Full Text Obama Presidency December 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Afternoon and evening Hanukkah ReceptionsFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript



Remarks By The President At Evening Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-17-14 

State Floor

8:03 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!


THE PRESIDENT:  Happy Hanukkah!

AUDIENCE:  Happy Hanukkah!

THE PRESIDENT:  This is a particularly good-looking Hanukkah crowd.

MRS. OBAMA:  It’s good.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s very impressive.

Now, every year, Michelle and I like to invite just a few friends over for a small Hanukkah celebration.  (Laughter.)   Nothing fancy.  This is the second year we’ve invited so many friends that we ended up having to have two Hanukkah parties.  (Applause.)   We had one earlier this afternoon.  I have to tell you, this is the better party.  (Applause.)  Don’t tell anybody because —

MRS. OBAMA:  He said that earlier.

THE PRESIDENT:  I said that earlier.  (Laughter.)  But I really mean it this time.  (Applause.)

We are blessed to have so many friends and dignitaries here. I want to welcome Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who’s here, and his wife, Rhoda –- (applause) — all our friends from the State of Israel, who remind us that the bonds between our two countries are unbreakable.  (Applause.)

We have leaders from across my administration, including our outstanding Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew.  (Applause.) Council of Economic Advisers Chair, Jason Furman.  Give Jason some more — Jason actually is the guy who gives me the jobs report every month.  Ever since he’s come on they’ve been really good.  So give Jason a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients is here.  (Applause.)  We’ve got the Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley. (Applause.)  We’ve got all kinds of members of Congress here, including our DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  (Applause.)  The president of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman.  (Applause.)  And a member of my team who’s leaving to become ADL’s next president, Jonathan Greenblatt.  (Applause.)

Now, I’m going to begin by saying what a glorious day this is — because, after five years, American Alan Gross is free.  (Applause.)  As all of you know, he was arrested five years ago by Cuban authorities simply for helping ordinary Cubans — including a small Jewish community in Cuba –- just for access information on the Internet.  Today, after 1,840 days, he is back where he belongs — with his wife Judy and his family.  And as you heard Alan say today, this is his best Hanukkah.

From his cell, Alan once wrote, “I refuse to accept that my country would leave me behind.”  And he is right.  We’re committed to the principle that no American ever gets left behind.  We do everything in our power to bring Americans home.  So we thank all those who helped to make sure that Alan was never forgotten.  And as now we’re moving forward, we know that the historic changes I announced today will mean greater opportunity and progress for both Americans and for Cubans, including the small but proud Jewish community in Cuba.  (Applause.)

So we are here to celebrate a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors.  In the face of —  what do we got playing there?  (Laughter.)  What you got on your phone?  I was trying to figure out the ringtone.  (Laughter.)

Where was I?  Small group of Maccabees — right!  Rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors.  In the face of   overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city, and the right to worship as they choose.

And after their victory, the Maccabees found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive.  But they lit the oil that they had.  And miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight.  The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than even we could imagine — with a little bit of faith, and making sure that it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

The menorahs that we’re about to light remind us of our power to make miracles happen.  It was one of four that were brought here from Israel, and was built by children in Yemin Orde, a village in Israel founded in 1953 to provide a safe haven to orphans and young immigrants after the Holocaust.  More than 60 years later, Yemin Orde still gives children in Israel a shot at a brighter future.  And tonight, Atakalit Tesfaye, a graduate of Yemin Orde, will help us light the Hanukkah candles.  (Applause.)

He will be joined by Dr. Adam Levine.  Now, I just want to be clear, this is not — (laughter) — Adam Levine, People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive — (laughter) — although he’s a pretty sexy guy.  (Laughter.)  This is actually Dr. Adam Levine, Time’s Person of the Year.  (Applause.)  Along with his compatriots, Adam, who recently returned from Liberia, has been doing heroic work for Ebola patients, saving lives.  (Applause.)

Yemin Orde is just one village.  But the story of Hanukkah teaches us that there’s no such thing as a futile act of courage, or a small act of faith.  One doctor can save a life.  One school can help a child.  That life, that child may change a village.  One person can be the spark that changes the world.

So as we gather with family and friends, let’s give thanks to the miracles that we’ve been blessed with in our own lives — miracles large and small — same ringtone.  (Laughter.)  During this Festival of Lights, let’s commit ourselves to making new miracles, and to sharing them with the world.

I’d now like to invite Rabbi Angela Buchdahl — from Manhattan — (applause) — to lead us in the blessing and candle-lighting.  (Applause.)

8:11 P.M. EST


Remarks by the President at Afternoon Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-17-14 

East Room

4:27 P.M. EST

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Happy Hanukkah, Mr. President!

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Happy Hanukkah to you!  (Laughter.)  You stole my line.  (Laughter.)  Happy Hanukkah, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Happy Hannukah.

MRS. OBAMA:  Welcome to the White House.  I want to welcome the members of Congress who are here today.  We’ve got some Bronfman Fellows — (applause) — who are here from the State of Israel.  (Applause.)  Obviously, the bonds between our two countries are unbreakable, and with the help of young people, they’re only going to grow stronger in the years to come.

Every year, Michelle and I like to invite just a few friends over for a little Hanukkah celebration.  (Laughter.)  Nothing fancy.  Actually, this is the second year we’ve invited so many friends that we’re hosting two parties instead of one.  This is our first party — it is the best party.  (Laughter.)  Don’t tell the others, though.

I want to begin with today’s wonderful news.  I’m told that in the Jewish tradition, one of the great mitzvahs is pidyon shvuyim.  (Applause.)  My Hebrew is not perfect, but I get points for trying.  But it describes the redemption, the freeing, of captives.  And that’s what we’re celebrating today, because after being unjustly held in Cuba for more than five years, American Alan Gross is free.  (Applause.)

Alan has dedicated his life to others — to helping people around the world develop their communities and improve their lives, including Israelis and Palestinians.  He’s a man of deep faith who once worked for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.  Five years ago, he was arrested by Cuban authorities simply for helping ordinary Cubans, including Cuba’s small Jewish community, access information on the Internet.  And ever since, those who have loved and cared for Alan never stopped working to bring him home:  Judy, his wife of 44 years, and their daughters, including his oldest daughter who walked down the aisle without her dad on her wedding day.  His mother, who passed away this year without being able to see her son one last time.  His whole family, including his sister-in-law, Gwen Zuares, who joins us here today — where is Gwen?  (Applause.)  Hey, Gwen.  His rabbi, his friends at his congregation in Maryland, Am Kolel, who kept him in their prayers every Shabbat.  Jewish and other faith leaders across the country and around the world, including His Holiness Pope Francis.  And members of Congress and those of us in the United States government.

And Alan has fought back.  He spoke out from his cell, he went on a hunger strike.  With his health deteriorating, his family worried he might not be able to make it out alive.  But he never gave up, and we never gave up.

As I explained earlier, after our many months of discussion with the Cuban government, Alan was finally released this morning on humanitarian grounds.  I spoke to him on his flight.  He said he was willing to interrupt his corned beef sandwich to talk to me.  (Laughter.)  I told him he had mustard in his mustache; I couldn’t actually see it.  (Laughter.)  But needless to say, he was thrilled.  And he landed at Andrews in a plane marked “The United States of America.”  (Applause.)

He’s going to be getting the medical attention that he needs.  He’s back where he belongs — in America, with his family, home for Hanukkah.  And I can’t think of a better way to mark this holiday, with its message that freedom is possible, than with the historic changes that I announced today in our Cuba policy.  (Applause.)  These are changes that are rooted in America’s commitment to freedom and democracy for all the Cuban people, including its small but proud Jewish community.  And Alan’s remarks about the need for these changes was extremely powerful.

So what brings us together is not just lox and latkes — (laughter) — although I have heard the latkes here are outstanding.  (Applause.)  Am I wrong?  Not as good as your mom’s, but they’re good.  (Applause.)

We’re here to celebrate a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors.  In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose.  And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive.  But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight.  The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

This is something that Inbar Vardi and Mouran Ibrahim know very well.  They are Israeli ninth-graders at Hand in Hand, which is a bilingual school in Jerusalem.  (Applause.)  For more than a decade, it’s brought Jewish and Arab children together.  So Inbar is Jewish; Mouran is Muslim.

Just two weeks ago, their school’s first-grade classroom was set on fire by arsonists.  In the weeks that followed, they and their classmates could have succumbed to anger or cynicism, but instead they built this menorah, one of four that we brought here from Israel this year.  Each of its branches are dedicated to one of the values their school is founded on — values like community and dignity and equality and peace.  Inbar and Mouran flew here from Israel along with Rebecca Bardach, the mother of a first-grader and second-grader at Hand in Hand, and in just a few minutes the three of them are going to join us in lighting the Hanukkah candles here at the White House.  (Applause.)

So Inbar and Mouran and their fellow students teach us a critical lesson for this time in our history:  The light of hope must outlast the fires of hate.  That’s what the Hanukkah story teaches us.  That’s what our young people can teach us — that one act of faith can make a miracle.  That love is stronger than hate.  That peace can triumph over conflict.  And during this Festival of Lights, let’s commit ourselves to making some small miracles ourselves and then sharing them with the world.

I now want to invite Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson to the podium who can lead us in the blessings for the candle lighting.  Rabbi.  (Applause.)

(The blessings are given.)

END                  4:38 P.M. EST




Full Text Obama Presidency April 14, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Passover



Statement from the President on Passover

Source: WH, 4-14-14 

Michelle and I send our warmest greetings to all those celebrating Passover in the United States, in Israel, and around the world.

On Tuesday, just as we have every year of my presidency, my family will join the millions taking part in the ancient tradition of the Seder.  We will enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, retell a timeless story, and give thanks for the freedom we are so blessed to enjoy.

Yet even as we celebrate, our prayers will be with the people of Overland Park, Kansas and the family and friends of the three innocent people who were killed when a gunman, just one day before Passover, opened fire at a Jewish community center and retirement home on Sunday.  As Americans, we will continue to stand united against this kind of terrible violence, which has no place in our society.  We will continue to come together across faiths to combat the ignorance and intolerance, including anti-Semitism, that can lead to hatred and violence.  And we will never lose faith that compassion and justice will ultimately triumph over hate and fear.

For that is one of the great lessons of the Exodus.  The tale of the Hebrew slaves and their flight from Egypt carries the hope and promise that the Jewish people have held in their hearts for thousands of years, and it is has inspired countless generations in their own struggles for freedom around the globe.

In America, the Passover story has always had special meaning.  We come from different places and diverse backgrounds, but we are bound together by a journey from bondage to liberty enshrined in our founding documents and continued in each generation.  As we were so painfully reminded on Sunday, our world is still in need of repair, but the story of the Exodus teaches us that with patience, determination, and abundant faith, a brighter future is possible.

Chag Sameach.

Full Text Obama Presidency April 13, 2014: President Obama’s Statement on the Shooting the Overland Jewish Community Center in Kansas



Statement by President Obama on Today’s Shooting in Kansas

Source:  WH, 4-13-14

This afternoon we heard reports of a horrific shooting in Overland Park, Kansas.  Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to the families and friends who lost a loved one and everyone affected by this tragedy.  I have asked my team to stay in close touch with our federal, state and local partners and provide the necessary resources to support the ongoing investigation. While we do not know all of the details surrounding today’s shooting, the initial reports are heartbreaking. I want to offer my condolences to all the families trying to make sense of this difficult situation and pledge the full support from the federal government as we heal and cope during this trying time.

Campaign Buzz August 1, 2012: Mitt Romney Campaign Launches Jewish Americans For Romney Coalition




Jewish Americans For Romney Coalition

Source: Mitt Romney, 8-1-12

“I am proud to have the support of so many distinguished Jewish Americans,” said Mitt Romney. “The Jewish community has made contributions to American society that stand in amazing disproportion to its numbers, and I am genuinely honored to have so many of its leading thinkers, diplomats, and political leaders support my campaign.  Having just visited Israel at a critical juncture in the history of the Middle East, I am persuaded that now, more than ever, America needs to stand with Israel. I will extend the hand of friendship because our partnership is not merely a strategic alliance but a force for good in the world.”

Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, “I urge all American Jews – Democrat, Republican, and independent alike – to give a serious look at Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Throughout his life, Governor Romney has been an unwavering supporter of the state of Israel. As he stated during his most recent trip to Jerusalem, ‘by history and by conviction, our two countries are bound together. No individual, no nation, no world organization, will pry us apart. And as long as we stay together and stand together, there is no threat we cannot overcome.’ Governor Romney understands that peace in the Middle East will only be achieved when Israel is secure within its borders and not the target of violence fueled by senseless hatred. He will leave no stone unturned in the effort to keep Israel secure.”

“Like every other group in America, American Jews want an economy that is growing and creating jobs for all who seek them. Given his background and experience, Governor Romney will succeed in turning around the U.S. economy where Barack Obama has failed,” said Senator Norm Coleman. “Governor Romney understands the special concerns of the American Jewish community about the security of the state of Israel. Gov. Romney has just returned from visiting Israel; it was his fourth visit. He understands that Israel is targeted by the failed states of the Middle East as a convenient scapegoat. He understands that there is a worldwide campaign to demonize the Jewish state.  It is for this very reason that he has pledged that his first foreign trip as president will be to Jerusalem. He intends to send a signal to the world — and especially to Israel’s adversaries — that the United States is not a fair-weather friend of Israel, but a partner in an abiding relationship based upon a common commitment to our most fundamental values.”

Honorary Chairmen

Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA)
Former Governor Linda Lingle (R-HI)
Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN)
Former Senator Rudy Boschwitz (R-MN)
Adam Hasner, Florida

National Advisory Board

Evan Feigenbaum
Tevi Troy
Dan Senor
Dov Zakheim
Roger Zakheim
Eliot Cohen
Ambassador Eric Edelman
Ambassador Mitchell Reiss
Aaron Friedberg
Leon Aron
Phil Rosen
Sander Gerber
Lew Eisenberg
Eric Tanenblatt
Nick Muzin
Jeremy Katz
Barry Mannis
Ben Ginsberg
Victor Chaltiel
Fred Zeidman
Bruce Bialosky
Richard Heideman
Hon. Phyllis Greenberg Heideman
Ambassador Ned Siegel
Ambassador Mel Sembler
Stanley Tate
Ted Cutler
Ambassador Sam Fox
Bobby Schostak
Alan Kaufman
Ed Levy
Jay and Ann Davis
Marty Kogon
David Flaum
Cheryl Halpern
Reuven Hahn
Steve Friedman
Michael Menis
Ambassador Cliff Sobel

Campaign Headlines July 29, 2012: Mitt Romney Visits Jerusalem, Israel, Backs Israeli Stance on Threat of Nuclear Iran in Speech




Romney Backs Israeli Stance on Threat of Nuclear Iran

Source: NYT, 7-29-12

Mitt Romney visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Sunday. “We respect the right of a nation to defend itself,” he said.

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Mitt Romney visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Sunday. “We respect the right of a nation to defend itself,” he said.

In Jerusalem, Mitt Romney said Iran must prevented from being able to build nuclear weapons, a subtle departure from the Obama administration’s position that Iran not acquire them….READ MORE

Mitt Romney Will ‘Respect’ Israeli Decision to Use Force with Iran If Necessary

Source: ABC News Radio, 7-29-12

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Mitt Romney would “respect” an Israeli decision to use military action if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, a senior aide said Sunday.

In a briefing to preview Romney’s speech slated for Sunday evening overlooking the Old City in Jerusalem that will focus on the U.S.-Israel relationship, foreign policy adviser Dan Senor said that Romney believes preventing Iran from nuclear capabilities is the “highest national security priority.”

“If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability the governor would respect that decision,” said Senor….READ MORE

Full Text Campaign Buzz July 29, 2012: Mitt Romney’s Speech to the Jerusalem Foundation on Israel’s Right to Defend itself From Nuclear Iran in Jerusalem, Israel




Remarks To The Jerusalem Foundation

Source: Mitt Romney, 7-29-12


Mitt Romney today delivered remarks to the Jerusalem Foundation in Jerusalem, Israel. The following remarks were prepared for delivery:

Thank you for that kind introduction, Mayor Barkat, and thank you all for that warm welcome.  It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be in Israel again.

To step foot into Israel is to step foot into a nation that began with an ancient promise made in this land. The Jewish people persisted through one of the most monstrous crimes in human history, and now this nation has come to take its place among the most impressive democracies on earth. Israel’s achievements are a wonder of the modern world.

These achievements are a tribute to the resilience of the Israeli people.  You have managed, against all odds, time and again throughout your history, to persevere, to rise up, and to emerge stronger.

The historian Paul Johnson, writing on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state, said that over the course of Israel’s life, 100 completely new independent states had come into existence. “Israel is the only one whose creation can fairly be called a miracle,” Johnson wrote.

It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

Our two nations are separated by more than 5,000 miles. But for an American abroad, you can’t get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country than you do in Israel.  We’re part of the great fellowship of democracies.  We speak the same language of freedom and justice, and the right of every person to live in peace.  We serve the same cause and provoke the same hatreds in the same enemies of civilization.

It is my firm conviction that the security of Israel is in the vital national security interest of the United States. And ours is an alliance based not only on shared interests but also on enduring shared values.

In those shared values, one of the strongest voices is that of your prime minister, my friend Benjamin Netanyahu.  I met with him earlier this morning and I look forward to my family joining his this evening as they observe the close of this fast day of Tisha B’Av.

It’s remarkable to consider how much adversity, over so great a span of time, is recalled by just one day on the calendar.  This is a day of remembrance and mourning, but like other such occasions, it also calls forth clarity and resolve.

At this time, we also remember the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were massacred at the Munich Olympics forty years ago. Ten years ago this week, 9 Israeli and American students were murdered in the terrorist attack at Hebrew University. And tragedies like these are not reserved to the past. They are a constant reminder of the reality of hate, and the will with which it is executed upon the innocent.

It was Menachem Begin who said this about the Ninth of the month of Av:  “We remember that day,” he said, “and now have the responsibility to make sure that never again will our independence be destroyed and never again will the Jew become homeless or defenseless.” “This,” Prime Minister Begin added, “is the crux of the problems facing us in the future.”

So it is today, as Israel faces enemies who deny past crimes against the Jewish people and seek to commit new ones.

When Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the naïve – or worse – will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric.  Make no mistake: the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses.  They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way.

My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country. As Prime Minister Begin put it, in vivid and haunting words, “if an enemy of [the Jewish] people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him.”

We have seen the horrors of history.  We will not stand by.  We will not watch them play out again.

It would be foolish not to take Iran’s leaders at their word. They are, after all, the product of a radical theocracy.

Over the years Iran has amassed a bloody and brutal record. It has seized embassies, targeted diplomats, and killed its own people. It supports the ruthless Assad regime in Syria. They have provided weapons that have killed American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has plotted to assassinate diplomats on American soil.  It is Iran that is the leading state sponsor of terrorism and the most destabilizing nation in the world.

We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions.

We should stand with all who would join our effort to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran – and that includes Iranian dissidents. Do not erase from your memory the scenes from three years ago, when that regime brought death to its own people as they rose up. The threat we face does not come from the Iranian people, but from the regime that oppresses them.

Five years ago, at the Herzliya Conference, I stated my view that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability presents an intolerable threat to Israel, to America, and to the world.

That threat has only become worse.

Now as then, the regime’s claims that it seeks to enrich nuclear material for peaceful purposes are belied by years of malign deceptions.

Now as then, the conduct of Iran’s leaders gives us no reason to trust them with nuclear material.

But today, the regime in Iran is five years closer to developing nuclear weapons capability.  Preventing that outcome must be our highest national security priority.

I want to pause on this last point. It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war.

The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers. History teaches with force and clarity that when the world’s most despotic regimes secure the world’s most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence, or to devastating war.

We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option. We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability. We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you.

These are some of the principles I first outlined five years ago. What was timely then has become urgent today.

Let me turn from Iran to other nations in the Middle East, where we have seen rising tumult and chaos. To the north, Syria is on the brink of a civil war.  The dictator in Damascus, no friend to Israel and no friend to America, slaughters his own people as he desperately clings to power.

Your other neighbor to the north, Lebanon, is under the growing and dangerous influence of Hezbollah.

After a year of upheaval and unrest, Egypt now has an Islamist President, chosen in a democratic election. Hopefully, this new government understands that one true measure of democracy is how those elected by the majority respect the rights of those in the minority.  The international community must use its considerable influence to ensure that the new government honors the peace agreement with Israel that was signed by the government of Anwar Sadat.

As you know only too well, since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, thousands of rockets have rained on Israeli homes and cities.  I have walked on the streets of Sderot, and honor the resolve of its people. And now, new attacks have been launched from the Sinai Peninsula.

With Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel from the north, and Hamas rockets aimed from the south, with much of the Middle East in tumult, and with Iran bent on nuclear arms, America’s vocal and demonstrated commitment to the defense of Israel is even more critical. Whenever the security of Israel is most in doubt, America’s commitment to Israel must be most secure.

When the decision was before him in 1948, President Harry Truman decided without hesitation that the United States would be the first country to recognize the State of Israel.  From that moment to this, we have been the most natural of allies, but our alliance runs deeper than the designs of strategy or the weighing of interests.

The story of how America – a nation still so new to the world by the standards of this ancient region – rose up to become the dear friend of the people of Israel is among the finest and most hopeful in our nation’s history.

Different as our paths have been, we see the same qualities in one another. Israel and America are in many respects reflections of one another.

We both believe in democracy, in the right of every people to select their leaders and choose their nation’s course.

We both believe in the rule of law, knowing that in its absence, willful men may incline to oppress the weak.

We both believe that our rights are universal, granted not by government but by our Creator.

We both believe in free enterprise, because it is the only economic system that has lifted people from poverty, created a large and enduring middle class, and inaugurated incomparable achievements and human flourishing.

As someone who has spent most of his life in business, I am particularly impressed with Israel’s cutting edge technologies and thriving economy.  We recognize yours as the “start-up nation” – and the evidence is all around us.

You have embraced economic liberty.  You export technology, not tyranny or terrorism.  And today, your innovators and entrepreneurs have made the desert bloom and have made for a better world.  The citizens of our countries are fortunate to share in the rewards of economic freedom and in the creativity of our entrepreneurs. What you have built here, with your own hands, is a tribute to your people, and a model for others.

Finally, we both believe in freedom of expression, because we are confident in our ideas and in the ability of men and women to think for themselves.  We do not fear open debate. If you want to hear some very sharp criticisms of Israel and its policies, you don’t have to cross any borders.  All you have to do is walk down the street and into a café, where you’ll hear people reasoning, arguing, and speaking their mind. Or pick up an Israeli newspaper – you’ll find some of the toughest criticism of Israel you’ll read anywhere. Your nation, like ours, is stronger for this energetic exchange of ideas and opinions.

That is the way it is in a free society. There are many millions of people in the Middle East who would cherish the opportunity to do the same.  These decent men and women desire nothing more than to live in peace and freedom and to have the opportunity to not only choose their government but to criticize it openly, without fear of repression or repercussion.

I believe that those who oppose these fundamental rights are on the wrong side of history. But history’s march can be ponderous and painfully slow. We have a duty to speed and shape history by being unapologetic ambassadors for the values we share.

The United States and Israel have shown that we can build strong economies and strong militaries. But we must also build strong arguments that advance our values and promote peace. We must work together to change hearts and awaken minds through the power of freedom, free enterprise and human rights.

I believe that the enduring alliance between the State of Israel and the United States of America is more than a strategic alliance: it is a force for good in the world. America’s support of Israel should make every American proud. We should not allow the inevitable complexities of modern geopolitics to obscure fundamental touchstones. No country or organization or individual should ever doubt this basic truth:  A free and strong America will always stand with a free and strong Israel.

And standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone.

We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel, voice their criticisms.  And we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel’s adversaries.

By history and by conviction, our two countries are bound together.  No individual, no nation, no world organization, will pry us apart. And as long as we stay together and stand together, there is no threat we cannot overcome and very little that we cannot achieve.

Thank you all.  May God bless America, and may He bless and protect the Nation of Israel.

Full Text December 16, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 71st General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism




Remarks by the President at the 71st General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism

Source: WH, 12-16-11
Gaylord Hotel
National Harbor, Maryland

2:37 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.  Please, please have a seat.  You’re making me blush.  (Laughter.)  Thank you, Eric, for that extraordinary introduction and for your many years of leadership in the Reform movement.  And even though it is a few hours early, I’d like to wish all of you Shabbat shalom.  (Applause.)

Now, there are a lot of familiar faces in the house:  David Saperstein.  (Applause.)  Alan Solow, Rick Jacobs.  (Applause.)  Howard Kohr.

I want to welcome Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.  (Applause.)  The cooperation between our militaries has never been stronger, and I want to thank Ehud for his leadership and his lifelong commitment to Israel’s security and the quest for a just and lasting peace.  (Applause.)

I also want to recognize Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who’s with us here today.  (Applause.)

And finally, I want to give a shout-out to NFTY, I understand is in the house.  (Applause.)  Young people are going to lead the way, and they’re leading the way.  (Applause.)  There you go.  I’m fired up just listening to them.  (Laughter and applause.)

I am honored to be here because of the proud history and tradition of the Union for Reform Judaism, representing more than 900 congregations, around 1.5 million American Jews.

I want to congratulate all of you on the golden anniversary of the Religious Action Center.  (Applause.)   As Eric mentioned, When President Kennedy spoke to leaders from the RAC in 1961, I was three months old, so my memory is a bit hazy.  (Laughter.)  But I am very familiar with the work that you’ve done ever since, and so is the rest of America.

And that’s because you helped draft the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  (Applause.)  You helped to liberate Soviet Jews.  (Applause.)  You have made a difference on so many of the defining issues of the last half-century.  And without these efforts, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today.  So thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  You have brought to life your faith and your values, and the world is a better place for it.

Now, since my daughter Malia has reached the age where it seems like there’s always a Bar or Bat Mitzvah — (laughter) — every weekend, and there is quite a bit of negotiations around the skirts that she wears at these Bat Mitzvahs — (laughter) — do you guys have these conversations as well?  (Laughter.)  All right.  I just wanted to be clear it wasn’t just me.  (Laughter.) What time you get home.

As a consequence, she’s become the family expert on Jewish tradition.  (Laughter.)  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from her, it’s that it never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion.  It doesn’t hurt.  (Laughter and applause.)

So this week — (applause) — congregations around the world will retell the story of Joseph.  (Applause.)  As any fan of Broadway musicals will tell you — (laughter) — there is a lot going on in this reading.  (Laughter.)  But many scholars have focused on a single word that Joseph uses when he replies to his father Jacob.

In Hebrew, that word is “hineni.”  It translates — (applause) — it translates to “Here I am.”  Hineni.  It’s the same word Abraham uses to reply to God before the binding of Isaac.  It’s the same word Moses uses when God summons him from the burning bush.  Hineni.  The text is telling us that while Joseph does not know what lies ahead, he is ready to answer the call.

In this case, “hineni” leads Joseph to Egypt.  It sets in motion a story of enslavement and exodus that would come to inspire leaders like Martin Luther King as they sought freedom.  It’s a story of persecution and perseverance that has repeated itself from Inquisition-era Spain to Tsarist Russia to Hitler’s Germany.

And in that often-tragic history, this place, America, stands out.  (Applause.)  Now, we can’t whitewash the past.  Like so many ethnic groups, Jews faced prejudice, and sometimes violence, as they sought their piece of the American Dream.  But here, Jews finally found a place where their faith was protected; where hard work and responsibility paid off; where no matter who you were or where you came from, you could make it if you tried.  Here in America, you really could build a better life for your children.

I know how much that story means to many of you, because I know how much that story means to me.  My father was from Kenya; my mother was from Kansas –- not places with a large Jewish community.  (Laughter.)  But when my Jewish friends tell me about their ancestors, I feel a connection.  I know what it’s like to think, “Only in America is my story even possible.”  (Applause.)

Now — I have to interrupt.  My friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz just got in the house.  (Applause.)  Now, the Jewish community has always understood that the dream we share is about more than just doing well for yourself.  From the moment our country was founded, American Jews have helped make our union more perfect.  Your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents, they remembered what it was like to be a stranger, and as a result treated strangers with compassion.  They pursued tikkun olam, the hard work of repairing the world.  (Applause.)

They fought bigotry because they had experienced bigotry.  They fought for freedom of religion because they understood what it meant to be persecuted for your religious beliefs.  Our country is a better place because they did.  The same values that bring you here today led Justice Brandeis to fight for an America that protects the least of these.  (Applause.)  Those same values led Jewish leaders to found RAC 50 years ago.  (Applause.)  They led Abraham Joshua Heschel to pray with his feet and march with Dr. King.  (Applause.)  And over the last three years, they have brought us together on the most important issues of our time.

When we began this journey, we knew we would have to take on powerful special interests.  We would have to take on a Washington culture where doing what’s politically convenient is often valued above doing what’s right; where the focus is too often on the next election instead of the next generation.  (Applause.)

And so time and time again, we’ve been reminded that change is never easy.  And a number of the rabbis who are here today, when I see them, they’d been saying a prayer.  They noticed my hair is grayer.  (Laughter.)  But we didn’t quit.  You didn’t quit.  And today, we’re beginning to see what change looks like.

And Eric mentioned what change looks like.  Change is the very first bill I signed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which says in this country an equal day’s work gets an equal day’s pay.  That’s change.  (Applause.)

Change is finally doing something about our addiction to oil and raising fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in 30 years.  That’s good for our economy.  It’s good for our national security.  (Applause.)  And it’s good for our environment.

Change is confirming two Supreme Court justices who will defend our rights, including our First Amendment rights surrounding religion — happen to be two women, by the way.  That’s also a good thing.  (Applause.)

Change is repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” so that in the first time in history, you don’t have to hide who you love to serve the country that you love.  That’s change.  (Applause.)

Change is working with the Reform movement, and other faith-based groups, to reform the federal faith-based initiatives, improving the way we partner with organizations that serve people in need.  Change is health care reform that we passed after a century of trying, reform that will finally ensure that in the United States of America, nobody goes bankrupt just because they get sick.  That’s change.  (Applause.)

Change is the 2.5 million young people — maybe some of those NFTY folks who have already — (applause) — who have health insurance on their parents’ plans because of Affordable Care Act.  That’s change.  (Applause.)

It’s making family planning more accessible to millions of Americans.  (Applause.)  It’s insurance companies not being able to charge you more just because you’re a woman, or deny you coverage if you have breast cancer.  (Applause.)

Change is committing to real, persistent education reform, because every child in America deserves access to a good school and to higher education — every child.  (Applause.)

And change is keeping one of the first promises I made in 2008:  After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq is ending this month and our troops are coming home.  (Applause.)

That’s what change is.  And none of this would have happened without you.  That’s the kind of change we’ll keep fighting for in the months and years ahead.

And just last night, you took another step towards the change we need and voted for a set of principles of economic justice in a time of fiscal crisis.  (Applause.)  And I want to thank you for your courage.  That statement could not have come at a more important time.  For as you put it, we’re at a crossroads in American history.  Last Tuesday, I gave a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, where I described that crossroads.  And I laid out a vision of our country where everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.  (Applause.)  And these are not Democratic values or Republican values; they’re not Christian values or Jewish values or Hindu or Muslim values — they’re shared values, and we have to reclaim them.  We have to restore them to a central place in America’s political life.  (Applause.)

I said it last week, I’ll say it again:  This is not just a political debate.  This is a moral debate.  This is an ethical debate.  It’s a values debate.  It’s the defining issue of our time.  It is a make-or-break moment for the middle class and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.  (Applause.)  And for those of us who remember parents or grandparents or great-grandparents who had to fight to get in the middle class, but they understood that the American Dream was available to them because we were all in it together — that’s what this is about.  (Applause.)  And last night, you reaffirmed the moral dimension of this debate.  (Applause.)

We have to decide who we are as a country.  Is this a place where everyone is left to fend for themselves?  The most powerful can play by their own rules?  Or do we come together to make sure that working people can earn enough to raise a family, send their kids to college, buy their own home, have a secure health care and a secure retirement?  That is the story that almost all of us here share, in one way or another.  This is a room full of folks who come from immigrants, and remember what it was like to scratch and claw and work.  You haven’t forgotten.  You know what it’s like to see those in your own family struggle.

Well, we have to apply those same values to the American family.  We’re not a country that says, you’re on your own.  When we see neighbors who can’t find work or pay for college or get the health care they need, we answer the call — we say, “Here I am.”  And we will do our part.  (Applause.)

That’s what you affirmed last night.  But more importantly, it’s what you affirm every day with your words and your actions.  And I promise you that as you pray with your feet, I will be right there with you every step of the way.  (Applause.)  I’ll be fighting to create jobs, and give small businesses a chance to succeed.  I’ll be fighting to invest in education and technology.  I will fight to strengthen programs like Medicare and Social Security.  (Applause.)  I will fight to put more money in the pockets of working families.  I won’t be afraid to ask the most well-off among us -– Americans like me –- to pay our fair share, to make sure that everybody has got a shot.  I will fight alongside you every inch of the way.  (Applause.)

And as all of you know, standing up for our values at home is only part of our work.  Around the world, we stand up for values that are universal — including the right of all people to live in peace and security and dignity.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’ve worked on the international stage to promote the rights of women — (applause) — to promote strategies to alleviate poverty — (applause) — to promote the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians — (applause) — and people with disabilities — (applause) — to promote human rights and democracy.  And that’s why, as President, I have never wavered in pursuit of a just and lasting peace — two states for two peoples; an independent Palestine alongside a secure Jewish State of Israel.  (Applause.)  I have not wavered and will not waver.  That is our shared vision.  (Applause.)

Now, I know that many of you share my frustration sometimes, in terms of the state of the peace process.  There’s so much work to do.  But here’s what I know –- there’s no question about how lasting peace will be achieved.  Peace can’t be imposed from the outside.  Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them.  (Applause.)

And the fact that peace is hard can’t deter us from trying.  Because now more than ever, it’s clear that a just and lasting peace is in the long-term interests of Israel.  It is in the long-term interests of the Palestinian people.  It is in the interest of the region.  It is the interest of the United States, and it is in the interest of the world.  And I am not going to stop in pursuit of that vision.  It is the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

Now, that vision begins with a strong and secure State of Israel.  (Applause.)  And the special bonds between our nations are ones that all Americans hold dear because they’re bonds forged by common interests and shared values.  They’re bonds that transcend partisan politics — or at least they should.  (Applause.)

We stand with Israel as a Jewish democratic state because we know that Israel is born of firmly held values that we, as Americans, share:  a culture committed to justice, a land that welcomes the weary, a people devoted to tikkun olam.  (Applause.)

So America’s commitment — America’s commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is unshakeable.  It is unshakeable.  (Applause.)

I said it in September at the United Nations.  I said it when I stood amid the homes in Sderot that had been struck by missiles:  No nation can tolerate terror.  And no nation can accept rockets targeting innocent men, women and children.  No nation can yield to suicide bombers.  (Applause.)

And as Ehud has said, it is hard to remember a time when the United States has given stronger support to Israel on its security.  In fact, I am proud to say that no U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel’s security than ours.  None.  Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise.  It is a fact.  (Applause.)

I’m proud that even in these difficult times we’ve fought for and secured the most funding for Israel in history.  I’m proud that we helped Israel develop a missile defense system that’s already protecting civilians from rocket attacks.  (Applause.)

Another grave concern -– and a threat to the security of Israel, the United States and the world -– is Iran’s nuclear program.  And that’s why our policy has been absolutely clear:  We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  (Applause.)  And that’s why we’ve worked painstakingly from the moment I took office with allies and partners, and we have imposed the most comprehensive, the hardest-hitting sanctions that the Iranian regime has ever faced.  We haven’t just talked about it, we have done it.  And we’re going to keep up the pressure.  (Applause.)  And that’s why, rest assured, we will take no options off the table.  We have been clear.

We’re going to keep standing with our Israeli friends and allies, just as we’ve been doing when they’ve needed us most.  In September, when a mob threatened the Israeli embassy in Cairo, we worked to ensure that the men and women working there were able to get out safely.  (Applause.)  Last year, when raging fires threatened Haifa, we dispatched fire-fighting planes to help put out the blaze. (Applause.)

On my watch, the United States of America has led the way, from Durban to the United Nations, against attempts to use international forums to delegitimize Israel.  And we will continue to do so.  (Applause.)  That’s what friends and allies do for each other.  So don’t let anybody else tell a different story.  We have been there, and we will continue to be there.  Those are the facts.  (Applause.)

And when I look back on the last few years, I’m proud of the decisions I’ve made, and I’m proud of what we’ve done together.  But today isn’t about resting on our laurels.  As your tradition teaches, we’re not obligated to finish the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.  (Applause.)

We’ve got to keep going.  So today we look forward to the world not just as it is but as it could be.  And when we do, the truth is clear:  Our union is not yet perfect.  Our world is still in desperate need of repair.  And each of us still hears that call.

And the question is, how we will respond?  In this moment, every American, of every faith, every background has the opportunity to stand up and say:  Here I am.  Hineni.  Here I am.  I am ready to keep alive our country’s promise.  I am ready to speak up for our values at home and abroad.  I am ready to do what needs to be done.  The work may not be finished in a day, in a year, in a term, in a lifetime, but I’m ready to do my part.  (Applause.)

And I believe that with tradition as our guide, we will seize that opportunity.  And in the face of daunting odds, we will make the choices that are hard but are right.  That’s how we’ve overcome tougher times before.  That’s how we will overcome the challenges that we face today.  And together, we will rewrite the next chapter in America’s story and prove that our best days are still to come.

Thank you, God bless you, God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

3:08 P.M. EST

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