Transcript: AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr

Sunday March 4, 2018

Good evening. We gather here this evening on the eve of Israel's 70th birthday. It's a moment for great celebration, a time for reflection, and a chance to imagine. Each year of Israel's existence is a miracle in our time, a testament to visionaries and survivors, builders and doers, leaders who seized opportunities, and heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The story of Israel is the story of an idea, an idea that proved bigger, more durable, and more inspiring than any obstacle and any threat. And as we know, there have been many threats, and many more are willing to make them. So it is our purpose and mission to always think ahead, to prepare for any possibility, and work harder and smarter and longer than anyone else. That is the work of tens of thousands of committed individuals working together against great odds over many decades.

The work began before many of us were even born, and it must continue long after we make our own contribution. At the core of Israel's survival is an alliance. An alliance that Israel's best guarantee again any threat and any foe. Today, after decades of hard work and dedication, Israel has that unshakeable ally, and Israel can count on the United States of America.

Yet even so, Israel and America's enemies continue to plot and scheme. We know who they are. They have taken Americans hostage, they've murdered Marines and airmen sleeping in their barracks, they've mined our troops, our ships, they've placed IEDs at the feet of our troops, they've bombed our embassies, and they supported terror throughout the world against us and our friends. The regime in Iran has left a bloody trail over four decades, and behind every outrage, we hear the echoes of the chance into Tehran, "Death to America. Death to Israel."

This is their aim. And for years the Iranian regime has pursued the most fearsome weapons on the planet. By all accounts, Iran will do whatever it can, wherever it can, whenever it can to threaten its neighbors in the world. It resists inspections of its military site, it persists in its ballistic missile program, it still seeks the ability to achieve a nuclear weapons capability. Against this threat, the United States and the rest of the civilized world must stand strong and hold the Iranian regime accountable because with enemies like the Iranian regime, success will not come through short-term efforts or temporary resolve.

America must remain determined. And AIPAC, we will be the steady voice of vigilance and permanent resolve. We'll be working with our friends in Congress and the Administration, calling out the danger, committed to the struggle every day. And if anyone doubts the need for that vigilance, just consider what has happened in just the last year alone: The things we feared the Iranian regime would do with more money, they have done; the blood they threatened to shed, they have shed; the power they threatened to seek, they seized.

When we last met here, the Assad regime and its Iranian allies were waging war in Syria on those who stood against them. Today, much of Syria is destroyed. The Syrian people have been scattered and murdered. Their cities and villages turn to rubble. Their families suffocated by barrel bombs filled with chlorine gas. And in all of this human misery we see the signature of the Iranian regime. And now that it dominates Syria, it is better able to turn its full attention to Israel.

For the first time, Iranian forces are dug in as far from the border with Israel as Dulles Airport is from this convention hall. Iran is building a permanent military presence in Syria, complete with rocket factories, seaports, airfields, and bases large enough to support 90,000 Shiite militia fighters. And if there's any doubt about what Iran wants to do with this military presence, we were reminded just last month when Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israel using an unmanned military drone. And we all know it won't be the last.

The Iranian regime is the puppet master of terror and has outfitted its proxies to do this work. To Israel's north in Lebanon, Hezbollah forces are preparing for the next war. They are armed by Iran with ever-more accurate and numerous missiles and rockets pointed at every city in town in Israel. To Israel's south in Gaza, Hamas is rebuilding its terror tunnels.

These are ruthless enemies. They take Israelis hostages; they hold the bodies of Israelis for ransom; they even take their own people hostage. They hide their weapons in schools, hospitals, mosques and homes. They're digging in for a struggle which is designed by the Iranian regime to make the people of Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza suffer the most.

Just imagine what life would be like for the children in these lands if they were given what every child deserves: a future with promise, a life of opportunity. Instead, their lives are in the hands of corrupt terrorist groups who devote every ounce of energy they have to Israel's demise. Against these threats, Israel can and will prevail.

But the moment Israel responds to any threat, she is questioned. Every nation is entitled to protect its borders, except Israel. Every nation is entitled to silent guns pointed at it, except Israel. We've seen it before and will see it again. That is why Israel must always have a firm friend in the United States of America.

Working together, both nations are more secure, whether it's for missile defense or IED removal or better armor for tanks or detecting cyber threats, Israeli innovation can help America as much as American innovation can help Israel. It is our job to make sure America and Israel are working together and thinking ahead because the threats of today will be replaced by new ones tomorrow.

So whether the next war requires more tunnel detection, more advanced aircraft, more advanced missile defense, we at AIPAC will work with our friends in Congress to make sure that Israel has what she needs to defend herself against any threat and against foe. And so too we must be alert to the possibilities that may yet emerge. History has a way of opening new chapters when we least expect it.

In fact, a new chapter is being written today, a chapter we could not have imagined just a few years ago. Israel's isolation is slowly ending. The United Nations voted to establish a Jewish state; only 33 nations supported its creation. Today, Israel enjoys diplomatic relations with 158 countries – and the number keeps rising. Even among Arab nations, we're beginning to see the day when Israel will no longer be the permanent other.

Arab and Israeli leaders now meet and conduct strategic discussions. They share the same view of the regional threats, particularly the threat from the Iranian regime. This process, so long in the making, is good for Israel, it's good for the United States, and it's good for the Arab world. And with American encouragement, we could see a future defined, not by conflict but by cooperation.

The rulers of the Middle East are now beginning to see that working with Israel – instead of isolating her – can strengthen their own security and help them meet the needs of their people. These emerging relationships promise to be an example for other nations to follow, a force for moderation, and it is a message to the Palestinian leadership that a bright future is possible when you finally put aside generations of hatred and choose to live side-by-side in peace with the Jewish State of Israel.

We must all work for that, toward that future, two states for two peoples: one Jewish with secure and defensible borders and one Palestinian with its own flag and its own future.

Today that dream seems remote. This is tragic. The absence of a constructive peace process is nothing to celebrate. Israel's security cannot be fully assured and a promise cannot be fully realized until she is at peace with all her neighbors, and peace begins by talking.

It has been nearly eight years since President Abbas had had direct talks with an Israeli Prime Minister. There've been talks about talks and sessions where others have served as a go-between, but no Palestinian willingness to talk face-to-face. There is no substitute for direct negotiations.

There are no shortcuts to peace. You can't do it through the United Nations, not through the European Union, and not through Moscow. So, we will stand with the Administration, our friends in Congress, and anyone in the international community who supports peace through direct negotiations.

Preparing for conflict may require forever vigilance, but working for peace demands forever faith – a faith that there is a future beyond bloodshed and war. We share that faith and we are ready for that day.

Our work will demand much from us, not just in the coming year, not just in the coming decade but for generations to come. There will always be other issues and other challenges that capture our attention, but this issue and these challenges must have our focus always because nobody else can do this work the way we do, and nobody can do it the way we know it has to be done.

In a year's time who can say what threats we will face? Who can know whether Israel's borders will be quiet? None of us can, but all of us must be ready for whatever comes. For AIPAC to succeed, we must all come to commit to our work – no matter what may come.

I'm thinking of my dear friend from Pittsburgh, Lou Weiss, who I've known for more than four decades, since our days together at Kenyon College. You'll probably notice him in the halls because he's the guy with the trekking polls who's struggling to get around, still smiling ear-to-ear. Lou's got MS and it's painful for him to walk, but Lou came to make the case, and he's here tonight with his wonderful wife, Amy. Thank you.

And there's no place he'd rather be. Think about what that says about our cause. It matters and it's bigger than whatever Lou Weiss has to endure to be here. It's that important. We succeed when all of us make a commitment that is enduring. It is enduring as our commitment to our families, our communities, and our great nation. The most powerful movement rests on the efforts of each member, no matter how difficult and demanding and, yes, inconvenient the struggle. Everything we believe rests on what we do and how well we do it every day.

On our college campuses, in synagogues across this diverse spectrum of Jewish life, in churches with millions of Christians who share our cause, with our allies in the African-American and Hispanic-American communities, among our veterans and law enforcement officials, and, of course, our public servants from both parties and at all levels. So no matter who holds power in America or Israel… we will do our work, we will grow our numbers, and we will take our message to every corner of this great country.

Anyone can love Israel. This ancient nation, this young state, it is perfectly positioned at the dawn of the 21st century to create and care and invent and serve the world. We welcome all who want to be part of this amazing cause, and if someone says to you, you can't be yourself and a Zionist, if someone says to you that your Zionism makes you unwelcome in any other political movement, don't be afraid to call that what it is. It's bigotry, it's discrimination, and it's wrong.

And know this: We in the pro-Israel movement, we will ask you to do many things, but we will never demand that you change anything about yourselves. We want you the way you are. So whatever your politics or your struggle, the color of your skin, the language you speak, the faith you hold close, no matter whom you love, we want you. Israel is a big story. This is a big movement and we want you in it.

Just imagine what awaits us in the years ahead. Who could have foretold Israel and Egypt making peace and that it would've lasted 40 years? Who could have anticipated the friendship between King Hussein of Jordan and Yitzhak Rabin? Who could've predicted that Israel's best-known export would be Wonder Woman? Things we once thought impossible are now happening.

For centuries we prayed for our return to Jerusalem. For two more decades we had to wait for its reunification, and ever since then we have worked for America to recognize Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem, the eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish people.

This is the expression of our deepest hopes. It is the rightful conclusion of a policy adopted by both political parties and it represents the wishes of the American people. And so we thank President Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and honoring his commitment to move the United States embassy.

The Jewish State doesn't ask for anything other than to be treated like any other country. That doesn't seem like much to ask, but for some it's too much. In the United Nations, Israel is still treated like a pariah. There is a sickness in this knee-jerk isolation and demonization of Israel. The other side shows its true colors every day, whether in the United Nations Human Rights Council or on our college campuses.

So to the thousands of students, college students, here with us here tonight, let me say on behalf of everyone in this room – no matter what ugliness you face, know this: you are on the right side of this fight and you are on the right side of history, and we -- we are with you.

World leaders once wondered why they should stand with Israel. Now they want to invest in Israel. They see that Israel is delivering to all of humanity the gifts of an innovative nation. The paralyzed have a chance to walk again… thanks to Israel; the blind are helped to see… thanks to Israel; those with Parkinson's can steady their tremors without surgery thanks to Israel. These are miracles, and each of us is part of the miracle that is Israel.

So we will do what we have always done: make our case, raise our voice, show our commitment. That's why on Tuesday we will lobby every office on Capitol Hill. And we will keep lobbying a year from now, 10 years from now, 70 years from now. That is our responsibility, our solemn duty.

And if there's one thing we have learned, it's that nothing is inevitable, not Israel, not this alliance, so all of us and our children and our children's children, we must forever be the guardians of this alliance.

Together, our efforts, our work, our story will be as enduring as the walls of Jerusalem and the dream of Zion. Thank you.

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