WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) will address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. The embargoed text of his speech, as prepared for delivery, appears below:
Good afternoon. It's always such an honor to speak before you at AIPAC. You have gathered here because you have faith, because you have commitment, and because you have love for America and her great friend, Israel.
America and Israel are two lights among all nations. They are envied by many, but known for their dedication to human freedom, opportunity and growth. In thinking about the differences in worldviews that exist today, I come to a conclusion.
It is the province of idealists to dream. It is the province of realists to wake up. Let me emphasize, we need idealists. Idealism animated America's Founding Fathers and Israel's Founding Fathers. But we also need idealists who transition into the realists personified by the Founding Fathers of both America and Israel.
In the Middle East, now is the time to be realists – to wake up, before all dreams turn into an unbearable nightmare. We must stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. To minimize the Iranian threat is to fall into the same trap that led to the Holocaust – a lack of imagination about how far evil can go.
A visit to Israel's Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem, provides all of us a reality check. The first time I went there, I was struck by the Hall of Names. It is a room that contains about 2.5 million pages of personal testimonies about the identities and life stories of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices. How tragic that we Jews, known as the People of the Book, should have to assemble a book of the slaughter of our innocents.
On January 3 of this year, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke darkly of what he called the Zionist regime – Israel – and he referred to quote, “the endpoint of its existence.” To that, today we reply, Mr. Ahmadinejad, Israel's existence will endure, long after you are gone.
To ensure that, we have to transition from confusion to clarity in the Middle East. A major source of confusion is: Where is the leadership? Who is leading from the front with a finger pointing in the right direction rather than a finger pointing in the wind? America needs to be a compass, not a weathervane, in the Middle East.
Even many of Israel's adversaries are clamoring for clarity. They fear Iran’s efforts to foment instability and extremism in the region more than they fear Israel, as I found out on my recent visit to countries in the Gulf. They want a balance of power in the Middle East, not an unbalanced power like Iran.
America's role is not to put its hand on the scale and balance it against Israel. America's role is to put its fist on the scale to weigh down the terrorism, fanaticism and anti-Semitism of Iran and its proxies.
So, let us not send mixed messages when it comes to Israel. That only serves to confuse the world, including Israel's enemies. As elusive as peace has been in the Middle East, the only way it can be approached is through strength.
Time and again, the countries of the Middle East, and especially the terrorists who reside there, have sent the clear message that all they respect, all they respond to is strength. Strength is the only language that our enemies, and Israel's enemies, understand. No translation is required.
To deny our enemies their deadly options, we must keep all our options on the table: diplomatic and military. The time for illusions is over. The reality is that Iran is moving closer and closer to attaining a nuclear weapons capability. Neither Israel nor America can afford to be nuclear re-actors. Leadership requires action, not re-action.
But to be effective, leadership requires three assets: Superior intelligence. Superior capability. And Superior will.
For years, Iran has been scoffing at the United States and Israel, signaling that it believes it has nothing to lose. America and Israel must now demonstrate that we do have the intelligence, capability and will – both military and moral – to persuade Iran that we will meet its folly with force.
I, for one, do not apologize when I say that Israel and America, while not perfect, have the two most morally responsible militaries in the world. Might exercised with righteousness is might that makes right. The soldiers of Israel and America are trained to be moral and responsible, and are held to the highest ethical standards. Our militaries operate at great expense and with great risk to conduct operations that place a premium on avoiding collateral damage. By contrast, many of our adversaries intentionally target innocent women and children.
When it comes to Iran, Al Qaeda, the Taliban or any of our other enemies, it is not true that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
It is not liberty or freedom that our enemies are fighting for. Our enemies have made it plain that they oppose the freedoms that Israel and America uphold.
These are freedoms that people worldwide cry out for and often die for. We have seen those people die in the streets of Tehran, Cairo, Tripoli, Aleppo and many other places. So, when world bodies such as the United Nations single out Israel as an oppressor, we must ask: have you no eyes, have you no hearts, have you no judgment – and who are you to judge?
Anti-Israel propagandists would have you believe that Israelis have stolen the freedom from Palestinian people. But what kind of freedom is it when Palestinian terrorists like Hamas in Gaza use their own women, children, elderly and other innocents as human shields? They reprehensively calculate that a maximum of civilian casualties will generate a maximum of worldwide condemnation of Israel.
What kind of democracy have the Palestinians built for themselves? An intra-Palestinian civil war in Gaza that gave way to a Hamas-controlled terrorist rump-state? Or a corrupt Fatah Party in the West Bank that has resisted political reforms and undermined Prime Minister Fayyad’s efforts to build democratic institutions and promote economic growth?
Yes, Israel fights but in self-defense. And it is in self-defense that Israel lives. But you will rarely read of the toll that takes on Israel's own innocents.
In 2005, Israel unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip in a concession to try to further peace, leaving the border areas under the control of Egypt and the Palestinians. Since then, the Gaza Strip has been turned into a base for Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorists to lob rocket attacks on Israel. Many of these groups are supported by Iran.
Sderot, a western city near the Gaza Strip, has been the target of those attacks for years. When I last visited there, I was told a story about life for one Israeli mother and her young children. In just six months, more than 160 rockets were fired at their city. When a rocket is detected, a siren goes off.
It gives residents about 15 seconds to rush for shelter in the safe room of a house, in a car – anywhere they can flee to try to protect themselves. This constant barrage has traumatized this woman's children. They are afraid to leave her side. They have regressed in their growth habits like bathroom training. Their anxieties are so intense that if they hear a car door slam they jump with fright – sometimes under a table.
Sadly, this reminds me of Golda Meier's remark that “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
We must stop following mirages in the Middle East and start following through on this reality: our mission in the Middle East is to drive our stake in the sand with our values – to proclaim our values rather than apologize for them. And no country in the Middle East stands aligned with America's values more than Israel.
Start with the American Bill of Rights and the value of freedom of speech. In Israel, there is so much freedom of speech, it makes your head spin. Sadly, as we've seen elsewhere in the Middle East, attempting freedom of speech can make you lose your head.
Consider the American value of freedom of religion. In Israel, you are not only free to practice any religion you wish, you can choose to practice no religion at all. Where else in the Middle East is this the case?
Then there is the American value of freedom of the press. In Israel, there is the old joke of two Jews, three opinions – and you can get all those opinions in the newspapers, on TV, on the Internet, on the radio – even in the graffiti on the walls. Elsewhere in the Middle East, sometimes when you publish, you perish.
Let's look at the American value of freedom of assembly to come together in meetings, discuss problems and plan actions, in a peaceful way and also to petition your government. Let's be honest, Israel is not only known for its kibbutzniks; it's especially known for its kibitzers. To meet, talk, plan, protest and that includes criticizing your government. That's in Israelis' DNA. But in countries that surround Israel, large and small gatherings of citizens voicing their concerns too often produce bloodshed, brutality and jail sentences.
Finally, in America and Israel, women's rights are deeply enshrined in our laws and our cultures and there are many protections for minorities – whether they be religious, racial or of sexual orientation. But as you travel through other parts of the Middle East, women and minorities are suppressed and repressed, denied rights and their dignity.
Because Israel shares American values, Americans should value Israel all the more. America's job should not be to micromanage Israel. It should be to macromanage the proliferation of our values in the Middle East, values that Israel cherishes just as we do.
It is often said that if you don't stand up for something, you will put up with anything. This is another thing I heard in country after country in our trip to the gulf. Confusion about where America stands has raised questions about what some of our leaders in Washington are willing to put up with. That's not just about Iran, it's about Syria, it's about Iraq, it's about Egypt and it's about Libya.
In order to see the bigger picture in the Middle East, some in Washington must stop standing small – stooping to belittle Israel by taking for granted its sacrifices, its security and its solidarity with America. We must stand tall by our allies, and no ally stands taller for us than Israel. We must stand by our commitments, and no commitment is greater than Israel's is to us. Let us do unto Israel as Israel keeps doing unto us. Loyalty deserves loyalty. Trust merits trust in return.
That is why, as Whip Hoyer mentioned, we will be introducing the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act. This bipartisan bill will reaffirm our enduring commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship and expresses Congress’ support for a number of steps to make Israel and America more secure.
The reality is that Israel has a problematic situation, but Israel is not the real problem in the Middle East. The problem is that you cannot negotiate with those who deny your very existence. When nations or terrorists openly proclaim their unshakable determination to destroy you, to wipe you off the map, to visit a Holocaust upon you, whether you are America or Israel, you do not jabber about even-handedness and moral equivalency. You come down firmly and do what is right, real and required.
In America and in Israel, there is much disagreement about policy. And plenty of politicians argue about them day in and day out. But in both countries, most of the politicians have shown themselves capable of uniting around a single cause. That cause is that Israel deserves not just to survive, but also to thrive.
Many of us have been to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. There, people from around the world stuff messages written on paper in between the stones of the ancient wall. The message I would like to place in that wall, signed jointly by the leaders of America and Israel, is a single phrase in Hebrew: L'chaim – to life.
Let us all come together around that message: long live America, Israel, and righteous people everywhere, in the Middle East and around the world.