directly adjacent to our major cities and industrial areas, that could 
rain thousands of Iranian-supplied rockets on Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and 
Ben-Gurion airport.

The danger exists that Palestinian leaders who have long refused to 
recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people would 
continue to do so, seeing the two-state solution as a two-stage 
solution in which the final stage is Israel's dissolution.

Perilous, too, is the possibility that the process of creating a 
Palestinian state could widen the rifts between those of our people 
who insist that we conceded too little and those protesting that we 
sacrificed too much. Establishing a Palestinian state could tear our 
state—from both the right and the left—asunder.

The next danger facing Israel is the escalating campaign to deny it 
legitimacy—to strip Israel of its right to defend itself, even its 
right to exist.

We are all familiar with the Goldstone report, the spurious charge-
sheet compiled by a UN council that has condemned Israel more 
frequently than all other countries—Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Libya—
combined; the report that found Israel guilty of war crimes and crimes 
against humanity even before it began its deliberations; the tribunal 
whose so-called judges included one who claimed that Hamas had only 
fired "one or two rockets" into Israel and that the Jews dominated 
British foreign policy.

Goldstone is only one component of the global and richly funded 
campaign to boycott Israel economically, politically, and 
academically; to force countries and public institutions to divest 
from Israel, and to sanction Israel financially.  Boycott, divesture, 
and sanction—in short, BDS.

The BDS campaign is accompanied by attempts to arrest Israeli 
political and military leaders for war crimes in various foreign 
countries,  by attempts to portray Israel as an apartheid state and 
American support for Israel as the product of an invidious Israel 
lobby. And there are the efforts to deny Israeli representatives the 
right to speak on campuses.

But BDS also has military ramifications. Internalizing the lessons 
of Goldstone, Hizbollah has now deployed its 50,000 missiles—three 
times as many as it had in 2006—under homes, schools, and hospitals, 
safe in the knowledge that they can be fired at Israel with impunity. 
If Israel tries to defend itself, it will again be condemned for war 
crimes.

Tragically, Jewish history has taught us that every attempt to 
annihilate us has been preceded by a campaign to dehumanize us. And 
dehumanized, Israel could be rendered vulnerable to the most ominous 
challenge of all:  the challenge of a rapidly nuclearizing Iran.

This is an Iran that, if it acquires military nuclear capabilities, 
presents Israel with not one but multiple threats. There is the threat 
that Iran will live up to its leaders' pledges to wipe Israel off the 
map, that it will make a nuclear device and place it atop one of the 
many missiles it possess that can reach every Israeli city. This is 
the Iran that could convey nuclear weaponry to terrorist groups and an 
Iran that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, 
transforming the entire region into a tinderbox.

The dangers of peacemaking, BDS, a nuclear Iran—such challenges can 
indeed seem insuperable. And yet, as so often in our past, Israel's 
leadership is rising to meet these challenges, rising courageously and 
creatively.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli Government have set out a 
plan providing for the effective demilitarization of the Palestinian 
state. That state will not have missiles capable of destroying our 
cities or an air force capable of shooting down our civilian 
airliners. It will not be able to make treaties will hostile entities 
such as Iran. To prevent a recurrence of the Lebanon and Gaza 
situation in which massive amounts of weaponry were smuggled across 
neighboring Arab borders, Israel will seek a continued military 
presence in the Jordan Valley.

The Prime Minister's plan further calls for the reciprocal and mutual 
recognition between the two states. Just as Israel will recognize the 
Palestinian state as the Palestinian nation state so, too, will the 
Palestinian have to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish 
people. I can assure you that this is not a tactical maneuver but 
rather a fundamental prerequisite for peace. Without it, there can be 
no end of claims, no true end of conflict.

The Government of Israel has taken unprecedented steps to promote 
peace talks—steps that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton praised as 
"unprecedented." Our ardent hope is that the Palestinian leadership 
will soon return to the negotiating table and together we can advance 
toward achieving a durable and historic peace.

Yes, there may be some who will accuse the Israeli government of 
conceding too much or too little. Still, history teaches us that, 
whenever offered genuine peace by intrepid Arab leaders such as King 
Hussein and Anwar Sadat, Israelis have embraced that offer and 
continued to embrace it unfalteringly.

Facing the threats to Israel's right to self-defense and existence, 
the Government of Israel has joined with the Obama administration in 
combating the Goldstone report wherever in whatever form it surfaces. 
We are redoubling our efforts on campus, defeating divestiture motions 
and sending speakers to meet with students of all political 
backgrounds. We are reaching out to community groups of different 
religions and ethnicities to explain Israel's case, and working with 
local, state, and national representatives to pass legislation against 
BDS.

In meeting the Iranian threat, Israel appreciates President Obama's 
determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and is 
following his lead in galvanizing international support for biting 
sanctions on Iran. We welcome the sanction legislation passed by both 
Houses of Congress and encourage all state and local efforts to deny 
Iran access to American markets and know-how. We expect the world to 
act decisively to deny nuclear military capabilities to Iran while 
reserving the right of any state—and especially a Jewish state that 
knows too well the price of powerlessness—to defend itself.

We in Israel are meeting all of the monumental challenges confronting 
us and yet, still, one has to wonder how we do it. How do we wake up 
in the morning to tens of thousands of Hamas and Hezbollah rockets 
pointed at our homes, to enemies who reject our past and deny us a 
future?

The temptation to despair can indeed be great. But so, too, is the 
imperative to remember.

Remember, David Ben-Gurion on May 8, 1945 and then remember that same 
Ben-Gurion exactly three years later proclaiming the rebirth of an 
independent Jewish state in our homeland, the Land of Israel. Remember 
how that state of a mere  600,000 souls armed with little more than 
handguns defeated six invading armies, established a flourishing 
Hebrew culture and a thriving democracy—remember how that poor tiny 
state absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from around 
the world.

Remember how that same state, nineteen years later, again faced 
destruction at the hands of foreign armies and confronted that threat 
while also grappling with a hostile Soviet bloc, a hostile China and 
India, with no economy and no strategic relationship with the United 
States.

And recall, finally, Israel of 2010: a country at peace with two of 
its former foes and committed to resolving its conflict with the 
Palestinians; a country with superb relations with former Soviet bloc 
countries, robust ties with China and India; a country with one of the 
world's strongest economies; a country bonded with this nation, the 
United States, in a multifaceted, unbreakable alliance.

Yes, we face challenges, some of them quite daunting, but we have 
overcome similar obstacles in our past and we have prevailed. 
Reinforced by our faith, aided by our resilience, we have prevailed, 
but we have never been alone.

You, our supporters in the United States, Jews and non-Jews alike, 
have contributed immensely to our success. And Israel, no less today 
than in the past, calls once again for your backing.

Support us if we once again decide to make excruciating sacrifices and 
take extraordinary risks for peace—and support us, too, if we decide 
that the chances for real peace do not warrant those sacrifices and 
risks.

Join us in fighting for Israel's right to defend itself and Israel's 
right to exist. Join us in making that the fight of all Americans and 
of all fair-minded people everywhere. And join us in the fateful fight 
against Iranian nuclearization.

As in the past, at the time of Israel's creation and, later, in the 
struggle to free Soviet Jewry, take to the streets and make your 
voices heard.  In your synagogues and community centers hang banners 
declaring "End BDS" and "Stop the Iranian Bomb."

In spite of the differences that sometimes divide us, support the 
decisions made by the people who bear the greatest responsibility for 
them, the decisions made by one of the world's freest and most 
representative democracies.

Join us with hibat Tzion—Dedication to Israel--and a commitment to 
klal yisrael, unity with the Jewish people. Join us with diversity, 
with civility and love, and with the certainty that Israel will once 
again not only survive but thrive.