Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden the 67th Annual Israeli Independence Day Celebration
Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium
7:29 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ron, Mr. Ambassador, my name is Joe Biden, and everybody knows I love Israel.
I was thinking as Ron was saying that he doesn't know what it’s like in Catholic families -- whether we argue as much as allegedly occurs in Jewish families. Well, I settled all that. Two of my three children married Jews. (Laughter.) And you want to see what happens then. (Laughter.)
As a matter of fact, my daughter -- I -- the dream of every Irish-Catholic father is for his daughter to marry a Jewish surgeon. (Laughter.) And she did.
But I want you to know I think the only time on record, at least in the state of Delaware, in the oldest Catholic church in the state, the second oldest -- 1842 -- we signed the ketubah in the Catholic rectory. (Laughter.) Not a joke. (Laughter.) Not a joke. I think that's a first. We had a chuppah on the altar, handmade, magnificently, beautiful chuppah. And we had a Catholic priest, Father Murphy, and a rabbi, and it was hard getting a rabbi, by the way. (Laughter.) I had to go up to Montgomery County to find one. (Laughter.) And the reason why -- Montgomery County, Pennsylvania -- and the reason he came is his mother loved me. (Laughter.) But -- and my daughter asked me, she said, Daddy, what do you want played at the wedding? I said, just one -- maybe the concluding hymn could be “On Eagles’ Wings”.
And so the rabbi was a wonderful guy, literally presided over 75 percent of the wedding. The vows were administered by the Catholic priest. And as the wedding party was departing, as the bride and groom were departing down the aisle, they played the hora. (Laughter.) So I figured it out. One way to end arguments is to marry. (Laughter.)
Look, the fact of the matter is that 77 years [sic] ago, at midnight on May 14, 1948, against all odds, in the wake of searing tragedy, defiant in the face of overwhelming military numbers massed on its borders, the modern State of Israel was born. (Applause.)
What you did next was no less than miraculous. You were blessed with one of the greatest generations of founding fathers and mothers of any nation in the history of the world -- Ben-Gurion, Meir, Begin, Sharon, Rabin, Peres. They all fashioned Israel into a vibrant, vibrant democracy.
And in the process, you built one of the most innovative societies on Earth. In the process, you defended your homeland and became the most powerful military in the entire region. And all these years later, things have changed, but the danger still exists. But the people of Israel still live in a dangerous neighborhood. And just to be an Israeli -- it still demands uncommon courage.
Much has changed, but two things have remained absolutely the same: the courage of your people and the commitment of mine. (Applause.)
So today, we celebrate your independence and our friendship, which was born just 11 minutes after Israel’s founding. And President Obama and I are proud to carry forward the unbroken line of American leaders –- Democrat and Republican —- who have honored America’s sacred promise to protect the homeland of the Jewish people.
It’s no secret that, like administrations before us, as the Ambassador said, we’ve had our differences. I have been here for a long time, for eight Presidents. I’ve witnessed disagreements between administrations. It’s only natural for two democracies like ours. As Ron said, we’re like family. We have a lot to say to one another. Sometimes we drive each other crazy. But we love each other. And we protect each other. (Applause.)
And it’s hard to see with these lights, but I suspect I know many of you personally. As many of you heard me say before, were there no Israel, America would have to invent one. We’d have to invent one because Ron is right, you protect our interests like we protect yours. (Applause.)
So let’s get something straight. In this moment of some disagreement occasionally between our governments, I want to set the record straight on one thing: No President has ever done more to support Israel’s security than President Barack Obama. (Applause.)
Just look at the facts. Each time a rocket has rained down from Gaza, President Obama stands up before the world and defends Israel’s right to defend itself like any other nation.
Under President Obama, with the United States Congress, America has provided $20 billion in military assistance to Israel -– and cutting edge weaponry needed to maintain the qualitative advantage against any potential opponent.
You all know the stories of Iron Dome. What you may not know is that next year, we will deliver to Israel the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter –- our finest -– making Israel the only country in the Middle East with a fifth-generation aircraft. No other. (Applause.)
And we continue to discuss, as the Israeli military here and the intelligence communities will tell you in Israel as well as here -- we continue to discuss what more must be done in the near term and the long term to continue to strengthen Israel so she can maintain that edge. (Applause.)
Our commitment to protect Israel’s security in my case and many of your case is not just political or national interest, it’s personal. It’s personal for me and it’s personal for the President.
You've heard me say this many of my friends out there before, but it bears repeating on this day, it began at my father’s dinner table. My father was a righteous Christian. We assembled to eat, to have discussions -- and occasionally eat. My father talked about how he could not understand why there was a debate among Americans or why there was a debate among American Jews about whether or not we should have recognized Israel; why there would be any debate about why we hadn’t done more; why we hadn’t -- that's where I first learned about not bombing the railroad tracks. I learned from my father about the concentration camps. And the first thing I did with my children when each of them turned 15, I took them to Europe, flew them directly to Dachau, and made them spend a day there with me. And I’ve done the same with my grandchildren. My grandchild Finnegan as recently as just a month ago where we met with a 94-year-old survivor of Auschwitz, as well as Dachau. He showed us the camp because he was proud -- proud -- to welcome the Vice President and his granddaughter.
All you have to do to understand is stand on the Golan and look down. I remember the first time I did that as a young senator. All you have to do is wander throughout Israel. All you have to do is take that helicopter ride the entire length of the fence. All you have to do is just look at the map. All you had to is set foot at Yad Vashem -— and you understand.
I’ve had the great privilege of knowing every Israeli Prime Minister since Golda Meir and more than just casually. And I’ve worked with many of you in this room for up to 40 years. You know me. You raised me. You educated me. And I know you.
So believe me when I tell you: It’s not only personal to me, it’s personal to President Obama, as well. The President was raised with memories of his great-uncle, who marched with Patton’s Army to liberate Jewish prisoners from the horrors of Buchenwald. As a young man, he grew up learning about Israel from the stories of Leon Uris’ in “Exodus”; the Six-Day War; and Moshe Dayan, with his eye patch and his courage. I remember sitting in front of Golda Meir’s desk as she flipped those maps up and down, chain-smoking, talking about the losses of the Six-Day War, sitting next to her military attaché at the time, a guy named Rabin.
But Barack, as a young senator -- being 19 years younger than I am, he heard about it. He read about it. As senator, Barack Obama went to a small town in southern Israel to see with his own eyes the lives of the families who live under threat of rockets -– families that he has helped protect as Commander-in-Chief, under Iron Dome.
As President, he stood in Jerusalem, and declared to the whole world, “Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them or the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere. So long as the United States of America is there, Israel will never be alone.” (Applause.) He means it. He means it. You know I mean it. I’m telling you he means it.
That’s my President. He understands the need for Israel to have the right and the capacity and the capability to defend itself. At the same time, he says, “we have Israel’s back” -- and you can count on it.
The same commitment to the survival and security of Israel is fundamental to our strategy for the entire Middle East. And then we get into the controversial piece. Iran. Remember this is the President who made it for the first time in American history a declared policy of the United States to use all the instruments of our power to prevent -— not contain, prevent –- Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon. He stated that all options are on the table -— then he made sure of what did not exist before. He made sure we spent the time and money and the research to develop the capacity required to act against their capacity to develop a weapon if ever needed.
Over the skepticism of many, we worked with the U.S. Congress, our European allies, and Russia, China, to put in place the toughest sanctions regime in modern history.
We also knew the cost of not negotiating. Midway through the last administration, the U.S. government refused to directly engage. It insisted at the same time that Iran dismantle its entire program.
The result? By the time President Bush left office, Iran had dramatically advanced its movement toward ability to acquire a nuclear weapon. So we’ve taken a different approach, combining unprecedented pressure with direct diplomacy to find an enduring solution.
Negotiations began. And we’ve come a long way. And you’ve all seen the parameters that were put forward. It’s a framework, only a framework -- not a final deal. A great deal of work lies ahead to see if Iran will actually enshrine the commitments that went into that framework as part of a final deal.
If they do, each of Iran’s paths to a bomb would be meaningfully and verifiably blocked. Iran would cut its enrichment capacity by two-thirds; shrink its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent. Breakout time to create a weapon’s worth of bomb-grade material will go from two to three months, which it is today, to over a year.
The deal would ensure at least a one-year breakout cushion for a decade. And for years after that, the breakout time would continue to be longer than it exists today.
We’ll prevent the Arak reactor from ever being a source of plutonium for nuclear weapons. We will put in place the toughest transparency and verification requirements in history -— providing the best possible check against a secret path to the bomb.
This isn’t a grand bargain between the United States and Iran. It’s a nuclear bargain between Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany, the EU, America and Iran. It’s based on hard-hitting, hard-headed, uncompromising assessments of what is required to protect ourselves, Israel, the region, and the world.
And if the final deal on the table that doesn’t meet the President’s requirements, we simply will not sign it.
A final deal must effectively cut off Iran’s pathways to the bomb. If it doesn’t, no deal.
A final deal must ensure a breakout timeline at least for one year for a decade. If it doesn’t, no deal.
A final deal must include phased sanctions relief, calibrated against Iran taking meaningful steps to constrain their program. If it doesn’t, no deal.
A final deal must provide a verifiable assurance to the international community demands to ensure Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful going forward. If it doesn’t, no deal.
And if Iran cheats at any time and goes for a nuclear weapon –- every option we have to respond today remains on the table. And your military will tell you, and more.
I’ve been involved in arms control negotiations since I was a kid in the Senate at 30 years of age -- every major SALT agreement, START agreement, and toward the end, I was deeply involved negotiating when Brezhnev was still around, leading a delegation of senators. But just like arms control talks with the Soviet Union —- another regime we fundamentally disagreed with, another regime whose rhetoric was outrageous and unacceptable, another regime whose proxies were forcefully making trouble, and we forcefully countered around the world –- we negotiated to reduce the nuclear threat to prevent a nuclear war. And it kept us safer. That’s what we’re attempting to do today.
We also continue to agree with Israeli leaders going back decades –- from Rabin to Sharon, whose funeral I had the great honor of eulogizing –- that a two-state solution is essential to Israel’s long-term survival as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people. Consistent with our commitment to Israel’s security and survival, the United States stands ready to help Israel decide -- if they decide -- how to get there and if they want our help in getting there.
I’ll always remember what my friend and mentor, and Holocaust survivor who worked for me as my national security advisor before he became Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos once said. He said, “the veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians and can never rest.”
That’s why we must never retreat from fighting every scourge and source of anti-Semitism as we find it. You see, in too many places where legitimate criticism crosses over into bigotry and anti-Semitism; where an explicitly anti-Semitic attack takes place at a kosher grocery store; assaults on religious Jews in the streets of major European capitals. Some of you may remember how harshly I was criticized as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee over 15 years ago when I held hearings on anti-Semitism in Europe. Emerson said, society is like a wave, the wave moves on, but the particles remain the same. Wherever, in whatever country, whatever circumstance it rears its head, we have to stop it.
Enough is enough. We have to fight it everywhere we find it.
I’ll conclude -- and my friends kid me and I imagine Ron may, as well -- telling you the story about my meeting with Golda Meir. The reason I do it had a profound impact on me, one of the most consequential meetings I’ve ever had in my life. I think I’ve met every major world leader in the last 36 or 37 years in the world, in a literal sense.
But I remember meeting for close to an hour with her. She went through what happened in the Six-Day War, and the price that was paid. And I just had come from Egypt. They let me go to Egypt and go to the Suez Canal. And I was saying to she and Rabin that I thought that they were getting ready to attack again. And everyone including my military and Israeli military thought I was crazy.
I remember driving from Cairo all the way to out to the Suez. And you could see these great plumes of dust and sand. But none it seemed isolated. It turns out it was maneuvers taking place in the desert. And I was really worried. And we went through, and she painted a bleak, bleak picture -- scared the hell out of me, quite frankly, about the odds.
And all of a sudden she looked at and she said, would you like a photograph? And I said, yes, ma’am. And those double-blind doors opened up into that hallway -- not hallway. It looks like -- it’s a foyer. And we walked out, and the press was standing there. We didn't say anything. We just stood side by side. And she must have thought I looked worried. And it’s an absolutely true story. She didn't look at me, she spoke to me. She said, Senator, you look so worried. I said, well, my God, Madam Prime Minister, and I turned to look at her. I said, the picture you paint. She said, oh, don't worry. We have -- I thought she only said this to me. She said, we have a secret weapon in our conflict with the Arabs. You see, we have no place else to do.
I was criticized in the national press a couple weeks ago when I said that, in fact, every Jew in the world needs there to be an Israel. And it was characterized by some of the conservative press as saying that I was implying Jews weren’t safe in America. They don't get it. They don't get it. Israel, Israel is absolutely essential -- absolutely essential -- security of Jews around the world. And that's why you have never farmed out your security. You’ve accepted all the help we could give. The most admirable thing about you is you’ve never asked us to fight for you. But I promise you, if you were attacked and overwhelmed, we would fight for you, in my view. (Applause.)
The truth of the matter is we need you. The world needs you. Imagine what it would say about humanity and the future of the 21st century if Israel were not sustained, vibrant and free.
We’ll never stop working to ensure that Jews from around the world always have somewhere to go. We’ll never stop working to make sure Israel has a qualitative edge. And whomever the next President is -- Republican or Democrat -- it will be the same because the American people, the American people are committed. The America people understand.
So I say happy birthday, Israel. Happy Independence Day. May God bless you and may God bless and protect the United States of America. Thank you all so very much. (Applause.)
7:52 P.M. EDT