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Senator Hillary Clinton's Remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
(AIPAC)

February 1, 2007

 

I am so honored to be here and once again to speak on behalf of the causes and concerns that we share. And there is no doubt that AIPAC is at the forefront of efforts to advocate on behalf of Israel. And on behalf of the shared interests and security and democracy that form the unbreakable bond between our two nations.

I thank you for supporting AIPAC. Because as active citizens you are serving an essential function: when you advocate, when you lobby, when you speak out on issues that matter to the Jewish community and to Israel you are speaking also on behalf of issues that are important to the larger community of Americans. That's because the bond shared between the U.S. and Israel is based on shared interests but is rooted in the strength we derive from our shared values. As Americans we are humbled by Israel's commitment to civic engagement and open debate, free expression and the rule of law, even in the face of grave dangers. The balance between a life lived in faith and the civic life of a democratic state producing dynamism and vigor in Israeli politics and society.

And both Israelis and Americans know so well, a democracy is far more than just holding elections. Democracy has to spring from an active and open citizenry dedicated to tolerance, to respect for differences, to the rule of law, to policies that lift us up not tear us down as fellow human beings, and to the value of human life. So I thank AIPAC. I thank your national leadership, Bernice and Howard, I thank the Northeast leadership, including Yossi Siegel and Mike Sachs and so many others, and I don't have to tell you that as we gather tonight, your voice and your activism is needed desperately.

This is a moment of great difficulty for Israel and great peril for Israel, for the U.S. and for free and democratic nations. Israel is confronting many of the toughest challenges in her history, in a neighborhood that is less secure than ever. At this moment of peril, what is vital is that we stand by our friend and our ally and we stand by our own values. Israel is a beacon of what's right in a neighborhood overshadowed by the wrongs of radicalism, extremism, despotism and terrorism. We need only look to one of Israel's greatest threats: namely, Iran. Make no mistake, Iran poses a threat not only to Israel, but to the entire Middle East and beyond, including the U.S. I don't need to remind this group that about a month ago the Iranian government hosted a conference in Tehran whose sole purpose was to deny the Holocaust.

Now that conference was beyond the pale of international discourse and acceptable behavior and we must not treat this situation as business as usual. The gathering was hosted by the leader of the member of a United Nations state and by a leader that has raised serious international concerns over his country's nuclear ambitions and who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map.

To deny the Holocaust places Iran's leadership in company with the most despicable bigots and historical revisionists. It is an insult, not only to a memory of the millions of Jews who suffered and died in the Shoah but also to the troops of the U.S. and its allies, who in the fight to liberate Europe from Nazism bore witness to the reality of the Holocaust.

Such comments add greater urgency to the necessity to doing everything we can to deny nuclear weapons to Iran. The regime's pro-terrorist, anti-American, anti-Israeli rhetoric only underscores the urgency of our response to the threat we face.

U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal. We cannot, we should not, we must not, permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. And in dealing with this threat as I have said for a very long time, no option can be taken off the table.

But Iran is a threat not only because of the hateful rhetoric spewed by its president, not only because of its nuclear ambitions, but because it uses its influence and its revenues in the region to support terrorist elements that are attacking innocent Israelis; and now we believe attacking American soldiers. Hezbollah's attacks on Israel this summer using Iranian weapons clearly demonstrate Iran's malevolent influence even beyond its borders.

It is essential to those of us who care deeply about what is happening in and to, Israel, to recognize that Israel's struggle is a struggle on behalf of a future where people will be able to live with peace and security. The kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, that precipitated the conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon last summer, have not yet been resolved. And it is essential that Israel's abducted soldiers are returned unconditionally. I visited with Karnit Goldwasser before coming on to the stage; I met with Karnit and other family members last summer. Karnit came to my office in the Senate, and what an extraordinary young woman she is, her resolve, her love for her husband, her belief in her country is just profound. I've heard her pleas and the pleas of others, whose loved ones have been so cruelly taken. And I know how important it is to ensure the safe return of the captured soldiers. I've also sent a letter to Jacob Kellenberger the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, to do whatever he can to verify the health and well being of the three soldiers and ensure that they have their full rights under the Geneva Convention and to do what he can to secure their release.

We also know that the dangers posed to Israel have been compounded by the rise to power of Hamas, an avowed terrorist group that has assumed the reigns of the government in the Palestinian Authority and Hezbollah, the terrorist group that is represented in the Lebanese government. I have long said that Hamas must not be recognized until it renounces violence and terror and recognizes Israel's right to exist. And now Hamas and Hezbollah must return Israel's abducted soldiers and to stop their terror campaign against Israelis.

Hezbollah is second only to Al Qaeda to the number of American lives it has claimed. We know too of the deep and dangerous connections these terrorists share with the governments of Syria and Iran; and we are seeing the reprehensible consequences of having these terrorist beachheads along Israel's borders.

Hamas terror campaigns have claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians and its leaders have refused to disarm, to reject violence, or even to recognize the right of Israel to exist. We must insist that Hamas and indeed all Palestinian parties renounce terror and recognize Israel. In 1999 I raised the problem of anti-Semitism in Palestinian textbooks, now eight years later we continue to hear disturbing reports that these textbooks have not been changed and I will be doing an event in Washington in the Senate, next week, to highlight the anti-Semitic/ anti-Israeli rhetoric that is still part of the Palestinian curriculum.

I was deeply saddened and outraged by the suicide bombing in Eilat this week. Some are saying that Eilat was bombed because Israeli's efforts at self-defense through its security fence have been so successful. But Eilat is a tragic reminder of the threats that Israel faces everyday and underscores the importance of our continued support for Israel's right to protect and defend her people. The highest priority of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens and that is why, as I have said, I've been a strong supporter of Israel's right to build a security barrier to keep terrorists out. I have spoken out against the International Court of Justice for questioning Israel's right to build that fence of security. On my trip to Israel a little over a year ago, I went to see the fence with my own eyes. During a trip to Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood, I was greeted by Col. Danny Tirza, who was overseeing the construction of the security fence.

He explained how just in this one neighborhood, before the fence was constructed, residents of in Gilo would come under fire, he pointed to some homes and he said "you know, in the homes that were built here, the kitchen is in the back, facing the Palestinian territories." People would be watching television in their living room, they would come in to get a drink or something to eat in the refrigerator, they would open the refrigerator and the light of the refrigerator would draw fire from snipers who were on the other side of the border. Col. Tirza's explanation in his graphic depiction of what was part of the daily life of people living in that one neighborhood, gave me an even greater appreciation for the imperative of the fence and the need to do everything possible to protect Israel against these continuing attacks.

Nowhere in the world is the responsibility that comes with freedom more on display than Israel. Israelis have long had to make sacrifices in order to achieve peace and security. Too many young soldiers have been lost protecting the lives and livelihoods of all of Israel's citizens and too many innocent civilians have been killed during those years. Now as a thriving democracy, Israel has no shortage of strong opinions, all of which get full hearing whether it's in a session of the Knesset or in a coffee shop in Tel Aviv. But Israel has also used its strengths to forge alliances throughout the world even when those efforts have not always been welcome.

A perfect example of this is Magen David Adom. I've long supported the MDA and for decades it was denied admission to the International Committee of the Red Cross despite the fact it had deployed its volunteers and resources to help victims of disaster worldwide, whether victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia or victims of Hurricane Katrina right here in our own country. When I learned the MDA was excluded from the ICRC, I was outraged by the injustice. And despite its international, non-political, life-saving work, it was being singled out because it was Israeli. So I joined with many of you in the struggle to try to obtain recognition and we have been in this together for a number of years, some of you for a long, long time. I worked with you to advocate for full inclusion, I sponsored legislation placing limitations on the US contributions to the ICRC until it recognized MDA. And after years of brokering negotiations, and writing letters, and making calls, and passing legislation, after years of urging the Swiss to find a solution to enable the MDA full participation, all of our collective efforts finally paid off when, this summer, the ICRC righted this historic wrong and admitted MDA into the International Committee of the Red Cross.

When I was in Israel in 2002, I met a medic named Yohai Porat who was training international volunteers in first aid. He was one of these young men who just drew you to him. He was magnetic and I could see that these volunteers from the United States, from Europe, from Latin America were in awe of him. A few days after I left, while he was on IDF duty, he was killed in a terrorist attack and I was fortunate during this last trip a year ago to meet his parents who I had called to express my condolences upon hearing of Yohai's death and I told them how inspired I had been to see him in action with these young people.

His spirit of service and dedication to his country, his faith in humanity, permeates Israeli culture and is one of many reasons that I have been, I am now, and I always will be proud to stand with all of you as a strong supporter of Israel. Because we... We believe that Israelis have the right to live in their country without the constant threat of terrorism, war, and rocket fire. But as we face these difficult times, we have to constantly be asking ourselves what is the best strategy we can pursue to support Israel, to support our common values, to try to take on the challenges posed in this increasingly dangerous and unstable world, particularly in the Middle East. I believe that, as I said many times before and as I repeat tonight, that we in America, particularly our government have to be trying new tactics in this endeavor to reign in terrorism, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, to quell the influence of Hezbollah and Hamas.

There are no easy answers to the complex situation we face today. I have advocated engagement with our enemies and Israel's enemies because I want to understand better what we can do to defeat those who are aiming their hatred, their extremism, their weapons at us. And I believe we can gain valuable knowledge and leverage from being part of a process again that enables us to get a better idea of how to take on and defeat our adversaries.

This is a worthy debate to have in our country today. There are many, including our President who rejects any kind of process of any sort of engagement with countries like Syria and Iran. I do believe that that is certainly a good faith position to take, but I am not sure it is the smartest strategy that will take us to the goals that we share.

It is a debate worth having because right now we know that there are direct threats to Israel, to our young men and women in harms way in Iraq, to the very fragile democracy in Iraq and to the one in Lebanon. As bad as the situation looks to us today, it could become even worse. And what do I mean by engagement or some kind of a process? Well I'm not sure anything positive would come out of it, I have no expectations whatsoever. But there are a number of factors that I think argue for some attempt to do what I am suggesting: number one I don't think we know enough about how Iranian society and their government really functions. I was struck by the rejection of the President's party in those recent elections. If we are having to pursue potential action against Iran beyond enforcing the toughest sanctions that we can and bringing the world community along as hard as it is, to recognize the danger to them as well as to us and to Israel then I want to know more about the adversary we face. I want to understand better what the leverage we can bring to bear on them will actually produce. I want to get a better sense of what the real power centers and influentials are. And I also want to send a message if we ever do have to take war, drastic action to the rest of the world that we exhausted all possibilities because we need friends and allies to stand with us as we stand with Israel in this long war against terrorism and extremism. I talked with a number of you about how we best pursue our mutual goal of reining in terrorism and extremism of protecting and guaranteeing the security of Israel, of preventing a state that sponsors terrorism from becoming a nuclear power. There are no good analogies that we can pull from history because we're living with new threats and asymmetric warfare and state actors and non-state actors, each of whom have the potential to wreak such horrible damage on innocents, but I suggest and hope you will consider thinking of a smart way to pursue our interests and Israel's at this dangerous time that gives us both more information and more leverage. Similarly with Syria which is becoming an even greater problem because of its support for Hamas, because of its involvement in both Lebanon and Iraq against Israeli and American interests, we also have to do more to figure out what, if any real leverage we can bring to bear. And all during the Cold War we met with the Soviet Union while they had thousands of missiles pointed at our cities while their leaders threatened to bury us while they sowed discord and military uprisings and actions against us and our allies. That was a smart strategy even though it was a difficult one. Today we face a new set of dangers that in some way are more difficult because we're living in not a stable, bipolar world, but living in an unstable, multi-polar world. And I think you can send a very clear message to your enemies about what they will face if they do not change while trying to figure how best to create conditions internally and externally within those societies to cause that change.

It is also important that we look at the support of the American people for American leadership including military leadership around the world. The problems that we face in Iraq today have certainly caused many Americans to move away from a belief that the United States has a role in promoting freedom and democracy. If we withdraw from the world, if we turn our back on the dangers we face that I believe will cause problems for us and very big problems for Israel. We need American support first and foremost for American leadership in combating the dangers of extremism and terrorism.

So as I look over the horizon, I think we have undermined our leadership and our ability to maneuver successfully in this increasingly dangerous world in a time when we are needed more than ever. And we need to use every tool at our disposal including diplomatic and economic in addition to the threatened use of military force. There are no quick solutions for the difficulties we face today, but we know that we have to stand with democracies and free peoples against the threat of nihilism and extremism. That is why we stand with Israel because it is a beacon of democracy in the region; that is why we stand with Israel because its very existence is a defiant affront to anti-Semitism; that is why we stand with Israel because in defeating terror because Israel's cause is our cause. And that is why we stand with Israel because of our shared values and our shared belief in the dignity of men and women and the right to live without fear or oppression. And what we must do is to think rationally and strategically about how our values, our beliefs can be translated into effective action. It is not enough for us to say the right things; we've got to be smart and tough enough to do the right things that will protect American and Israeli interests now and forever. Thank you all very much.

 



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