Vice President Joe Biden's Speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference (Transcript):
Thank you, Mr. President. It's great to be here. It's great to be here. Hey, evi.
Ladies and gentlemen, oh, what a difference 40 years make. I look out there and see an old friend, Annette Lantos. Annette how are you? Her husband Tom Lantos, a survivor, was my assistant, was my foreign policy adviser for years. And Tom used to say all the time, Joe -- he talked that Hungarian accent -- Joe, we must do another fundraiser for AIPAC. I did more fundraisers for AIPAC in the '70s and early '80s than -- just about as many as anybody. Thank God you weren't putting on shows like this.
We would have never made it. We would have never made it. My Lord, it's so great to be with you all and great to see you. Mr. President, thank you so much for that kind introduction. And President-elect Bob Cohen, the entire AIPAC board of directors, I'm delighted to be with you today.
But I'm particularly delighted to be with an old friend -- and he is an old friend. We use that phrase lightly in Washington, but it's real, and I think he'd even tell you. Ehud Barak, it's great to be with you. Great to be with you. There is a stand-up guy. There is a stand-up guy, standing up for his country, putting his life on the line for his country and continuing to defend the values that we all share. I -- I'm a fan of the man. Thanks for being here, Ehud. It's good to be with you again.
Ladies and gentlemen, a lot of you know me if you're old enough. Some of you don't know me. And understand I can't see now, but on the bleachers on either side, I am told you have 2,000 young AIPAC members here. (Cheers, applause.) We've talked about this a lot over the years. We've talked about it a lot. This is the lifeblood. This is the connective tissue. This is the reason why no American will ever forget. You've got to keep raising it.
Ladies and gentlemen, we -- (audio break) -- shoulder to shoulder, a lot of us -- (audio break) -- this auditorium, defending the legitimate interests of Israel and our enduring commitment over the last four years, and many of you in this hall -- I won't start to name them, but many of you in this hall, starting with Annette Lantos, whose husband, who is not here, God rest his soul -- many of you in this hall have been my teachers, my mentors and my educators. And that is not hyperbole; you literally have been.
But my education started, as some of you know, at my father's dinner table. My father's what you would have called a righteous Christian. We gathered at my dinner table to have conversation -- and, incidentally, eat -- as we were growing up. It was a table -- it was at that table I first heard the phrase -- it is overused sometimes today, but in a sense not used meaningfully enough -- first I heard the phrase "never again." It was that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that it could never happen again was the establishment and existence of a secure Jewish state of Israel.
I remember my father -- I remember my father, a Christian, being baffled at the debate taking place at the end of World War II, talking about it -- I don't remember it at that time, but about how there could be a debate about whether or not -- within the community of whether or not to establish the state of Israel.
My father would say, were he a Jew, he would never, never entrust the security of his people to any individual nation, no matter how good and how noble and -- (audio break) -- like the United States. (Applause.) Everybody knows it's (real ?).
But I want you to know one thing. With some of you -- I've met with a lot of you over the last 40 years, but the last four years as well -- President Obama shares my commitment. We both know that Israel faces new threats, new pressures and uncertainty. The defense minister and I have discussed it often.
In the area of national security, the threats to Israel's existence continue, but they have changed as the world and the region have changed over the last decade.
The Arab Spring, at once full of both hope and uncertainty, has required Israel and the United States to reassess old and settled relationships. Iran -- Iran's dangerous nuclear weapons program and its continued support of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas not only endanger Israel but endanger the world. Attempts -- (applause) -- attempts of much of the world to isolate and delegitimize the state of Israel are increasingly common and taken as the norm in other parts of the world.
All these -- all these pressures are similar but different. And they've put enormous pressure on the state of Israel. We understand that. And we especially understand that if we make a mistake, it's not a threat to our existence, but if Israel makes a mistake, it could be a threat to its very existence. (Applause.)
And that's why -- that's why from the moment the president took office, he has acted swiftly and decisively to make clear to the whole world and to Israel that even as circumstances have changed, one thing has not: our deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel. That has not changed. (Cheers, applause.) That will not change as long as I and he are president and vice president of the United States.
It's in our naked self-interest, beyond the moral imperative. All of you -- I thank you for continuing to remind the nation and the world of that commitment.
And while we may not always agree on tactics -- and I've been around a long time; I've been there for a lot of prime ministers -- we've always disagreed on tactics. We've always disagreed at some point or another on tactics. But ladies and gentlemen, we have never disagreed on the strategic imperative that Israel must be able to protect its own -- (audio break) -- everything in our power, we did everything that reasonably could have been expected to avoid any confrontation.
And that matters because, God forbid, if we have to act, it's important that the rest of the world is with us.
We have a united international community -- (applause) -- we have a united international community right behind these unprecedented sanctions. We have left Iran more isolated than ever. When we came to office, as you remember -- not because of the last administration, just a reality -- Iran was on the ascendency in the region. It is no longer on the ascendency.
The purpose of this pressure is not to punish. It is to convince Iran to make good on its international obligations. Put simply, we are sharpening a choice that the Iranian leadership has to make: They can meet their obligations and give the international community ironclad confidence in the peaceful nature of their program, or they can continue down the path they're on to further isolate and mounting pressure of the world.
But even preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon still leaves them a dangerous neighbor, particularly to Israel. They are using terrorist proxies to spread violence in the region and beyond the region, putting Israelis, Americans, citizens of every continent in danger. For too long Hezbollah has tried to pose as nothing more than a political and social welfare group while plotting against innocents in Eastern Europe, from Eastern Europe to East Africa, from Southeast Asia to South America. We know what Israel knows: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, period. (Applause.)
And we -- and me -- we are urging every nation in the world that we deal with -- and we deal with them all -- to start treating Hezbollah as such and naming them as a terrorist organization. (Applause.)
This isn't just about a threat to Israel and the United States. It's about a global terrorist organization that has targeted people on several continents. We'll say and we'll do our part to stop them, and we ask -- we ask the world to do the same.
That's why we've been talking to our friends in Europe to forcefully declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. This past month, I've made the case to the European -- leading European heads of state, as Barack and Israelis know. Together, we have to continue to confront Hezbollah wherever it shows -- sows the seeds of hatred and stands against the nations that sponsor campaigns of terror.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States and Israel have a shared interest in Syria as well. Assad has shown his father's disregard for human life and dignity, engaging in brutal murder of his own citizens. Our position on that tragedy could not be clearer: Assad must go, but we are not signing up for one murderous gang replacing another in Damascus. (Applause.)
That's why -- that's why our focus is on supporting the legitimate opposition, not only committed to peaceful Syria but to a peaceful region. That's why we're carefully vetting those to whom we provide assistance.
That's why, while putting relentless pressure on Assad and sanctioning the pro-regime Iranian-backed militia, we've also designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization.
And because we recognize the great danger of Assad's chemical and biological arsenals pose to Israel and the United States -- (audio break) -- whole world, we've set a clear red line against the use or the transfer of those weapons. And we will work together to prevent this conflict, and these -- these horrific weapons from threatening Israel's security.
And while we try to ensure an end to the dictatorship in Syria, we have supported and will support a genuine transition to Egyptian democracy. We are not -- we have no illusions. We know how difficult this will be and how difficult it is.
There's been -- obviously been a dramatic change in Egypt. A lot of it has given us hope, and a lot of it has given us pause, and a lot of it has caused fears in other quarters. It's not about us. But it profoundly affects us. We need to be invested in Egypt's success and stability. A stable, successful Egypt will translate into a stable region.
We're -- we're not looking at what's happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Again, our eyes are wide open. We have no illusions about the challenges that we face.
But we also know this: There's no legitimate alternative, at this point, to engagement. Only through engagement -- it's only through engagement that Egypt -- with Egypt that we can focus Egypt's leaders on the need to repair international obligations -- respect international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel. It's only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not rearm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk. It's only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt's government on the -- on -- on the imperative of confronting extremists.
And it's only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt's leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process.
And it's all tough. And there's no certainty. There's no certitude about anything in the Arab Spring.
I expect President Obama to cover each of these issues in much greater detail. I've learned one thing, as I was telling the president. I learned it's never a good idea, Ehud, to steal the president's thunder. It's never a good idea to say what he's going to say the next day.
So I'm not going to any further detail on this, but much greater detail -- he will discuss this when he goes to Israel later this month, just before Passover begins. Now, I have to admit -- (chuckles) -- I'm a little jealous that he gets to be the one to say "this year in Jerusalem" -- (laughter, cheers, applause) -- but I'm the vice president. I'm not the president. So I -- when I told him that, I'm not sure he thought I was serious or not.
But anyway -- (laughter) -- as will come as no surprise to you, the president and I have -- not only are partners, we've become friends. And he and I have spoken at length about this trip. And I can assure you he's particularly looking forward to having a chance to hear directly from the people of Israel, and beyond their political leaders, and particularly the younger generation of Israelis. And I must note -- I must note, just as I'm getting a chance to speak to 2,000 young American Jews involved and committed to the state of Israel and the relationship with the United States, he's as anxious -- he's as anxious to do what I got a chance to do when I was there last, Ehud, with you as you flew me along the line. I got to go to Tel Aviv University and speak to several thousand young Israelis.
(Audio break) -- vibrancy -- the vibrancy, the optimism, the absolute commitment is contagious, and he's looking forward to seeing it and feeling it and tasting it.
The president looks forward to having -- having conversations about their hopes and their aspirations, about their astonishing worldly and technological achievements, about the future they envision for themselves and for their country, about how different the world they face is from the one their parents faced, even if many of the threats are the same. These are really important conversations for the president to have and to hear and for them to hear. These are critically important.
I get kidded -- again, to quote Debbie (sp), she kids me sometimes. Everybody quotes -- Democrat and Republican -- quotes Tip O'Neill saying, all politics is local. With all due respect, Lonnie (sp), I think that's not right. I think all politics is personal, and I mean it. All politics is personal, and it's building personal relationships and trust and exposure and talking to people. That really matters, particularly in foreign policy.
So ladies and gentlemen, let me end where I began, by reaffirming our commitment to the state of Israel. It's not only a long-standing moral commitment; it's a strategic commitment. An independent Israel, secure in its own borders, recognized by the world is in the practical strategic interest of the United States of America. I used to say when I -- Lonnie's (sp) brother used to say, if there were no Israel, we'd have to invent one.
Ladies and gentlemen, we also know that it's critical to remind every generation of Americans, as you're doing with your children here today -- it's critical to remind our children, my children, your children -- that's why the first time I ever took the three of my children separately to Europe, the first place I took them was Dachau.
We flew to Munich and went to Dachau -- the first thing they ever did, as Annette will remember -- because it's important that all our children and grandchildren understand that this is a never-ending -- a never-ending requirement.
The preservation of an independent Jewish state is the ultimate guarantor -- it's the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people in the world.
That was most poignantly pointed out to me -- (applause) -- that was most poignantly pointed out to me when I was a young senator making my first trip to Israel. I had the great, great honor -- and I'm not -- that is not hyperbole -- of getting to meet for the first time and subsequently -- I met her beyond that -- Golda Meir. She was the prime minister. (Applause.) Now I'm sure every kid up there said, you can't be that old, Senator. (Laughter.) I hope that's what you're saying. (Laughter.) But seriously, the first trip I ever made -- and y'all know those double doors -- you'd go in the office -- and the blond furniture and the desk on the left side, if I'm -- memory serves me correctly. And Golda Meir, as the prime minister and the defense minister, she had those maps behind her that -- you know, you could pull down all those maps like you had in geography class in -- you know, in -- in high school. And she sat behind her desk, and I sat in the chair in front of her desk, and a young man was sitting to my right who was her assistant. His name was Yitzhak Rabin. Seriously. Absolutely true story. (Applause.)
And she sat there chain-smoking and reading letters, reading letters to me, letters from the front in the Six-Day War. She read the letters of, you know, about -- and -- and then told me how this young man or woman had died and missed her family. And this went on for I don't know how long. And I -- I guess she could tell I was visibly moved by this. I was -- and I was getting depressed about it. Oh my God, what -- And she suddenly looked at me and said -- and I -- I gave her my word as a Biden on this -- she looked at me, she said -- she said, Senator, would you like a photo opportunity? (Laughter.) And I looked at her, I said, well, yes, Madam Prime Minister. I -- I mean, (I was ?) -- and we walk out those doors -- and we walked out the doors, we stood there -- no -- no more statements.
And we're standing next to one another, look at this array of media, television and -- and -- and photo journalists, take -- snapping pictures. And we're looking straight ahead. Without looking at me, she speaks to me, she said, Senator, don't look so sad. She said, we have our -- we have a secret weapon. We have a secret weapon in our confrontation in this part of the world. And I thought, she's about to lean over and tell me about a system or something. And I, without -- because you can see the picture, I still have them -- I turn to look at her -- you know, we were supposed to be looking straight ahead. And I said, Madam Prime Minister --- she never turned her head, kept looking -- she said -- she said, our secret weapon, Senator, is we have no place else to go. We have no place else to go.
Ladies and gentlemen, our job is to make sure there's always a place to go, that there's always an Israel, that there's always a secure Israel, and there's an Israel that can care for itself.
(Applause.) My father was right. You are right. It's the ultimate guarantor of "never again."
God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you.
Vice President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, after the Vice President spoke at the AIPAC conference, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, Mar. 4, 2013. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)