U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2013 Policy Conference. Below is the full text of his speech:
Thank you, it is an honor to be here at AIPAC's policy conference. And, it's an honor to be here with my good friend, one of Congress' strongest pro-Israel allies Steny Hoyer.
Tonight, we celebrate a friendship between two countries. Simple in concept, but mighty in force, this friendship is centered on commitment to community and dedication to faith. It values education, human progress, and the guarantee of opportunity for all. With this friendship, the world is a better place.
The alliance between the United States and Israel is often tested, but never shaken. We've helped protect each other. We've help protect our friends, and we've helped protect humanity.
If there is a tsunami, our military and aid ships are the first to set sail. If disease is ravaging a nation, or as is the case of AIDS in Africa, an entire continent, we send help. And we save lives. Israel shares our moral compass. When massive earthquakes struck Haiti and Turkey, Israel was among the first to offer assistance. And hundreds of Israeli rescue workers responded to the deadly terrorist attacks in East Africa, saving the lives of Africans injured in the attacks on America’s embassies.
For those of us who have visited Israel, you know what a special place it is. You have walked down the Tayelet in Tel Aviv on a Thursday afternoon and you've seen the people leisurely lingering in cafes as the waves of the Mediterranean crash in the background.
But for many Americans, the only images of Israel that they see are of blown out clubs and cafes, missiles firing, death and tragedy. That in itself is a tragedy.
These news stories often miss the beauty and the human element of why our nations care so much for one another. But, these stories do serve as a constant reminder of the threat Israel faces, and why Israel needs our friendship.
Asher Afriat needs no reminders. Asher is a friend to many of us, and he's here tonight. He owns a travel company in Israel, and leads many of the AIPAC tours. Several months ago, when rockets were flying over Israel, Asher sent me an email. He was up early in Tel Aviv, on his way to pick up some tourists. He saw some young reservists with packed military bags waiting to be picked up. He yearned to drop everything and jump in the truck with them.
As he drove, his favorite radio station was interrupted by Code Red Alerts.
“A somber mood took over," he wrote. But a few minutes later, Asher passed the entrance to the Ben Shimon Forest, a magnet for mountain bikers from across the country and one of his favorite riding places. The parking lot was jam packed with cars and hundreds of bikers ready to “shred” the countryside. Despite rockets flying, they all came. Asher could barely stand the urge to pull over and get his own bike out. But he pressed on, now with a big smile on his face. In his email he observed: “How surreal is this moment, how incomprehensible is the reality we live in"
Yet for me, that moment of Asher’s reflected the true essence of Israel with all its pain and beauty.
We are here together tonight, people of all faiths to support Israel and the US-Israel relationship. So, to all our Christian brothers and sisters who are with us, we salute you and we thank you for standing with Israel.
Thank you for standing with us to defend the gift that is Israel. Israel is a gift to all free loving people around the world. The Jewish people know and realize this gift better than anyone. The creation of the modern state of Israel had a special effect on what it means to be a Jew. Before 1948, we Jews often had difficulty defining ourselves publicly, and instead we were defined by stereotypes.
The craven hook nose man counting money behind closed doors. Secretive. Untrustworthy. The caricatures were ugly, and unfortunately some still linger.
But after Israel was created, people around the world began to see something else. They saw farmers, and warriors, and creative souls. They saw innovators, scientists and chemists giving back to the world and saving lives. The survival of Israel and what it says about its Jewish and Arab citizens is a bulwark against ever returning to the days of being the eternal outsider – the wandering Jew.
Throughout my entire political life, I have never known a time where I have questioned America’s resolve and support for Israel. I have never questioned America’s historic support for the little guy against the bully. I have never questioned the role we play as protectors of liberty and defenders of justice.
It is only recently where I have begun to worry. I worry that some of our nation’s leaders are complacent. I worry that some in Washington think we must retreat to our domestic politics and reduce focus overseas. I worry that in the pursuit of comity with Israel’s foes, some will seek distance. I worry that they indeed overlook the gift that is Israel.
And I worry that Israelis worry. And these worries are not unfounded. Israel’s under attack.
A while back, I received a briefing in Israel from one of the engineers of the Iron Dome system. His name was Avi Sacher. Avi’s presentation was impressive. He demonstrated through slides and video the precision and agility of the anti-rocket defense system.
Avi beamed with pride as he explained how countless lives were saved by the Iron Dome technology. How families were spared despite deadly rockets aimed at their home, and how mothers were relieved to see their children safe while sirens wailed at terrorists’ rockets overhead.
Five days later, still in Israel, I met with Avi again. His enthusiasm was gone and there was pain in his eyes. He spoke with great emotion as he told us of the one rocket that had gotten through. It somehow slipped past the defense system, hitting the town of Be’er Sheva, and killing an innocent Israeli. He was tortured by that experience. And Avi went back to work, determined to perfect the system that had already saved countless lives.
The importance of the Iron Dome’s capability was driven home again recently during the conflict in Gaza. The Iron Dome has to be right 100 percent of the time, or Israelis die.
As important as they are, defensive systems like Iron Dome, David's Sling, and the Arrow are not panaceas. True peace will require an end to Iranian backed weapons smuggled into Gaza. It will also require a recognition by Hamas and the Palestinians that violence does not help, but hurts their cause. Only when Palestinians lay down their arms, can we hope to achieve peace.
My message to you tonight is this: Our enemies know that if they divide the United States from Israel, they will defeat Israel. And they will be one step closer to defeating America. That is their goal. That is their mission. And we must not ever, ever let them succeed.
Three weeks from tonight, we will be sitting down with our families to celebrate Passover, and the words we will read from the Haggadah seem as relevant today as ever – “In every generation, they rise against us to destroy us.”
Just listen to President Ahmadinejad or Ayatollah Khamenei speak anywhere at any time and their intentions are clear. Iran is a direct and immediate threat to Israel, to our allies in the region and to the civilized world. But, some in Washington hold the view that Iran is all bluster. That Iran can be contained and negotiated with. But that impression is wrong.
We need to be clear-eyed that the nuclear talks with Iran cannot be unending, and that they may fail. We need to recognize that military action against Iran may become necessary to protect America, Israel and our allies.
America must be prepared to lead from the front. And the challenge should not be Israel’s alone to bear.
In Syria, tens of thousands of people have been brutally and relentlessly slaughtered by an evil dictator intent on massacring his people. Our hearts ache as we see mass graves, all too familiar to us Jews.
But, Syria is not just a moral challenge, it’s a strategic challenge.
The United States cannot and should not stand aside and let the chips fall where they may. We’ve got to be on the side of those looking to end Assad’s tyranny.
We cannot guarantee that those who succeed him will be greater friends to our nation or Israel, any more than Assad was. But without action, we can guarantee that more innocent lives will be lost. We will have failed to shape the outcome of this conflict. And we will guarantee that Syria’s future leaders will not have known the helping hand of America when the Syrian people so desperately needed help.
Beyond just Syria, the entire Middle East is in an epic state of political transition and uncertainty. The stakes could not be higher. When there is no American leadership; there is no leadership.
Bottom line, Israel's security goes hand in hand with America's security. And, America's security depends on freedom and democracy growing and open societies hearing our message. America's security depends on putting a stop to the bullying on the world playground.
To all of you here tonight at AIPAC, the future depends on your voice. It must be heard on Capitol Hill and it must be heard by this Administration. It must be heard around the world.
We must now and forever stand with Israel, or we risk losing the great promise of America.
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