Senator Christopher J. Dodd
AIPAC National Summit
October 23, 2006
It’s my pleasure to be here with you today. Thank you, Executive Director Kohr, for inviting me to Houston; and thank you, Nate, for your kind introduction.
What an honor it is to be here today to address members of AIPAC. I want to thank those of you here today, and all the members of AIPAC around the country, for the incredible job you do keeping us informed about the threats facing Israel, which could have profound implications on America’s and Israel’s security if left unattended.
So thank you again, AIPAC, for the indespensible job you are doing in the cause of freedom and security.
I want to start with a story.
When all Job’s wealth had been taken away, when his sons and daughters had been killed and his skin had broken out in boils, he called his three friends to come and help him in his grief. They found him sitting in dust and ashes on the floor of his house, scratching his sores with a broken pot, and the first thing they asked him was—”What did you do wrong?”
Now these were Job’s friends—they knew him. They knew that he was a good man, that he loved his family and provided for the poor, that he had no fault on his head to speak of. But their way of seeing the world said that if their friend Job was in pain, it must have been because he’d done some secret evil.
It didn’t matter that they knew Job; their unexamined belief—their ideology, if you will—told them that he was to blame. So Job had no help in his grief, because his friends put more faith in their theories than in the evidence of their own eyes.
We are here today to celebrate the State of Israel—for showing, among other things, that the “patience of Job” is no myth.
For six decades, Israel has passed every day in the knowledge that its enemies are praying and plotting for its death. In the face of such hatred, we might have expected the people of Israel to answer with hate of their own. But they have not.
Israel remains an island of openness in a sea of fear. This success belongs to all the Israeli people, and it’s more lasting than anything that ever happened on a battlefield. We Americans can’t claim more than a sliver of credit for it. But maybe just a sliver.
Because Israel has something that Job never had—a friend who trusts its eyes.
Just like Job, Israel shows its goodness to the world: that its politics are open and vibrant; that its markets are free and fair; that its laws hold for weak and strong; that its might serves only self-defense. The world knows Israel.
But we also know how much of the world prefers ideology to fact—how many choose to make themselves blind to Israel’s virtues, because they’d prefer a scapegoat or a convenient demon.
But for six decades, America has been to Israel the friend Job never had: the friend who sees the fact of goodness and says: “That’s enough. I’m convinced.”
I’m here today to claim my part in that friendship.
I can’t promise easy answers to the dangers facing Israel, least of all in a brief talk. But I can promise one small and vital thing—I am a man who believes his own eyes.
No one will ever have to persuade me of Israel’s goodness, its deep meaning—its necessity. I know already.
And I learned young. In a way, my connection to the State of Israel starts with my father. Tom Dodd spent over a year as Executive Trial Counsel in one of the most remarkable court cases the world has ever seen—the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals.
He stood face-to-face with men who committed crimes that were so horrifying, so enormous, few believed they could have possibly happened—until my father set out meticulously proving them, step by step, piece by piece, camp by camp.
It was impossible for anyone to come unchanged through that confrontation with evil, and my father was no different. I know how often he spoke of it to me. And I think it was impossible for anyone to go through the Nuremberg Trials without wondering, at some point or another, “What if those six million had someplace to go?
“What if there had been a country to take them in—no questions asked?
“What if there had been a nation willing to stand up for them when no one else did?”
Only two years after my father came back from Nuremberg, that nation was born.
So in a small way, I share some of my past with Israel, because my father had his part in the events that proved—at the price of tremendous pain—the necessity of a Jewish state. My father learned that necessity, and I learned it through him.
In the years since, nothing has dampened the force of that lesson. How could I forget?
How could I forget when Israel faces, in Hezbollah, a private army dedicated to its destruction; in Iran, a mad theocracy whose president stood before the United Nations and openly prayed for the apocalypse; or in Hamas, a government that kidnaps Israeli soldiers, whose founding charter declares that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam obliterates it”?
How could I forget when the Arab League has been boycotting Jewish goods since 1945?
How could I forget when ideological attacks on Israel’s right to exist reverberate from national parliaments to international assemblies?
How could I forget when even Israel’s college professors are shunned for the crime of being Israeli and Jewish?
Make no mistake: These attacks on Israel—military, economic, ideological—add up to an existential threat.
That’s why I’ve supported substantial foreign aid for Israel—every year, for over a quarter-century.
That’s why I co-sponsored the Syria Accountability Act, which put pressure on that dictatorship to end its support for terrorism; that’s why, this summer, I sponsored a resolution affirming Israel’s right to defend itself against the provocations of Hamas and Hezbollah. And that’s why I’ve tried to have a discourse with every Prime Minister of Israel since the 1980s.
Of course, these efforts hardly make me unique. But all the better! I am proud to be part of an American tradition that dates back to May 14, 1948, when it only took America 11 minutes to recognize a new state, and a new ally. For nearly sixty years America and Israel have been two nations that can look across the gulf of history and space and language, and still see, in each other, themselves.
What do we see to compel our friendship? First, we see our interest. No nation has been a more reliable ally in the Middle East.
But even if Israel weren’t—even if it were a tiny island somewhere, even if it were useless to us—our friendship wouldn’t be any less.
As one scholar put it, “Without oil, international terrorists, or a half-billion people, support for Israel rests on principled sympathy with democratic society.”
Democratic society—I think that choice of words is quite intentional. What we love about Israel is not simply the machinery of elections and parliament; what we love is the way democracy has found its way into every part of Israel’s life.
America sees in Israel a free people; and a free people knows its own kind.
Now, this doesn’t mean we have to romanticize democracy, and it doesn’t mean that democracies are infallible.
I’m sure we all know it from experience—leaders in a democracy can be just as foolish, cowardly, or self-important as anyone else. Getting elected to the Congress or the Knesset never conferred sainthood.
But when politicians strongly disagree across the aisle, one assumption is held so tightly as to be unquestioned. We will resolve our differences in argument, in voting, in picketing, even in shouting—but always in words. Never, ever with force.
Perhaps that seems unremarkable—but only because it is so deep a part of our political lives that we take it for granted. Even now, much of the world goes without that privilege.
We saw a stark illustration in two very different protests that took place early this month. In Gaza City, a Fatah rally turned into a gun battle with Hamas; two people were killed, including a 15-year-old boy, and 32 others were wounded. And in Jerusalem, protesters kept up their vigil outside the Knesset building—and went to sleep in their tents knowing they’d wake up unharmed.
The point is not the content of either protest. The point is that Gaza City and Jerusalem are at the same time only 50 miles apart—and a world apart. What was there in Jerusalem to make violence unthinkable?
I return to that vital idea—”democratic society.” In a democratic society, even the worst political enemies know that they are part of the same home and the same people. Of course they argue—but so does every family.
So a nation must be a society before it can be democratic.
The Chief Rabbi of Britain, Sir Jonathan Sacks, recently wrote some wise words on this very point, and I hope you won’t mind if I quote them. “One of the most striking features of the Hebrew Bible,” said Rabbi Sacks, “is the way it distinguishes between state and society. The ancient Israelites became a state when the prophet Samuel anointed Saul as King.
“The Israelites became a society, however, 400 years earlier, when they stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and received their constitution as a nation under the sovereignty of God.
“You have to build a society before you can have a state. States exist by reason of power. Societies exist through a shared moral code and a sense of collective responsibility. The symbols of states are palaces and parliaments. The institutions of society are families, neighborhoods, communities, and schools.”
Israel’s secret, then, is not in its parliament, its armed forces, or its stock exchange. It’s in those instruments of a civil society that every day renew Israelis in their common bond—Ashkenazi [ash-ken-AH-zee] or Sephardim [sef-AR-deem], from Russia or Morocco or Brooklyn—that every day teach them that debate and disagreement take nothing away from shared love of Am Yisrael [AM yis-ra-EL: “the people of Israel”].
Here in America, AIPAC is an essential part of our civil society. Of course AIPAC has influence, and of course it has criticisms for our government. But that influence is part of an open debate; and that criticism detracts not one bit from our friendship. Of course we are friends when we disagree or call to account—especially when we do those things. Only friends care enough to do them.
Who was the only one in the Hebrew Bible who dared to bargain with God? Abraham. And who, of all its heroic men and women, is the only one the Bible calls “God’s friend”? Abraham again.
The lesson is that we can’t abolish argument—among ourselves or among nations. But we can demand that argument be civil. The ultimate end of all our policy has never changed—civil society on the greatest scale, when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation.”
But I don’t have to tell you how far away we are. Israel confronts death every day—but not over the division of land or the right of return or the exchange of prisoners. If the issue were so pragmatic, it would have been resolved at Madrid, or Oslo, or Wye, or Camp David, or Taba, or Sharm el Sheikh, or—you see my point.
Of course these questions have to be answered; but they mask a deeper problem, which is this: Israel has nothing to negotiate with but despotism.
We see that despotic, absolutist worldview in the Hamas charter, which claims that “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals, and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”
It all puts me in mind of Goering’s attitude toward our own treaties and alliances—”just so much toilet paper.”
Despots can’t understand the compacts of a free people, because force is their only law. And the exercise of an election does nothing to change that fact. The election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Hamas government—or, indeed, the elections in Iraq—only bring home to us the truth of Rabbi Sacks’s argument: the danger of a state without a society.
Unfortunately, it’s only now a lesson we’re beginning to learn. In Iraq, in Lebanon, and in the Palestinian Authority, I believe America made the mistake of urging elections before there was anything worth voting for. Our plan for democratization was like an upside-down plant: fruit first, roots later—if ever.
Absolutely, democracy is still a worthy goal, especially in the Middle East. Israel is the target of so much hate in large part because of a lack of democracy—because dictators and demagogues use the specter of Israel to distract their own people.
But if the past years have taught us anything, it’s that replacing these dictators is a generational task, and maybe more.
A strong middle class, a private sector, a free press, a fair judiciary—these aren’t the ornaments of democracy, but democracy’s foundation. They have to come first—and they will take time.
Therefore, we have to recognize that it will be a long while before Palestine—much less Iran—is ready for the full and equal peace of neighbors.
In the meantime, our role is to stand by Israel and put all the pressure we can on despots and extremists.
Given the new threats facing Israel, we should assess US assistance levels and make sure they’re adequate to the challenges our ally faces. And we should also take concrete steps against Israel’s enemies.
For one thing, that means supporting the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which I’m proud to cosponsor. That act would put Congress on the record as decrying any organizations or countries that support terrorism or violently oppose a two-state solution. But more importantly, it will cut off all American funds from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority, unless Hamas takes three essential steps:
· Recognize Israel’s right to exist;
· Renounce violence;
· And accept all prior agreements with Israel.
There can be no peace otherwise.
Right now this bill is stalled in Congress, despite the support of over 90 Senators.
When we come back into session on November 13, I pledge to do everything I can to ensure that this legislation comes to the floor and passes.
Israel has risked almost everything for peace; Hamas has risked nothing. So it must be Hamas who takes the next step.
But until that happens, its failure to do so is no excuse for America to abdicate its own mission: pursing a political solution—the only solution.
We can have hope that one day a Palestinian government that accepts Israel’s right to exist will return to the negotiating table, and that talks can resume, following the Clinton principles laid out in January of 2001.
And we can hope that America’s administration will once more intimately involve itself in the details of the peace process, and once more put behind it the full weight and prestige of the presidency.
Israel is ready. Is Hamas? Well, in the words of Abba Eban [EE-ben]: “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely only once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”
Of course, it always helps to point out when those alternatives have been exhausted—and that’s what I hope we can do for the nation of Syria.
Syria has allied with Iran and actively funneled aid to the terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah. And its deliberate failure to seal its borders with Lebanon and Iraq doesn’t just hurt our interests—it hurts the stability of the entire Middle East.
Bashar al-Assad is a weak and susceptible leader—the international community is bringing pressure to change his behavior, and to break the unnatural alliance between his nation and Shiite Iran. I support that effort—but we shouldn’t stop there. We need to tell Assad, directly to his face, what we expect and the cost of his failure to meet those expectations. Our failure to do so isn’t helping America or Israel.
I couldn’t put it any better than one former Cabinet member: “When I was Secretary of State, I went to Syria 15 times….My point is, you don’t just talk to your friends. It’s not a sign of weakness to talk to somebody; it’s not…appeasement, provided you do it in the right way.”
Doing it in the right way means getting the results we need to keep Israel safe—not to mention American troops in Iraq. But we can’t get the results if we don’t even bother to talk.
Diplomacy is a necessary part of security. But when Israel’s safety and even its very existence are threatened, there is no substitute for self-defense.
That’s why I find entirely justifiable Israel’s incursions this summer against the private army of fanatics who kidnapped its soldiers and shelled its cities, seeking to kill as many civilians as possible.
But when you ask me who won the war between Israel and Hezbollah, I think the most honest answer is—”We don’t know yet.”
In this age of asymmetrical warfare, 24-hour propaganda, and ever-fluid conditions for success, the old calculus of victory and defeat is turned on its head. But this much is certain: We’ll only be able to tell them apart in retrospect.
We do know that Israel successfully destroyed Hezbollah’s long-range missiles. If the UN succeeds in its efforts to prevent Hezbollah from being resupplied with those weapons, Israel will have won.
So it’s no mere formality that we properly enforce the Security Council resolutions ending the conflict—it’s the key to solidifying Israel’s victory. Two years ago, Resolution 1559 called for all foreign armies to withdraw from Lebanon—and for all militias to disband. The failure to fully enforce it set the stage for this summer’s war.
Let’s make sure we are not merely setting the stage again.
Under Resolution 1701, UNIFIL and the Lebanese army must continue to secure the Israel-Lebanon border, and they must be ready to take “all necessary action” to prevent further Hezbollah attacks.
And most importantly, the Security Council prescribed sanctions for any nation that supplies Hezbollah with weapons to kill innocent Israelis—so let us put our full clout behind the push for its disarmament.
As Hassan Nasrallah said immediately after the war, he never would have ordered his men to kidnap Israeli soldiers if he had known what the response would be. Let’s make sure he continues to regret it.
This summer, many asked why Hezbollah’s actions demanded such an overwhelming response. And Israelis answered—rightly, I think—that it wasn’t just about Hezbollah. It was about Hezbollah’s patron, Iran, which funded and approved the attacks, and whose nuclear ambitions threaten Israel with annihilation.
Israelis understood that next time, it might not just be Katyushas raining down on their homes.
That’s why, for Israel’s sake and our own, we must do everything in our power to ensure that Iran’s efforts meet with futility.
Any successful approach will include both carrots and sticks. So while we will exhaust every diplomatic option to freeze Iran’s nuclear program, we won’t hesitate to pressure Iran with tough sanctions.
I was proud to vote for a renewal of ILSA, the law sanctioning companies that invest in Iran’s petroleum sector; and I was proud to sit on the Banking Committee that kept ILSA in force. Because Iran gets 80% of its revenue from oil sales, petroleum sanctions are especially effective in curtailing its provocative behavior.
If my party wins control of Congress next month, I’ll be in line to chair Banking. And rest assured, I’ll keep sanctions strong and effective—and push for truly multilateral sanctions, approved by the United Nations.
When a nation calls for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” we will spend every ounce of our strength to ensure that it never finds the means.
In Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, the program I’ve outlined—the program AIPAC supports—is a plan to keep Israel secure and to face down the tyrants and would-be tyrants who threaten it. But you’ll notice that it is, by its nature, a limited program.
We can protect Israel. But we cannot force Hamas to seek coexistence, or Syria to abandon its dictatorship, or Hezbollah to resolve its grievances in debate rather than war, or Ahmadinejad to abandon his rhetoric of the apocalypse. Even with the greatest strength of arms or purity of motives, we cannot create there the kind of civil society we treasure here.
That’s work for the Palestinian and Syrain and Lebanese and Iranian people. And we might not see the fruit of that work in our lives. That’s the sad part of the truth.
But the happier part is that gentle and generous societies do exist, and that they can recognize each other, and support one another in their need. The happier part of the truth is that the bond between America and Israel will never be broken.
We can’t forget either part of the truth. And that brings me back to the story I started from, the story of Job. In all that suffering, a weaker Job might have lost his mind; he might have forced himself to pretend it wasn’t happening. A more despairing Job might have cursed God and begged for death.
But he did neither: In ashes and boils Job comes down to us as the sign of human dignity, refusing to hide from the truth, refusing to stanch his hope for justice.
And those two parts of the truth remind me that I can think of only one national anthem in a mournful minor key. It’s called Hatikva—”The Hope.” [ha-TIK-va]