Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, Ministers, General Gantz, Members of Knesset, Ambassadors, distinguished guests: as we gather to mark United States Independence Day, we do so knowing that Israel has recently lost three of her own.
A mother should never have to mourn the death of her son, nor a nation bury her children. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar, whose kidnapping and murder shook all people of conscience. The American people stand with the people of Israel in their time of mourning. President Obama has offered his full support to find the perpetrators of this senseless act of terror, which we wholeheartedly condemn.
Please join me for a moment of silence.
Our thoughts and prayers are also with the family of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir this evening, whose murder shakes us all.
Mr. Prime Minister, I thank you and other members of your government for your swift and clear condemnation of this terrible act, which we share.
And while the authorities continue the investigation, I want to express our support for your emphatic call for all sides “not to take the law into their own hands.”
As we struggle to make sense of recent events, we must all resist the urge to channel our pain and anguish into violence or retribution. The American people stand with all of those who stand for peace in this time of mourning and reflection.
But it is an American and an Israeli trait, even in the midst of sorrow, to find cause to celebrate, to move forward.
So I want to wish all of you, Bruchim HaBa’im. It is wonderful to see all of you here as we celebrate the 238th birthday of the United States of America. Julie and I are grateful for the presence of so many dear friends and special guests.
I want to extend a special welcome to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara. In the United States we celebrate July 4th with good friends, so I’m glad that we are able to continue that tradition.
Mr. Prime Minister, it is particularly meaningful that you would take the time to celebrate with us amidst a very complex and difficult set of challenges. You honor us with your presence, and we thank you for your decades of friendship to the United States.
Welcome to Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ted Deutsch, both of the great state of Florida, two of Israel’s leading friends and supporters in Congress, and their delegation, who are joining us for our celebration today.
I would also like to thank our great musical performers this evening: the Jazz Band from the Rimon School of Music, the U.S. Air Force Rock Band “Afterburner,” and Cantor Tamar Havilio and Ori Shakiv, who also did beautiful renditions of our national anthems. Let’s give them a round of applause.
And for all those celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, thank you for joining us, and I wish you a Ramadan Kareem.
I would also like to take a moment to congratulate our USAID Mission on its 20th anniversary. Their work has helped build a more democratic, stable, and secure region by encouraging cooperation among Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans.
Thanks also to the American companies here tonight for lending your support and products to make this evening a success. Thank you for your generosity, and for enhancing the economic bonds between our countries.
Julie and I also want to offer our thanks to our hardworking U.S. Embassy staff members, who have worked tirelessly to prepare for this special event. We are grateful for your service to our nation.
Lastly, and especially tonight, Julie and I want to welcome and honor another great friend of the United States, President Shimon Peres.
President Peres, we are so happy you have taken your time to be with us once again, to join us in celebrating our most important national holiday: the celebration of our birth as a nation. As you near the completion of your term as President, and prepare for the next chapter in your extraordinary life of service, you got a taste of the deep friendship felt for you in the United States last week by the decision of the House and Senate to award you the Congressional Gold Medal.
On behalf of President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and the American people, thank you for your friendship and your service.
America looks quite different today than it did 238 years ago. The America of 1776 had great visionaries, but it has taken over two hundred years for every American citizen to experience life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as envisioned by our founders. Indeed, our work is not yet complete, and it is ongoing.
Every year, every 4th of July, we mark how we have progressed as a nation, and acknowledge our leaders and fellow citizens who have had the vision, determination, and drive to make difficult choices when it seemed like everyone was against them.
Vocalized by our founders, generations of Americans have practiced its message. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”
Or, in other words, Dr. King, who was steeped in the Bible, might have said: Hazak v’Amatz; be strong and of good courage. The struggle to build a more-perfect union – even in the face of adversity – is a central part of the American experience.
84 years after our Declaration of Independence was signed, President Abraham Lincoln made the painful decision to lead our country into war – with itself – because he believed that slavery should no longer be a part of America’s destiny.
Yesterday, we marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act – a landmark piece of legislation that, when it passed, faced significant opposition, but succeeded in outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
These Americans – and countless others – all embody the will, vision, and indeed – the faith that their actions would make our country stronger and safer. These difficult decisions have helped us unlock the true potential of our country and our citizens.
The United States is a nation of immigrants, and we are ever re-inventing ourselves. Every year we discover a new, fuller sense of our independence and self-determination. Every year we try to break through the burdens of our history to create a better future for all of our citizens.
The constant striving to build a more perfect union echoes one of my favorite teachings from Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers: Lo Alecha Hamlacha ligmor, v’lo ata ben horin l’hibateil mimenah. You are not required to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
Our work is ongoing, and at times, it takes strength and courage to continue it. On Monday, President Obama spoke of the need to reform our immigration system. He noted something that stayed with me:
“There is something about the United States where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, where the different cultures and ideas and energies come together to create something new.”
He was describing one of the most beautiful characteristics of America. But he could have been talking about Israel, and no one would have known the difference. As two democracies with similar values, histories, multicultural backgrounds, and hopes and visions for a secure, peaceful, prosperous future for our citizens, our fate is tightly linked.
From President Harry Truman through President Barack Obama, and every Administration in between, the United States has always been Israel’s greatest friend. That will never change. The United States will never waver in its commitment to the security of Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself, and in our support for the Israeli people.
Through our deep friendship, our rock-solid security alliance, our strong economic bonds, our shared spirit of innovation, and most importantly, our shared values, we have shown time and again that together we can meet every challenge we face.
We stand together in the pursuit of security in an unstable region. We stand together in pursuing peace in a two-states-for-two-peoples solution between Israelis and Palestinians, and in pursuit of peace between Israel and all of its neighbors. We stand together in strengthening the partnership between a strong, secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel, and its greatest ally, the United States of America.
Like the pursuit of a more perfect union, this work is never finished. But while we are not required to complete the work, neither are we free to desist from it. Lo Aleinu Hamlacha ligmor, v’lo anachnu bnei horin l’hibateil mimenah.
In the pursuit of these goals, we share a bond that cannot be broken. And we give each other strength and courage to overcome whatever obstacles lie before us. Hizku v’Emtzu. Be strong and of good courage!
Thank you all again for being here tonight and for all that you continue to do to strengthen our bonds of friendship between our two nations. Julie and I look forward to getting out and seeing more of you in the year to come. Happy 4th of July!