REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT THE AIPAC POLICY CONFERENCE 2011
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C.
10:56 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Good morning. Thank you. Thank you so much. Please, have a seat. Thank you.
What a remarkable, remarkable crowd. Thank you, Rosy, for your very kind introduction. I did not know you played basketball. (Laughter.) I will take your word for it. (Laughter.) Rosy, thank you for your many years of friendship. Back in Chicago, when I was just getting started in national politics, I reached out to a lot of people for advice and counsel, and Rosy was one of the very first. When I made my first visit to Israel, after entering the Senate, Rosy, you were at my side every step of that profound journey through the Holy Land. So I want to thank you for your enduring friendship, your leadership, and for your warm introduction today.
I also want to thank David Victor, Howard Kohr and all the board of directors. And let me say that it is wonderful to look out and see so many great friends, including a very large delegation from Chicago. (Applause.) Alan Solow, Howard Green. Thank you all.
I want to thank the members of Congress who are joining you today -- who do so much to sustain the bonds between the United States and Israel, including Eric Cantor -- (applause) -- Steny Hoyer -- (applause) -- and the tireless leader I was proud to appoint as the new chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Applause.)
We’re joined by Israel’s representative to the United States, Ambassador Michael Oren. (Applause.) And we’re joined by one of my top advisors on Israel and the Middle East for the past four years and who I know is going to be an outstanding ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro. (Applause.) Dan has always been a close and trusted advisor and friend, and I know that he will do a terrific job.
And at a time when so many young people around the world are standing up and making their voices heard, I also want to acknowledge all the college students from across the country who are here today. (Applause.) No one has a greater stake in the outcome of events that are unfolding today than your generation, and it’s inspiring to see you devote your time and energy to help shape that future.
Now, I’m not here to subject you to a long policy speech. I gave one on Thursday in which I said that the United States sees the historic changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa as a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of opportunity for greater peace and security for the entire region, including the State of Israel.
On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed -- (applause) -- we reaffirmed that fundamental truth that has guided our presidents and prime ministers for more than 60 years -- that even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable -- (applause) -- and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad. (Applause.)
A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of the United States not simply because we share strategic interests, although we do both seek a region where families and children can live free from the threat of violence. It’s not simply because we face common dangers, although there can be no denying that terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons are grave threats to both our nations.
America’s commitment to Israel’s security flows from a deeper place -- and that’s the values we share. As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers -- and foremothers -- fought must be the work of every generation. As two vibrant democracies, we recognize that the liberties and freedoms we cherish must be constantly nurtured. And as the nation that recognized the State of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland for the Jewish people. (Applause.)
We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel living in a very tough neighborhood. I’ve seen it firsthand. When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland. When I went to Sderot and saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year-old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket, and when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I was reminded of the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map -- face of the Earth.