Israel and the US: An Enduring Friendship, An Essential Alliance
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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