Transcript: Vice President Joe Biden

Sunday March 20, 2016

Madam President.  Thank you, William for that introduction. And the CEO, past, present and future, Howard Kohr, he was moving folks through the photo line and a couple acted like he was moving me too quickly and I said, “don't worry, he's been giving me orders for years and years.”  And Board Chairman Bob Cohen.  It's wonderful to be back with so many friends and if I began by saying, please excuse my back, I apologize, but my Lord, what the hell is going to be the next venue?  18,700 people. Whoa. I will clap for you guys.

I thought the reason for the crowd is, after the Academy Awards, a lot of you thought I was bringing along Lady Gaga with me, but the truth of the matter is AIPAC has been moving to bigger venues, because you're growing, more than 18,700 people here in Washington. I'm told, at least from observation, it appears as well the largest number ever. I was trying to remember, because I was being asked backstage whether or not how big the first AIPAC national meeting I attended was. It may have been 300 or 400 people, I don't know. Maybe it's just that I'm getting too old and senile, but it sure wasn't this big.

Barbi may know how many were back then. But look, you're all united, we are all united by our unyielding, and I mean it literally, commitment to the survival, security and success of the Jewish State of Israel.

Well, what impresses me most is what I know, those of who have been with AIPAC a long while, understand is a lifeblood in the certainty and security and that is the more than 4,000 young people you have here. Would all the young people who are here stand up if this is your first, I want to see. 

It's really, really, really important from teenagers to college kids making an early and enduring promise, I want to thank you for being here. We talk about relationship between our two great nations and how to deepen it, it's a generational issue. Generation after generation is the building block upon which we guarantee the success of our endeavor. I want to start tonight by offering my deepest condolences to all the victims wounded by the terrorist bombing yesterday in Istanbul, so many of whom were Israeli citizens. 

We also know that one of those killed in the blast was an Israeli and two more were IsraeliAmericans. Our hearts go out to the families. It's so easy to use that phrase, it almost sounds like it – it's been used so often, it almost sounds like it's meaningless, but we all know it's a tremendous void that the loss of those innocent victims leaves in entire communities, entire families.

The United States of America stands with our allies, Israel and Turkey, in that fight against terrorism, against the thugs and the cowards who murder innocents and seek to impose their will through fear and intimidation. I was talking with Howard, we were talking about how much has changed.

In one sense, Israel is so much stronger, in another sense, it was so much less complicated when I started as a 29-year-old kid, but the United States has never and will never lose our resolve. Israel will never waiver. Terrorists cannot and will not, I promise you, prevail. Attacks such as the one that has come to dominate today's news, but at last year's conference, there was only one topic on everyone's mind when I got to speak to you all, the possibility of a nuclear deal with Iran.

The stakes for the United States and our partners were immense. For Israel, it's existential. Predictions about what might happen if we reached a deal or failed to reach a deal were rampant, but this year, we're no longer dealing with hypotheticals, there's real concrete report. So I'd like to update you on what, from my perspective, we've accomplished.

As of today, more than two-thirds of Iran's centrifuges have been removed, more than 98 percent of the stockpile of enriched uranium, enough for six nuclear bombs, has been shipped out of the country and the core of a plutonium Arak has been removed filled with cement so it can no longer be used to produce plutonium bombs and unprecedented inspections are happening at all of Iran's nuclear facilities providing more visibility into Iran's program than ever.

To put it simply, Iran is much, much further away from obtaining another nuclear weapon than they were a year ago. And whatever your feelings were about the deal, I hope you're happy about this as I am that they are further and further removed from the possibility.

Removing the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran peacefully through diplomacy is critical progress in the region otherwise facing too much instability and too little opportunity. The chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force recently acknowledged that the nuclear agreement reduces immediate Iranian threat to Israel, because, and I quote, "It rolls back Iran's nuclear capability and deepens the monitoring capabilities." It was his assessment, not ours, the IDF's assessment.

He also said that he believes, "Iran will make a great effort to fulfill their side of the bargain." I agree for a simple reason, the incentives are aligned for Iran to uphold its part of the deal and we're going to make sure they do. We're watching Tehran like a hawk. Under this agreement, Iran will never be allowed to preserve nuclear weapons, never, never, never.

Well, let me assure you, that what we said all along still holds, if Iran violates the deal, the United States will act. The United States will act. Our commitment is unambiguous.

It'll be impossible for the next president not to honor it. Neither are we giving Iran any slack in the non-nuclear threats they continue to stir up. Their support for terrorism and violent proxies, their violation of human rights, their ballistic missile activities, those sanctions remain in place and we're enforcing them vigorously.

In fact, the day the nuclear deal came into effect in January, we imposed 11 new sanctions and 11 individual amenities involved in the Iranian ballistic missile program. We have serious sanctions against Hezbollah targeting more than 100 individual amenities that fund Hezbollah's terrorists and military capabilities, including money launderers and financiers. And we need the Senate to finally confirm Adam Szubin as our new undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. So, he's the best we've ever had, so that we can benefit from his experience in overseeing our rigorous sanction enforcement in holding Iran accountable.

We have the authorities we need to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities and we're not afraid to use them and we're working with a community of regional partners to check Iran's influence, not just Israel. This was a key subject in my recent trip to the Middle East, the UAE, Israel, Jordan. NBC talked more about the need for us to unitedly join in making sure that Iran's activities are thwarted. In Israel, I met with my good friend Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Rivlin in Jerusalem.

As a matter of fact, our ambassador, I see him sitting right out there, how are you doing, Mr. Ambassador? Great to see you. He was in the meetings as well. He and I have something in common, we both love Israel and we speak our mind and we're friends.

I spent time in Tel Aviv as well with one of the finest men in the world and that's not a hyperbole. In my opinion, he's one of the finest men I've ever known, President Peres, but as all of you know my visit did not occur at a peaceful time for Israel. On the night I arrived, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed a dozen people, innocent victims enjoying an evening on the Jaffa boardwalk. An American hero, a veteran of the army who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was murdered.

It took place about a mile from where I was meeting with President Peres at his center devoted for peace. While we were speaking, we could hear the sirens and an hour later, I found out that my wife, daughter-in-law and my two youngest grandchildren were even closer. They were having dinner on the beach, I'm told, less than a half a mile away. Folks, the conditions under which Israeli people live, the sense of vulnerability, the constant fear of attack is real. It is not imagined, it's real and the people of Israel have lived under siege since the beginning.

They built a nation in defiance of relentless threats from their neighbors. They sustained that nation in the face of rocket attacks, terrorist tunnels and now this unconscionable spat of stabbings.

And if you didn't know me, you might think I'm making it up, but Israel is a nation of uncommon courage, but it shouldn't have to be this way. We cannot become inure to such violence. That's why the ambassador will tell you, while I was there, I condemned the attacks, not just the ones that happened while I was there, all of them. And I condemned the failure to condemn those atrocious acts of violence. No leader has a right to tolerate terrorism.

And as Ron Dermer knows, that's exactly what I said to President Abbas when I met him in Ramallah. No matter what legitimate disagreements the Palestinian people may have with Israel, there is no excuse for killing innocents or remaining silent in the face of terrorism. And I made it clear, I'll be honest with you, after extensive meetings with leaders on all sides, including the different parties within Israel, I must tell you straight up, I didn't walk away encouraged. The current prospects for peace are not heartening. In my view, after doing this for over 42 years, there is no political will among Israelis or Palestinians to move forward at this moment with serious negotiations and that's incredibly disappointing, because the only way, in my view, to guarantee Israelis' future and security, its identity as a Jewish and Democratic state is with a two-state solution.

That remains my view. It's the only way as well to insure the dignity and self-determination that the Palestinian people deserve as well. That's not me tilting at ideological windmills. I think it's a clear-eyed political and demographic reality. I know, not as well as the Israelis know, it's hard to take a risk for peace and because I'm Irish, I understand old hatreds die slowly, I mean this sincerely. I've been involved in the Northern Ireland situation as well. The great Irish Author James Joyce said, and I quote, "History is a nightmare from which I am constantly trying to awake." History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

But I also know, I also think of Theodor Herzl, his famous quote that was so consequential for Israelis for the founding of Israel, he said, "If you will it, it is no dream." If you will it it is no dream. I need not tell anyone in this audience that dreams in Israel have never been impossible. Were they impossible, there would be no Israel, because there exists within the Jewish community an iron will.

So right now, I don't have the answer, but I know we have to work on renewing that will for peace. We must remind and mend the constituencies among both the Israelis and Palestinians for creating a fundamentally different future – a future where the grievances of the past are not visited upon future generations. Now, that means that terrorist attacks must stop, the rhetoric that incites violence against innocence, against mothers, babies, pregnant women, grandfathers. It must stop.

And acts of retribution and revenge must stop. There's another line from an Irish poet named Yeats and I know for 500 years its affected Ireland, he said, "Too much of suffering makes a stone of the heart." Too much suffering makes a stone of the heart. Ladies and gentlemen, terror is terror is terror and it must be condemned as such, plain and simple until every leader in the world understands that.

And it's interesting how our Arab friends in GCC countries are now figuring out until we all understand that, we will not succeed. Actions on either side to undermine trust only take us further away from the path of peace. Actions like at the U.N. to undermine Israel, or, and this is going to make Ron angry, settlement activities.

To be frank, Israel's government's steady and systematic process of expanding settlements, legalizing outposts and seizing land is eroding, in my view, the prospect of a two-state solution. Bibi doesn't think so. Bibi thinks it can be accommodated and I believe he believes it. I don't, because trends in the ground, at least for the time being, are moving in the opposite direction toward a one-state reality, which is a reality that is dangerous. And folks, that's in direct conflict with the goal we all share of assuring Israel's future as a secure Jewish and democratic state at peace with its neighbors.

Look, as I tell everyone I meet in Israel and anywhere else, I never tell another man or woman their business, never tell them what's in their interest, all I can do is say what I believe to be, their interest as it relates to ours as well. We've stressed to both parties the need to take meaningful steps to demonstrate their commitment to a two-state solution that extends beyond mere words and things must begin to happen now to build confidence. I know Bibi's talking about it and I hear it being talked about on the Palestinian side, but there's got to be a little show-me. This cannot continue to erode.

And I know that's not a message that's particularly welcomed here, but no one ever doubts, I mean what I say. The problem is sometimes I say all that I mean.

But folks, I'm not entirely pessimistic about the dynamics in the region. In the past year, I've seen a remarkable consensus develop among Israelis as well as many of its Arab neighbors around three key issues that may have the ability to begin to change the dynamics on the ground. For the first time in my 40-plus years working on Israel, I found this kind of agreement and I think it presents a chance, just a chance, but a chance nonetheless to change the underlying dynamics in the region. First, there is widespread agreement among all parties that Iran's destabilizing activities are a concern for the entire region, for Israel and the Arab states as well.

And by the way, that wasn't the case seven years ago, it wasn't the case five years ago, it wasn't the case even three years ago. We've been speaking with Israel about this for decades, the concern and they've bene speaking with us about Iran. Today, it's also on the agenda of many of Israel's neighbors and I guarantee that it'll be a major topic of discussion when President Obama meets with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Saudi Arabia next month. We've taken critical steps to strengthen our security cooperation with our Gulf partners so that they can engage diplomatically with Iran from a position of strength and everyone in the region agrees that Iran's behavior continues to pose a problem and it provides an opportunity, though.

My mother would say out of bad things, good things happen if you look hard enough. Provides an opportunity for cooperation across the Israeli/Arab divide, the joint view of a threat posed by Iran. Second, Israel and their neighbors share an overwhelming concern about the threat that radicalization poses to their own security. The Arab nations have begun to finally figure out that ISIS sees a caliphate, not in Israel, but in Arab lands, that ISIS is a direct existential threat to their existence.

It was a common thread in my discussions, not just with leaders in Jerusalem who are fully aware of this for a long time, but in Ramallah, Abu Dhabi, Amman, the numen and the outsized ambition of ISIL has crystalized the region's resolve to defeat this common foe. From Egypt to Turkey, Israel to Saudi Arabia, every nation is seized with preventing ISIL, al-Qaeda and other violent extremists from metastasizing, infecting their countries, bringing them down. And as we saw once again this weekend, that concern is real.

That's why so many Arab states joined the counter-ISIL coalition and many are members in more than name only, flying air strikes, hosting coalition forces, contributing troops and resources and training. It's overwhelming in the self-interest of these nations throughout the region to share information and to work together to defeat ISIL and that too can deepen cooperation. In one Arab country I met with, leaders, their military said, we have no closer military ally than Israel, no closer ally than Israel.

There is no reason that the chance does not exist to broaden that kind of cooperation. Third, change on the ground potentially is the driving need for nations to secure enough energy, to meet the needs of their people. That creates another enormous opportunity for Israel. Just as our natural gas resources are making the United States and North America the new epicenter of energy for the entire world, Israel is emerging as a dynamic hub in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, all have growing needs and a desire not to be dependent on any one energy source and Israel has both the resources and the capacity to provide for those needs. So we see the potential for deals that benefit everyone, deals that could increase the channels of cooperation, deepening economic ties between Israel and its once hostile neighbors.

I spoke about these issues with Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Abdullah during my trip and I spoke about it with Prime Minister Davutoglu and President Erdogan in Turkey in January. We're working with our friends to try to bring these deals to fruition, their decision, Israel's decision and we're prepared to help. There's no guarantee that any of this will happen.

Tough choices are needed, backed by the political will to change and the full potential of this cooperation with these three changes in the region is more likely to be realized if meaningful political progress is able to begin to be made between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but for the first time in my career, I see the potential for relations between Israel and many of its historic antagonists beginning to thaw.

Whether or not dynamic change to the Middle East or relationships open up between Israel and its neighbors, one things is certain, the United States will constantly and forever have Israel's back – just like we have since Israel's founding in 1948.

I hate to say this, because it dates me, but I've worked with eight presidents. As we Catholics say, bless me, Father. I don't know, eight presidents. I can't be that old. But I mean this sincerely, no administration has done more to advance the security of Israel than we have. Our unprecedented security cooperation makes me incredibly proud.

And our commitment to Israel's qualitative military edge is unquestionable, will not change and we will make sure that Israel has the best equipment available. When we deliver F-35 jets later this year, Israel will be the only nation in the Middle East with fifth-generation aircraft. And we will continue to make sure Israel has the capacity to defend itself, by itself, for itself in an incredibly dangerous neighborhood.

Look, during a time of tight budgets and difficult politics, Israel's security has always been a priority. $23.5 billion in foreign military financing in the seven years we've been in office, an additional $3 billion to help Israel design and build one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world and on top of that, another $1.9 billion from munitions just last year.

By now, Iron Dome is a household name. Every dollar of meaningful investment in saving the lives of innocent Israelis and we've successfully tested both the David's Sling and Arrow 3 system in December, both systems bringing us closer to coming in line to protect Israel against even wider range of rocket and missile attacks. Israel is stronger and more secure today because of the Obama/Biden Administration, period. Period.

Not in spite of it, as some of our critics would have you believe, but because of it. Folks, now discussions are underway regarding a new memorandum of understanding, a so-called MOU, that will govern the next decade of security cooperation between our two nations. It will, without a doubt, be the most generous security assistance package in the history of the United States. I'm hopeful that we can work out all the details.

We had some discussions when I was there even though I didn't go to negotiate that issue. As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin, Israel may not get everything it asked for, but it'll get everything it needs. Of course, America's commitment to Israel's security is about more than weapon systems and foreign military financing, it's about making sure, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, that Israel will always exist strong and capable as the ultimate guarantor of security for Jewish people around the world. That is the abiding moral obligation we have.

Never, never, never again and without Israel, there is no guarantee. I've been criticized in some corners for saying, if there were no Israel we'd have to invent one for our own self-interest as well. Look folks, after all the time I've been doing this, we still have yet to defeat, and the reason why we need Israel so badly, the pernicious and persistent evil of anti-Semitism. It continues to rear its ugly head. It's on the rise in too many parts of the world, particularly in Europe.

When swastikas are painted on synagogues, when Jewish people are targeted in terrorist attacks, when thousands of European Jews immigrate to Israel out of fear when a seemingly organized effort to discredit, delegitimize and isolate Israel persists on the international stage, it's dangerous, it's wrong and every time we encounter it, we have an obligation to speak out against it.

Howard and someone will remember back in the '90s when I was ranking member and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I insisted on holding hearings on anti-Semitism in Europe and Russia. You may have recalled in the popular press I was criticized for doing it. People questioned if it was necessary or if we were going to legislate European values. I made no apologies and I make none now. It was absolutely necessary then and it's absolutely necessary now, because quite frankly, silence too quickly becomes complicity. We must speak out where we find it.

So I'm going to continue to speak out here today and for the rest of my life. We have to stand up against the attempts to delegitimize Israel in the world. So no nation, including Israel is immune to legitimate criticism, but it should not be unfairly singled out. So we'll continue to stand against the biased resolutions and attempts to delegitimize Israel at the United Nations.

We'll continue to ensure that Israel is represented on critical committees just like other nations and we will continue to push back against the cause here in the United States for people to boycott, disinvest or sanction Israel.

It's wrong. It's wrong. I know it's not popular to say, but it's wrong, because as the Jewish people know better than any other people, any action that marginalize one ethnic and religious group imperils us all. It's incumbent upon us. All of us that stand up against those who traffic in pernicious stereotypes, who seek to scare and divide us for political gain, because the future belongs to the bridge builders, not the wall builders.

That's why we're here. Why does AIPAC exist? It exists to build bridges in order to extend that unbroken chain of generations binding Israelis and U.S. citizens together. That's why we need all 4,000 of you young students here tonight. We need every single one of you. It's your obligation to do what you're doing. Some wondered in this last trip why I took my son Beau's children to Israel with me. They said, they're young. They are, but I did the same thing for my Beau when he was a kid.

I took his brother, his sister, my other grandchildren, almost all of them to Dachau and to Israel. My grandchildren don't need a college degree, they don't have to be 25 to understand it, they can feel it, they can taste it, they can see it, they know it. It must be part of who they are. As my father assured it was a part of me, they need to know, as you young people need to remind your generation, over time what happened, why Israel is so essential. Israel is a place that creeps into your soul, inhabits it.

It's done it with all of you and it's done it with a lot of Christians like me. Let me close with two last thoughts. First, I want to thank many of you who are here tonight, like Barbi and Larry Weinberg, Norm Brownstein, Lonnie Kaplan, Sam Lauder, Michael Adler. Look, so many of you who also aren't here, like Sam Adler, Tom Lantos, from Delaware Sam Ars, Charlie Rubinstein, Rabbi Gewirtz. I had the privilege of learning from all of you as well as serving with great men like Abe Ribicoff and Hubert Humphrey and Scoop Jackson, all of you.

Howard and someone will remember back in the '90s when I was ranking member and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I insisted on holding hearings on anti-Semitism in Europe and Russia. You may have recalled in the popular press I was criticized for doing it. People questioned if it was necessary or if we were going to legislate European values. I made no apologies and I make none now. It was absolutely necessary then and it's absolutely necessary now, because quite frankly, silence too quickly becomes complicity. We must speak out where we find it.

So I'm going to continue to speak out here today and for the rest of my life. We have to stand up against the attempts to delegitimize Israel in the world. So no nation, including Israel is immune to legitimate criticism, but it should not be unfairly singled out. So we'll continue to stand against the biased resolutions and attempts to delegitimize Israel at the United Nations.

We'll continue to ensure that Israel is represented on critical committees just like other nations and we will continue to push back against the cause here in the United States for people to boycott, disinvest or sanction Israel.

It's wrong. It's wrong. I know it's not popular to say, but it's wrong, because as the Jewish people know better than any other people, any action that marginalize one ethnic and religious group imperils us all. It's incumbent upon us. All of us that stand up against those who traffic in pernicious stereotypes, who seek to scare and divide us for political gain, because the future belongs to the bridge builders, not the wall builders.

That's why we're here. Why does AIPAC exist? It exists to build bridges in order to extend that unbroken chain of generations binding Israelis and U.S. citizens together. That's why we need all 4,000 of you young students here tonight. We need every single one of you. It's your obligation to do what you're doing. Some wondered in this last trip why I took my son Beau's children to Israel with me. They said, they're young. They are, but I did the same thing for my Beau when he was a kid.

I took his brother, his sister, my other grandchildren, almost all of them to Dachau and to Israel. My grandchildren don't need a college degree, they don't have to be 25 to understand it, they can feel it, they can taste it, they can see it, they know it. It must be part of who they are. As my father assured it was a part of me, they need to know, as you young people need to remind your generation, over time what happened, why Israel is so essential. Israel is a place that creeps into your soul, inhabits it.

And I mean this sincerely, and many who I've not mentioned, I mean this from the bottom of my heart, thank you for mentoring me, thank you for teaching me, thank you for standing with me. I truly, truly, truly appreciate it and owe you. And second, I want to apologize for telling many of you the story I'm sure you've heard me say before, but this is mainly directed to the 4,000 students that are here. I got elected to the United States Senate when I was 29 years old, I was raised by a father who was absolutely committed to the establishment of the nation and the State of Israel, a man who was high school educated, well read.

Our dinner table was a place we sat down to have conversation and incidentally eat. Well, I'm not joking. He was really proud. At age 30, barely 30, a sworn-in new senator, I went to Israel. I got to meet Golda Meir. I've met with every prime minister since then, but I'll never forget sitting in her office, I say this to you students, it was after the Six-Day War and she kept flipping those maps she had.

She had that bank of maps that were one big bank and there were eight maps and flipping them up and down and pointing to every encounter and chain smoking while she was doing it. And she had a guy sitting next to me that I met for the first time, an assistant named Rabin, for real.

And after about 45 minutes of this, and I was increasingly depressed as she talked about what was a raid against the Israelis and how they had to continue to fight, and all of a sudden she looked at me, and this is the God's truth, she said, would you like a photograph?

I told her, yes, Madam Prime Minister. We opened those double doors into that section that's like a foyer outside her office and there were a bank of photographers there and we walked outside, we were standing next to one another looking into the cameras not saying anything, there was no statement being made, photographs are being taken and looking straight ahead she said to me standing to her right, “don't look so sad, Senator, we have a secret weapon in our battle against the Arabs.”

And I thought she was about to tell me something that was classified. I swear to God, I thought I was the only one she ever said this to. And I unwittingly – I was supposed to be looking straight ahead – turned and said, “Madame Prime Minister,” she said, “Senator, we have no place else to go.”

I tell that story and I say to you students, I tell it over and over again, because it was a piercing moment for me, a formative event that has shaped my life for decades. It remains as relevant today as when she said it over 40 years ago, “we have nowhere else to go.” It still captures the fire and the steel, the optimism, determination of the Israeli people. It still brings the vivid light, the plight of Jewish people everywhere. It still ignites the raw passion that supporters of the Israelis feel in the marrow of their bones.

Ladies and gentlemen, I've been honored for I don't know, 30-some years to be part of AIPAC events from the first time I was elected. I still support the work and mission of this organization and to make sure that there will always be an Israel, to make sure there'll always be a place to go. That's why we are here.

God bless you all and thank you for having me.