Sapir Academic College
Good afternoon. It is an honor to address you on the anniversary of Kaf-Tet B’November, 1947. I think I will leave it to the acclaimed historians you will hear from later today to analyze what happened that day, how we got there and what happened afterwards.
I would like to use this occasion, when we are remembering what was, arguably, Israel’s finest day at the United Nations, to focus on the United States’ ongoing efforts to defend Israel’s legitimacy and security at the United Nations; and, more broadly, to promote our common values, to pursue our shared interests and to increase our common prosperity.
At the United Nations
In the November 29, 1947, vote on General Assembly Resolution 181, the United States voted in favor of partition, but no less important than the American “Yes” vote was the work done by American officials behind the scenes to cajole “Yes” votes from countries that might otherwise have voted “No” or abstained.
Since that time, the United States continues to wield influence at the United Nations on issues that pertain to Israel. We have consistently taken the lead in blocking unfair or biased resolutions, and at other times have brokered compromises Israel could live with. We will continue to stand with Israel and against one-sided resolutions even if we are the only country to do so.
At the U.N. and in other international forums the United States fights relentlessly to protect Israel’s legitimacy, ensure it is treated fairly, and create the diplomatic space that Israel needs to respond to an ever-changing threat matrix.
Our fight—your fight—is not only about defense, it’s also about inclusion. And I am particularly proud that under President Obama we have continued to achieve progress in the long struggle to secure Israel its full and equal role across the entire UN system.
Earlier this year, after five unsuccessful attempts, the Israeli NGO Zaka, which ensures proper burial for victims of tragedies, was granted consultative status by the U.N. Economic and Social Committee. Zaka had previously been blocked from this status because it was an Israeli NGO. This may sound a bit obscure to some, but let me assure you that Zaka—and other Israeli NGOs we have helped, like Save a Child’s Heart and Beit Issie Shapiro—these NGOs benefit from participating at the UN and being on the global stage.
This past June, thanks to effective diplomacy, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, won election to chair the United Nations’ legal committee, the first time ever an Israeli will head one of the UN’s six principal committees. That is progress.
Also this year, for the first time, no meetings were held at the United Nations on Yom Kippur, as this Jewish holiday joins Christmas, Eid al-Fitr, and Thanksgiving as an official United Nations holiday. It was a campaign started by Ron Prosor, the former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N., and a campaign that would not have succeeded without America’s support.
More Israelis now have opportunities to work in U.N. agencies, including at the Secretariat in New York; Israel is now a fuller member of regional groupings—which are the backbone of the system that grants leadership roles; and Israel has been able to successful run resolutions in the General Assembly.
Have no doubt, there is still plenty of room for improvement. For example, it is outrageous that the only country in the world with a standing agenda item at the Human Rights Council is Israel and the United States has made clear that so long as the Council persists in its efforts to delegitimize and isolate Israel, it will be profoundly limited in the good it can accomplish. And there are other problems, but alongside there is also progress. The international community has much to gain from Israel being more fully involved across the entire United Nations system.
Three pillars – values, interests and properity
Beyond the U.N., our unique alliance has never been more robust. It rests on a strong foundation of three pillars: common values, shared interests and our common prosperity.
For seven decades, our two nations have stood as beacons of freedom, democracy, and human rights. Our common values are those core beliefs that animate how our societies function at home and how we conduct ourselves internationally.
In Israel, President Obama said during his visit here in 2013, “we see values that we share.” We are both deeply committed to democracy, and to seeking and pursuing justice for all of our citizens.
In a world where freedom still struggles, Israel and America lead in safeguarding the rights our own citizens to speak, associate and worship freely in an open and tolerant society.
Our common values also animate America’s resolute opposition to scourges like anti-Semitism, which we fight across the globe.
Our commitment to help all citizens realize their rights and their potential animates why we work closely with Israeli partners in the LGBT, disabilities, and women’s sectors—as well as with communities as diverse as Haredim and Bedouin. Under the sponsorship of the U.S. Embassy there are programs to help groups that need help—Haredim, Arabs, Ethiopians, the periphery—to advance.
Second, we have shared interests, perhaps more so now than ever before amidst a region in tumult. Confronting violence and extremism from terrorists groups like Hamas, Hizbullah and Daesh; countering Iranian aggression; and ensuring energy security are all shared interests that we pursue together.
Our shared interests are reinforced through our contributions to meeting each other’s security challenges. Our intelligence cooperation is at the highest level it has ever been, helping both of us deal with threats we face from the Middle East. Under President Obama’s leadership, we just concluded a historic security assistance agreement that will provide Israel with $38 billion of U.S. assistance over the next decade.
That is the largest military aid package by far that the United States has ever granted any country.
The new agreement is specifically designed to help ease the enormous defense burdens Israel has faced its entire history and it reaffirms and strengthens our decades-long commitment to maintaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.
The United States has invested significantly in many of Israel’s most effective missile defenses.
Here at Sapir College, you know first-hand the benefits of Iron Dome, which has saved untold lives in this region. You can add to that the United States tremendous investments in David’s Sling and Arrow 3, all of help protect Israel from the threat of rockets.
As terrorist threats change, so too does the fight against them. The IDF and our Department of Defense are now developing anti-tunneling technology for which the U.S. is providing more than $40 million to Israel.
In two weeks, on December 12, the first two F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft will land Nevatim Air Force Base—signaling not only the arrival of Israel’s next generation air defense platform, but also the continuity and intensification of our security ties.
When we signed the MOU two months ago, President Obama stated plainly, for all the world to hear, that “the continued supply of the world’s most advanced weapons technology will ensure that Israel has the ability to defend itself from all manner of threats.”
“From ALL manner of threats” means from conventional threats across borders, missiles coming overhead from terrorist groups, underground threats like tunnels from Gaza, threats to Israel’s offshore energy resources, or threats by adversaries who are seeking to harm Israel through cyber-attacks, we are committed to helping Israel address all of these.
Last, but not least, there is the pursuit of our common prosperity. This extraordinary alliance now encompasses robust economic and commercial ties that have created jobs for tens of thousands of Israelis and Americans.
Other countries look on with envoy as we have transformed a political and strategic partnership into a powerful engine for economic growth. In fact, in nearly every metric we are reaching all-time highs. We are Israel’s largest source of tourists, in fact we send more tourists than the next two countries combined.
Two-way trade is at an all-time high, approaching $50 billion annually. We just marked the thirtieth anniversary of the U.S.-Israel free trade agreement—our “FTA,” as we call it. This was the first FTA American signed with any nation.
Across the entire high-tech sector our relationship is booming. American companies account for a large majority of the international research and development centers that have opened in Israel. American firms understand that they cannot be competitive unless they are represented in Israel and can tap into its spirit of innovation and excellence.
American companies are also helping to build Israel’s natural gas and energy infrastructure, which will provide enormous strategic benefits to the country for many years to come.
As we pursue our common prosperity—and we encourage other countries to follow our lead and invest more deeply in Israel—it is also the best tool we have in fighting BDS. You can call it America’s “counter-boycott,” our unceasing drive to deepen our economic ties.
In conclusion, let me just say again that the United States will continue to defend Israel’s legitimacy and its security. That is a constant.
I know Israelis in this part of the country do not always feel secure. And I can assure you that President Obama understands this as well. In fact, I was with him in the summer of 2008, when he was still a Senator and seeking the presidency, and we came here—right here, to southern Israel and to Sderot. We came to meet with residents and gain a better understanding of their hopes and fears.
It was a visit the left a deep impact on all of us, especially President Obama, and I know he has reflected on the visit many times during these eight years as we have sought to constantly affirm and strengthen this extraordinary alliance.
My best wishes for a successful conference. And my thanks again to the organizers and to all who have come to participate. Toda rabah u’bhatzlacha.