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Condoleezza Rice: 'Optimistic' on Future of Middle East

Presentation of the ADL Distinguished Statesman Award to 
Dr. Condoleezza Rice
ADL National Executive Committee Meeting
Palm Beach Florida, February 5, 2009

Posted: February 5, 2009

Introductory remarks by Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director:

I have had the privilege of knowing and working with many government officials on  issues of concern to our community and to our nation.  As you undoubtedly know, government officials are very busy people. That is especially true if you are the President's National Security Advisor or his Secretary of State.  Yet, Condoleezza Rice, who held both those positions under President George W. Bush, somehow always found time to discuss those important issues of concern with us.

Long before President Bush tapped her to serve in his Administration in 2001, Dr. Rice was an important voice on the important issues of the day.  As a professor of Political Science at Stanford University with a special knowledge of the then Soviet Union and East Europe she was what we used to call a Sovietologist her expertise was sought after. With a deep commitment to promoting democracy and human rights throughout the world, she understood well and supported the struggle of Soviet Jewry.

It was none other than President George H.W. Bush who called on Dr. Rice in 1989 to serve as Director and then Senior Director of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council and as special Assistant to the President for National Security.

Though I had met Dr. Rice before, I got to know her well when she served as National Security Advisor, and we continued our relationship when she was appointed the 66th Secretary of State in 2005. It was on the issues of security in the face of terrorism following 9/11, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the outbreak of global anti-Semitism that we communicated.  She clearly understood our concerns, listened to our views, and heard them. Even when at times our views differed from that of the Administration's she would open her door and hear us out.

And it was under her leadership, that the State Department created the position of Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism.  American Embassies around the world were instructed to monitor anti-Semitism and report back to the State Department. This important action put countries on notice that the U.S. took anti-Semitism very seriously and would hold them accountable. Thank you, Dr. Rice. You set an important precedent which we hope will be followed by your successors.

On one of my visits, I gave the Secretary of State a volume of anti-Semitic cartoons from the Arab world.  It was then only published in French. Tonight I will give her an English edition.

But I mention it because one of her colleagues later shared with me the fact that the Secretary left that volume on her desk for her visitors to see it.  And when from time to time a representative of an Arab nation visited her office, she would turn to this volume, show it to the visitor, and comment how she knows personally what it means to be dehumanized by those of racists tendencies.  She knows what it means for bigotry to be promulgated, to be spread, and left the visitor to take the conclusions as to what they can and could or should not do with the anti-Semitism emanating in their country.

I remember suggesting early on to her that it would be mutually beneficial if she got to know an up and coming Israeli politician named Tzipi Livni.  I was sure they would have much in common, and Dr. Rich was open to the idea. I'd like to think their getting to know one another was helpful when they engaged in deliberations as the U.S. Secretary of State and the Israeli Foreign Minister.

For those of us who viewed President Bush as the stalwart supporter and friend of Israel that he was, know that advising him and supporting him all the way was Condi Rice.  She had the President's ear and the President's trust.

Dr. Rice has served our nation with distinction during some very difficult times.  Throughout she remained dedicated to democracy, diplomacy and education. A consummate professional, she has set a standard to be exemplified.

On behalf of the Anti-Defamation League, I am honored tonight to present to my friend, an extraordinary pianist, a great football enthusiast.

A presidential advisor, a teacher, a professor, a diplomat, a stateswoman, a proud American, an exceptional scholar, and a devoted and dedicated and extraordinary public servant, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, I am privileged to present you with the Distinguished Statesperson Award.

This menorah is an Agam menorah which in Jewish tradition symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, of lightness in the midst of darkness.

We are very, very proud that you are the first woman recipient in all the years that we have presented it.

Madam Secretary, we've received letters from the President George W. Bush, from President Shimon Peres, from Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni, but I've decided to share and read two paragraphs of a letter that we received, that you received from Israeli Ambassador to the United States Sallai Meridor which encompasses so much of the feeling that we have for you in this room and beyond.  And Ambassador Meridor writes:

It is my distinct pleasure to recognize tonight's special honoree and my very dear friend, former Secretary of State and great friend of Israel and Jewish people, Condoleezza Rice.

Dr. Rice, known as Condi to everyone in the world from kings and presidents to the everyday common man, is a great leader and a human being.  She used her keen intellect and charismatic personality to effectively represent the United States throughout the world.  Her leadership driven by strong values combined with a sense of reality serves as a source of inspiration to all.  Under her tenure, the U.S./Israel relationship flourished and we experienced great cooperation and support.

 I am proud to join with all of you who are applauding her for that great leadership and commitment.  Her spirit and perseverance enabled us to work together to return hope to the Israel and Palestinian people by providing a vision and creating a functional process that
remains her legacy.

It is fitting that the Anti-Defamation League should honor Dr. Rice, as much, like her, the special organization is guided by an important mission and strong moral compass.

On behalf of the people of Israel, thank you for all that you do and for the continued support for the State of Israel and the Jewish people."

 Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Rice.


Response: Dr. Condoleezza Rice

Thank you.  Thank you very much.  I am so deeply honored to be here tonight and to be the recipient of this beautiful award.

I cannot tell you how much it means to me, because it comes from this exceptional organization, the Anti-Defamation League.

I want to thank Mr. Glen Lewy, the National Chair, I want to thank Mr. Barry Berg, the Florida Chair, and I want especially to thank and say how grateful I am to share this podium and this award ceremony with Bente and Daniel Lyons.  What a great story; what a wonderful couple.

But he knows he's not going to get away without me saying a word about my great friend, Abe Foxman.  Abe embodies all that is best in this organization and therefore all that is best in America.  He is right, we spent many, many hours together discussing the mission of the Anti-Defamation League, because in many ways the mission of the Anti-Defamation League is the mission of America.

It is to be America, a place where we all belong, where we belong without regard to religious background or preference, where we all belong without regard to nationality, to place of origin, to circumstances of birth.  It is to be a place where we all belong and where we respect each other, not tolerate each other.  I don't actually like the word "tolerance."

It is to be a place where we thrive together because of our differences and our diversity.  And as imperfect as it is, and I do know its imperfections as the granddaughter of sharecroppers and I know its imperfections as someone whose ancestors at the time of Mr. Jefferson's Constitution were three-fifths of man.  I know its imperfections.

But as imperfect as it is, it is because it keeps striving and trying and pushing ahead harder and harder -- and because of impatient patriots who are determined to hold America to its greatest and grandest ideals -- that little by little, step by step, we made progress toward that more perfect union in which we all belong.

The Anti-Defamation League has been an extraordinary force in making that true.  Abe is an extraordinary force in his own right.

What Abe didn't tell you is that the book that he gave me, which was indeed in French, not only would I point out to people, but I remind them that I actually read French, so I know what's in it.
But it is just one example of what this organization does, it raises awareness and sometimes raising awareness is the most important thing that we can do.  But more often we have to not just raise awareness, we really have to struggle and we have to insist, and this organization has struggled and it has insisted.

I believe that the administration of George W. Bush will go down in history as one that also stood for these values and that struggled and that insisted.  See, it's been an extraordinary eight years and yes, quite frankly, I'm glad it's over.

But during that eight years, so much has changed for this country. But a lot has happened and a lot has changed too for the Middle East.

Now, when I hear about how the Middle East was disturbed for made worse somehow over the last eight years, I think to myself what Middle East were you talking about in 2001?  Would that have been the Middle East with Saddam Hussein in power?  The Middle East in which he put 300,000 of his own people in mass graves? Invaded his neighbors?  Sought and used weapons of mass destruction and was an implacable enemy of the United States?  Is it that Middle East that was so good in 2001?

Or maybe it's the Middle East in which Syrian forces were deep into Lebanon, maybe that was the Middle East that was so good in 2001.  Or perhaps it was the Middle East that imperceptibly below the surface was spawning Al Qaeda because of the authoritarian nature of the regimes in Middle East.

Oh, there was politics, it just wasn't politics of the sort that we see, it was the politics of the radical mosques and the politics of the radical Madrasa.  Is that the Middle East that was so much better in 2001? Or perhaps it was the Middle East that refused the agreement of Camp David in 2000 and instead launched the second Intifada with hundreds of Israelis dying not in the West Bank, not in Gaza, but along the banks on the shore of Tel Aviv.  In this coast and in pizza parlors and indeed in a terrible, terrible Passover massacre one horrible day in 2002.  Maybe that was the Middle East that in 2001 was worth preserving.

But, of course, President Bush -- and I am proud to have served with him -- did not accept that Middle East.  Rather, faced with the second Intifada in 2001 and continuing into 2002, some very important principles emerged that I believe guided us throughout that time. First and foremost, that Israel had a right to defend itself.  And that any country would. 

Secondly, that there was actually right and wrong, not somewhere in-between, not just shades of gray, actually right and wrong.

You see, terrorism against anyone, against innocents anyplace, anywhere, anytime can never be justified.  It is not something that can be written off to freedom fighters.  And we forget that in 2001, that's how people talked about Hamas or Hezbollah as freedom fighters.  They weren't.  They were just terrorists.  And like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas were branded as such by the United States of America.

And, yes, there was right and wrong and that right and wrong included that never, ever, could it be acceptable to brand a people just because of their religious and cultural heritage.  And that is why we did what we did.

And insisting, insisting, that countries around the world would know that anti-Semitism was not acceptable to the United States of America any where, any time, any place.

I believe in standing by these values and standing by these principles.  We laid a foundation that will one day change the face of the Middle East and change it for the better.  It will change it for the better because, ultimately, men and women in the Middle East will not accept that it is all right to kill the innocent.  Ultimately men and women in the Middle East will not accept that it is all right to treat women as second, third, or fourth-class citizens.

Ultimately, men and women in the Middle East will want to live in peace with Israel and that will permit the establishment of the Palestinian State that the Palestinians so deserve.  Because now there actually is a Palestinian leadership, not the leadership of Yasir Arafat, which in 2001 rejected peace, stole the people blind and launched the second Intifada, but rather a leadership that talks about the right of Israel to exist, that talks about the negotiated solution as the only solution and that has rejected violence.  That means that there will be a Palestinian State.  It will live in peace and security and democracy next to the Jewish democrat State of Israel.

That Middle East is coming. Now, I have often been branded as a hopeless optimist in saying such things.  But it's true, I am an optimist.  I'm optimistic for two very important reasons.  First of all, I'm optimistic because I have a sense of history and I know that today's headlines and history's judgment are rarely the same.

You see, in 1989, George H.W. Bush asked me to be his Soviet specialist.  Little did I know that that meant that I was going to be the Soviet specialist at the end of the Cold War in the White House.  It doesn't get better than that.

I was there for the unification for Germany, for the liberation of Eastern Europe, and for the beginnings of the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union.  Those were heady days.  

But, you know, really we were just harvesting good decisions that had been taken long, long before.  And so I think to myself and I would say to my colleagues at the State Department, imagine what it was like to walk into this building not in 1989 or 1990, but in 1946 when the Italian communists won 48% of the vote and the French communists 46% of the vote; in 1947, when there was civil war in Greece and civil conflict in Turkey when two million Europeans were starving in necessitating the Marshall Plan; or in 1948 when Harry Truman recognized Israel, setting off war in the Middle East; when the Berlin crisis split Germany we thought permanently; when Czechoslovakia fell to a communist coup; when in 1949, the Soviet Union exploded a nuclear weapon five years ahead of schedule, and the Chinese communists won; and 1950 the Korean War broke out.

Would anybody have believed that in 1991 the hammer and sickle would come down for the last time, 75 years of communism never mind or that in 2006 an American president would attend an NATO Summit in Latvia.  My friends, had you said that in 1950 or 1960 or 1970 or 1980, they would have had you committed.  So you see, history takes funny turns and has a long tail, and in troubled times that is what is important to remember.  So I'm optimistic because I have a sense of how history unfolds, especially in turbulent times.

But I'm also optimistic because I'm an American, and that's who we are.  We're optimists.  We had to be optimists or at least our forefathers did to come to this country on the shores of the northeast with essentially nothing -- except a desire to live in freedom from persecution of religious belief.

We had to be optimists to somehow believe that these 13 little states along the Eastern Seaboard were going to defeat the greatest naval and military power of the time, Great Britain.

Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence?  What an incredibly audacious little document that is.  We had to be optimists, my ancestors, to continue to live under the whip and in chains, and somehow to raise families, to believe in God, and to pass on to the next generation an insatiable appetite for freedom.

We had to be optimists to endure the hundreds of thousands dead in the Civil War and still believe, as Abraham Lincoln did, that we could emerge as one country.

We had to be optimists to recognize a small lonely Jewish state in a hostile, hostile Middle East and believe that somehow a democratic Jewish State could be born.

We had to be optimists to live in Jim Crow, as I did in segregation.  To have not a single white classmate until we moved to Denver when I was in tenth grade and to still have parents who probably wouldn't have been so surprised that their daughter became Secretary of State.

We had to be optimists to believe that we would finally elect an African-American as President of the United States.

And so, my friends, with all that we are enduring today, the financial crisis, the financial trials that are not just the headlines or the stories, but hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of very sad personal stories.

Even though we are enduring these days difficulties that make us wonder, "Is there something wrong with this system?  Is there something wrong with our belief in free enterprise?  Is there something wrong with that belief that we've always had that's always held us together that life will really be, if not so good for us, better for our children."

Should we give up on those beliefs?  No. Because if any one of our ancestors along that long, long journey to where we are today had just stopped for a moment and asked the question "Can this succeed?" they might not have kept going.

And so I say to you I'm optimistic because I've seen what Americans can do.  And we'll do it again.  And because we'll do it again, we will continue to lead the world in the fight for prosperity, in the fight against poverty and disease, but most importantly in the insistence that there will be liberty and justice for all.

Thank you very much.

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Dr. Condoleezza Rice Tells ADL She Is Optimistic About Future For Middle East Peace

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