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Israel and the US: An Enduring Friendship, An Essential Alliance RULE
Posted: May 8, 2003

Speech by Ralph Reed Jr.
To the Anti-Defamation League
National Leadership Conference
Washington, D. C.
April 29, 2003

Thank you for allowing me to be with you once again. I am grateful for your kind invitation. I commend you for the vital and important role you play in American civic life. The Anti-Defamation League raises difficult, hard issues that otherwise would not be raised, issues of tolerance, pluralism, of safeguarding the First Amendment, of opposition to bigotry and hatred. These are not always easy or popular, but confronting them is crucial to maintaining our democratic way of life, and I encourage you to continue to be the critical and clarion voice that you bring to the conversation we call democracy.

Related Material:
Why Evangelical Support for Israel Is a Good Thing

It is a special privilege to join you on this day of remembrance. On Yom Hashoah we recall the pain, the unspeakable suffering and the unthinkable atrocities inflicted on a people not only because of the evil of a few, but because humanity was indifferent to a great evil in its midst. It is important to remember. We vow today that those who lost their lives did not do so in vain, but that we would honor their memory by working to insure that such a horror would never happen again.

On a personal note, it is a particular honor to be here once again with my good friend Abe Foxman. We have become dear and close friends over the past decade. I have come to value his friendship and respect his judgment. He has done so much to advance the security of the United States, the security of Israel, and the cause of freedom. It is perhaps an overused term, but in this case deserving: Abe Foxman is a patriot, and I am proud to call him my friend.

Moment of Testing: The War Against Terrorism

We meet at a critical crossroads in the annals of history---in the history of the United States and the history of the world. The 20th century witnessed our nation's triumph over the twin evils of fascism and communism. If we have learned anything from that century, the bloodiest in recorded history, it is that tolerance is not the norm of the human condition. Fascism and communism gave us the most chilling terms in the lexicon of human suffering: gulag, ghetto, genocide, and Holocaust.

In triumphing over them, we learned three things, which I recently revisited anew in Peter Schweizer's book entitled Reagan's War, which chronicles Ronald Reagan's lifelong struggle against communism. The lessons are: 1) there is no substitute for eternal vigilance in opposing evil; 2) the need for a strong military and intelligence apparatus second to none; 3) the importance of friendships and strategic relationships with allies, allies such as Israel. We also learned that to win such struggles, extending the boundaries of freedom and democracy is more important than the simply opposing tyranny. The human spirit has an unquenchable thirst for freedom, and to gain liberty, human beings will tear down any wall, overthrow any dictator, and escape any gulag.

We are seeing this truth demonstrated daily in dramatic fashion with the liberation of Iraq. A people living for a quarter century under oppression and horror are now drinking deep the oxygen of freedom. We have witnessed one of the most remarkable combat actions in the annals of military history---and once again, we come as liberators, not as conquerors. It has always been so. As Secretary Colin Powell recently stated, the American people have sent their best and finest to pay the ultimate sacrifice so that others might be free, and the only land we have asked for is enough to bury them on the battlefields where they gave their lives. Iraq is but one chapter in an epic and global struggle against a contagion of evil. That struggle is against the forces of terrorism and those possessing or seeking to possess weapons of mass destruction. It is the defining conflict of our time.

September 11, 2001 was the Pearl Harbor of the post-Cold War world. None of us will ever forget the horror of those planes hitting those towers and the Pentagon. The world will never be the same. It is a horror that the people of Israel have lived with daily since the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. The number of innocent Israeli citizens who have died during the 31 months of the current intifada, as a percentage of the population, is equivalent to 25,000 Americans dying at the World Trade Center.

On September 11, 2001, for the first time since the first European settlers arrived on this continent over 400 years ago, Americans discovered that we are no longer protected by friendly neighbors to the north and south and oceans to the east and west that once provided a buffer against the bloodshed and upheavals that convulsed Europe. When the White House was threatened with attack on September 11, I had friends who worked there who literally evacuated the building and fled for their lives. Those who work at the White House, this citadel of democracy, now live daily with the reality that they are a target of terrorism. When the Washington Post recently wrote a profiled of staff members working there and confronting this new state of affairs, they quoted an unnamed WH staffer who said something that jumped off the page when I read it. The staff member said, "We are all Israelis now."

What a remarkable statement. A statement not of shared strategic interests, but of shared humanity. The bond between Israel and the United States is an enduring friendship based on a mutual commitment to liberty and the transcendent worth of each individual with the inalienable right to life and freedom. There are some who claim that the terrorists hate us because they do not understand America or what we really believe. I beg to differ. The terrorists hate us precisely because they know what America stands for and the truths we hold dear. These are not exclusively Israeli values, or American values. They are the values of all humanity. As President Bush has so eloquently stated, "Freedom is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity."

The modern specter of terrorism demonstrates that the human capacity for evil did not die in a Berlin bunker. It did not perish in a Nuremberg courtroom. It lurks in the human heart. It is nurtured by indifference and advanced by appeasement. Unchallenged and unopposed, it can spread like a cancer---even in an otherwise healthy and democratic society.

This evil takes many forms---a plane loaded with explosives, screaming towards its intended target, carrying the innocent to their deaths; the prisons and killing fields and the shallow graves of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, where those who would not bow in allegiance to his bloody dictatorship met their deaths; in the hate-filled suicide bomber, deliberately targeting innocent civilians; the school in Gaza that teaches young Arab children to hate others simply because of their faith and ethnic background.

In this struggle against terrorism, the enduring friendship between the United States and Israel is an essential alliance for democracy and freedom. And that bond has taken promising and historic form here in the United States in a new spirit of cooperation and dialogue between Christians and Jews.

Personal Reflections: Why Christians Support Israel

But even as those ties between our two nations strengthen, many Jews wonder: do we really want to be on the same team with these Christians? Can we really trust them? Do they come with an ulterior motive or a hidden agenda? I'm sure none of you have heard these concerns raised in your local communities.

Today I wish to confront those questions and answer them directly. And I want to do so not by speaking philosophically, but by telling my own story. Before I moved to Georgia in my teens, I grew up in Miami, Florida. I attended public school, and went to school with many young people of Jewish heritage. They were my friends, and they showed me photos of family members who survived Nazi concentration camps, and some photos of those who did not survive. My mother was in a Methodist Bible study where she studied the prison letters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian who was executed on Hitler's order.

In prison Bonhoeffer reflected on the moral dimensions of his own perilous situation. He knew that he would likely be killed because of his opposition to the Nazi regime. Before he died, Bonhoeffer reconciled himself to his obligation to live not for himself, but for others. He wrote, "The ultimate question for a responsible man is to ask not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live."

In his life and death, he answered the ultimate question that is central to my faith: am I my brother's keeper? Am I indifferent to another's suffering, or do I have a moral and spiritual responsibility to help others in need?

My parents took me with a Methodist youth group to see the film "The Hiding Place," which recounted the dramatic story of Corrie ten Boom and her family, who sheltered Jews from the Holocaust. From these experiences, my mother and father taught me a formative lesson that standing up for my own faith meant defending the right of Jews to practice theirs.

I am honored to serve as co-chairman of Stand for Israel with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. Last October, Stand for Israel mobilized 5 million people in 16,000 churches to pray for peace and take a stand for the security of Israel. Just four weeks ago in this very ballroom, Stand for Israel presented the "Friend of Israel" award to Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Congressman Tom Lantos for their leadership in the passage of H. Resolution 392, which expressed the Congress' solidarity with Israel in its struggle against terrorism.

Tom Lantos, as you know, is a Holocaust survivor with a remarkable story, and he said something that expressed this sentiment far more eloquently than I can: "My wife Annette and I are here, our two daughters are alive and our seventeen grand children bring us untold joy...because of a Christian. A Christian who did not know us....He took a train and joined us in Hell...I've truly learned the meaning of Christian values---the notion that we are all our brothers keepers." Lantos was speaking, of course, about Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat and business leader who acted on his faith and interposed himself to save tens of thousands from the Nazi gas chambers.

It is in this spirit of Corrie Ten Boom and Raoul Wallenberg that Christians today support Israel. It is not an attempt to impose our faith on others, or a function of our eschatology, or some misguided effort to help God usher in the end times. Christians have a fairly healthy and expansive view of God's sovereignty, and believe that he will do whatever he desires at the end of history based on his own timetable. He doesn't need our help.

I grew so tired of hearing from the media and others that Christians were pro-Israel because of their interest in the end times that we at Stand for Israel commissioned a national survey of the attitudes of Christians toward Israel and why they supported its right to exist. The survey confirmed my own heart. It found that 62 percent of church-going conservative Christians support Israel, and a healthy majority-56 percent---do so because of shared democratic values and God's promises to Abraham and the Jews to the land where the modern state of Israel is currently located. Only a distinct minority made any reference to the New Testament or the end times.

I want to add something important here, something that Abe has said in another context, and that is that our agreement on opposition to anti-Semitism and religious bigotry in all its ugly forms, our shared support for Israel, does not mean that we should gloss over our other differences. A true friendship means speaking honestly and acknowledging differences----but we need not allow those differences to become divisions. Rather, let us agree to disagree on some issues, but work together on the many things that unite us. The darkness is so pervasive, the threat to civilized society by the terrorists is so great, that I do not believe we have any choice. Indeed, it is our responsibility to do so.

The Road to Peace

With the end of combat in Iraq, we face a critical moment in the war against terrorism. There will be some voices counseling Israel to sacrifice its security and indeed endanger its survival in a false hope of peace. We are fortunate at this moment to have a President who understands that it is impossible to negotiate with those who are tainted by corruption and terrorism. It is due to the historic leadership of President Bush that the Palestinians are making potentially significant changes to its leadership and its governance, and we hold out hope that its new leadership will seize the opportunity to build a truly democratic society free from corruption and terror. The President's vision, which he laid out last June 24 in a speech in the Rose Garden, of two democratic states living side by side in peace and security, with a flowering of democracy and a respect for human rights throughout the Middle East, is a vision that can transform a region that for too long has known violence and bloodshed.

As the Israelis and new Palestinian leadership seek a solution, there will be difficult and trying days ahead in the search for peace. But I confident that the Israeli people know best what will advance their peace and security. And I have great trust in the leadership and convictions of President Bush. I admire the President for his moral clarity, his strength of purpose, and his courage in acting upon his convictions. And I am confident that the administration will not support a process that leads to the creation of a state "until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists,..dismantle their infrastructure..[and] punish those who prey on the innocent."

I also want you to know that in this delicate moment that is filled with both historic opportunity for peace but also fraught with danger, the Christian community in the United States is not a fair weather friend. We will stand with you, and stand for Israel. We will defend Israel's legitimate right to security and its right to exist, and from this stand we will not retreat.

My 14-year old daughter Brittany is currently reading in school Elie Weisel's "Night," a not-so-fictional account of the Holocaust that seeks to find God, hope and meaning in that horror. It is my prayer that Brittany and our other children learn from me and Jo Anne the same lesson that I learned from my parents, which is that to be a good Christian means to defend the right of Jews and others to practice their own faith, and that we have an obligation to be the keepers of our neighbor in need.

At the Stand for Israel Washington briefing earlier this month, we provided an opportunity for our members to tour of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, which I understand you have done as well this week. I still recall my own first visit to the Museum, and the films at the end of the tour where Holocaust survivors are interviewed about experiences and recount their own stories. One in particular that I remember is the story of a train filled with Jews bound for a Nazi concentration camp as U.S. troops swept across Germany. When they reached the railroad, the liberating Allied forces stopped the train. The passengers assumed they had arrived at the death camp, the destination where they would lose their lives. An American G.I. pulled open the door to one of the railroad cars holding the human cargo, and a woman, fearing for her life, took her shoe and began to beat him across the face and chest. The G.I., confronted with this sadness, began to weep, and through his tears, he said to the woman, "You don't have to be afraid anymore. I am an American."

So today I say to you: do not be afraid anymore, because I am an American. In a world filled with pain and suffering, a world threatened by terrorism and horrible weapons, let us say together to the rest of humanity, "Do not be afraid. We come as liberators. Because we are Americans."

Thank you.

Back to Top

Israel Update
U.S. to Take Lead in Mideast Peace Effort
Road Map To Trouble
Britainís Disingenuous Iraq-Israel Linkage
Chronology of Recent Terrorist Attacks in Israel
Background: Camp David II: The Aftermath
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