National Building Museum Washington, D.C.


It is a great honor to speak to the American Jewish Committee — a group that has been such a clear and consistent voice for human dignity and such a powerful force for freedom and justice around the globe.

The American Jewish Committee has been speaking up for the rights of the oppressed for nearly a century in the corridors of power and in the public arena, in a Cold War contested abroad, and in a great struggle for civil rights here at home. This mission continues today as you reach out to help rebuild Jewish communities in new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

We meet at a moment when freedom and tolerance are under attack in many places throughout the world. From the Middle East we see almost daily images of carnage. Indeed, on Tuesday, intolerance reared its ugly head once again, outside of Tel Aviv, and 15 innocent people paid with their lives. From Europe, we hear of incidents of Jews being harassed in the streets, synagogues burned, and a presidential candidate who belittled gas chambers as a "detail in history." Our own land has been the scene of mass murder perpetuated by people trained in schools of hatred and terror. And the world was sent an obscene videotape where a man was killed after being made to say the words, "I am a Jew."

Terrorism and intolerance must be condemned through words and through deeds. Tonight, I can assure you that America has a President who knows that we cannot accept either these criminal acts or the trends they may represent. President Bush will always stand for freedom and tolerance and against those who would take us back into history’s nightmares.

America will also stand forever beside the people of Israel in their search for both security and peace. We will stand beside Israel because our countries share a common history, common interests, and common democratic values. We will stand beside the people of Israel because our partnership is the foundation for lasting peace in the region.

On April 4, President Bush articulated a vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. And he made clear that it will be impossible to realize this vision unless all leaders and all parties meet their responsibilities and are held accountable.

In the month since, we have seen signs of progress. In Ramallah, a tense standoff was resolved without violence. In Bethlehem, we are continuing to work with all parties to resolve the standoff at the Church of the Nativity in anon-violent way. And here in the United States, the President has had very productive meetings with Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Sharon, and King Abdullah of Jordan. No one here needs to be reminded that the path to lasting peace is difficult. Indeed, it requires us to see through our pain again and again. This journey can only be navigated with determination.

The United States’ vision for the Middle East is ambitious. It is a vision not just for peace but for prosperity and greater freedom. That is why, for example, the President has urged that as the international community moves to help rebuild Palestinian institutions, we do so in ways that will best serve the Palestinian people, a Palestinian state, and its neighbors. As the President pointed out last week, a Palestinian state "cannot be based on a foundation of terror or corruption. [It] must be based on the principles that are critical to freedom and prosperity: democracy and open markets, the rule of law, transparent and accountable administration and respect for individual liberties and civil society."

You in the American Jewish Committee understand the importance of striving for this broad vision. You share a conviction that freedom and justice are the true foundations of peace and stability. That freedom — and freedom from violence — is the equal birthright of every American, every Israeli, every Arab, and every person who seeks it.

We cannot — and must not — allow the world to drift into what some have called a clash of civilizations. Rather, we are engaged in the broadest sense in a clash of ideas about modernity — about tolerance, respect, and tradition. Extremism and progress are most assuredly enemies of one another. And we cannot build a stable, more peaceful world if difference is seen as a license to kill. But we must find ways to reconcile old traditions with new opportunities – to say to people, "you do not have to reject tradition and belief to reap the benefits of modern life."

This will be a long process. But I am an optimist. There are hopeful signs in many places, including this room. President Wahid’s presence reminds us that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country and a multi-ethnic society… In fact, Indonesia’s national motto is "Bhinekka Tunggal Ika" — "unity in diversity."

President Toledo’s presence reminds us of his valuable work to strengthen democracy in Peru and of his compelling personal story. He leads a country where he once worked as a shoeshine boy and where generations of people who shared his Indian ancestry have historically been pushed to the margins of society.

As a Nation founded on the ideals of openness, tolerance, and freedom, America carries a special responsibility to stand beside people on every continent who seek a safer and better future for themselves and for others.

And so, in its unique way, does Israel. I will never forget my visit to Israel two years ago. I am the daughter and granddaughter of Presbyterian ministers. The Bible and its rich stories were part of my daily existence. When I saw the treasures and landmarks of ancient Israel, it was like coming home to a place I had never been.

The Sea of Galilee is a quiet, contemplative place where a small-town preacher, named Jesus, took his message of hope from village to village, and house to house.

In Jerusalem, I felt the intensity of being in such a small place filled with so many sacred sites for Jews, Christians, and Muslims — a common history as children of Abraham. All three religions are religions of peace and that peaceful heritage must be affirmed. It must not be subverted to preach hatred.

I was also taken by the hope and vitality and values of modern Israel. On the streets of Tel Aviv, you see and hear more cell phones than you do on the streets of Washington, DC. You also feel a burning desire among the people of Israel to live a normal life, free of terror and fear. They want to get on with the business of building a better, more prosperous future — a desire shared by the vast majority of Palestinians and people throughout the Arab world.

Like the United States, Israel was founded on certain fundamental ideas: liberty, democracy, human rights, religious freedom, and the rule of law. And like the United States, Israel is a democratic, multi-ethnic nation that is being continually revitalized and strengthened by people from other nations.

Democracy is a journey, not a destination. And we know from our own experience the difficulty of building a successful multi-ethnic democracy. When the Founding Fathers said, "We the people . . ." they did not mean people like me. My ancestors were treated as property; just three-fifths of a person. And women had no rights to guide the "course of [their] human events."

I know what it means to be the target of intolerance and hatred. Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, I lived with the daily sting of segregation. I also lived with the home-grown terrorism of that era.

This week a trial is getting underway for one of the suspects in the 1963bombing of the Sunday school at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. I did not seethe incident, but I heard it and felt it at my Father’s church just blocks away. It is a sound that will be forever reverberating in my ears. That bomb took the lives of four young girls, including my friend and schoolmate, Denise McNair. The crime was calculated, not random. It was meant to suck the hope out of young lives, bury their aspirations, and ensure that old fears are propelled forward into the next generation.

Terrorism, like slavery and segregation, depends on dehumanizing people. The counter is to educate. Education humanizes us and helps us to reach into our better selves — promoting understanding and tolerance among people of different races, religions, and ethnicities. It is no accident that Israel and America — both with large immigrant populations — have a strong commitment to education.

At Stanford, I was always heartened to stand before a class in which a fourth-generation Stanford legatee sat next to the son or daughter of a migrant farm worker. It reinforced that education is the great equalizer; that it doesn’t matter where you have come from, but rather where you are going.

Yet in too many places in the world, educational systems fuel old hatreds instead of opening new opportunities. People are not born to hate. They are taught to hate. We must demand that texts demonizing Israelis and Jews disappear from the schools of the Middle East. And we must help nations and leaders who want their schools to teach less about why to hate the world and more about the tools needed to succeed in the world. We must help those who understand that a real education is the right of every little boy — and every little girl, whether she grows up in Kansas or Kandahar.

Helping nations and peoples seeking their way along this path is the work not just of government but the work of all of us, including groups like the AJC.

We must draw strength from many quarters, and none more deep than the tremendous resolve and resilience of the American and Israeli people.

Moses spoke to this task in his address to the children of Israel as they crossed the River Jordan: "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life that you and your descendants may live."

The United States and Israel share this commitment to life. This commitment is what led Jews to survive and thrive through nearly two thousand years in the diaspora, after the burning of the Second Temple by the Romans.

And this commitment is what led African Americans to persist in pressing for freedom during the nearly 250 years they lived in servitude.

It is what has led Jews to contribute so much to the march of freedom in so many countries throughout the world — including our own.

The commitment to life is what led Theodor Herzl and others to advance the idea of establishing a Jewish state, and it is what led Jews to rise from the ashes of the Holocaust to create a modern Israel.

Our commitment to life is why the American and Israeli people are joined together in a belief shared by everyone in this room: "Am Yisrael Chai!"

And, I believe, it is our shared commitment to life that will lead to peace for all the children of Abraham.

Thank you very much.