tv Road to the White House CSPAN May 24, 2015 10:30pm-11:01pm EDT
thank you. thank you. thank you. thank you. well, good morning everybody. a slightly early shabbat shalom. [laughter] i want to thank the rabbi for the very kind introduction, and to all the members of the congregation, thank you so much for such an extraordinary and warm welcome. i want to thank a couple outstanding members of congress who are here. senators michael bennet -- where did michael bennet go? there he is. [applause] and representative sandy levin who is here. [applause] i want to thank our special envoy to combat anti-semitism, ira foreman, for his important
work. there he is. [applause] most of all, i want to thank the entire congregation of adas israel for having me here today. earlier this week, i was interviewed by one of your members, jeff goldberg. [applause] jeff reminded me that he once called me the first jewish president. [laughter] now, since some people still seem to be wondering about my faith -- [laughter] i should make clear that this was an honorary title, but i was flattered. as an honorary member of the tribe, not to mention somebody who has hosted seven white house seders -- [applause] and been advised by two jewish
chiefs of staff, i can also say i am getting a little bit of a hang of the lingo. but i will not use any of the yiddishisms that rahm emanuel taught me, because i want to be invited back. [laughter] let's just say that he had some creative new synonyms for "shalom." [laughter] now, i wanted to come here to celebrate jewish-american heritage month. because this congregation, like so many around the country helps us to tell the american story. back in 1876, when president grant helped dedicate adas israel, he became the first
sitting president in american history to attend a synagogue service. at the time, it was an extraordinarily symbolic gesture. not just for america, but for the world. i think about the landscape of jewish history. tomorrow night, the holiday marks the moment that moses received the torah at mount sinai. the first link in a chain of tradition that stretches back thousands of years, and a foundation stone for our civilization. yet for most of those years, jews were persecuted, not embraced, by those in power. many of your ancestors came here fleeing that persecution. the united states could have been merely another destination in that ongoing diaspora. but those who came here found that america was more than just a country.
america was an idea. america stood for something. as george washington wrote to the jews of newport, rhode island, "the united states gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." it's important for us to of knowledge that too often in our history we fell short of those lofty ideals. the legal subjugation of african-americans through slavery and jim crow. the treatment of native americans. far too often, american jews faced the scourge of anti-semitism here at home. but our founding documents gave us a north star. our bill of rights, system of government, gave us the capacity
for change. and where other nations actively and legally might persecute and discriminate against those of different faiths, this nation was called upon to see all of us as equals before the eyes of the law. when other countries treated their own citizens as wretched refuse, we lifted up our lamp, sought the golden door, and welcomed them in. our country is immeasurably stronger because we did. [applause] from einstein to brandeis, jonas salk to betty friedan, american
jews have made concretions to -- contributions to this country that have shaped it in every aspect. as a community, american jews have helped make our union more perfect. the story of exodus inspired oppressed people around the world in their own struggles for civil rights. from the founding members of the naacp to a freedom summer in mississippi, from women's rights to gay rights to workers rights. jews took the heart of the biblical edict that we must not oppress a stranger, having been strangers once ourselves. earlier this year, when we marked the 50th anniversary of
the march in selma, we remembered the iconic images of rabbi abraham joshua marching with dr. king, praying with his feet. to some, it must have seemed strange that a rabbi from warsaw would take such great pains to stand with a baptist preacher from alabama. no religion is an island. he wrote, "we must choose between interface and inner nihilism," between a shared hope that says together we can share a brighter future, or share cynicism that says our world is simply beyond repair. the heritage we celebrate this month is a testament to the power of hope. me standing here before you, all
of you in this incredible congregation, is a testament to the power of hope. [applause] it's a rebuke to cynicism. it's a rebuke to nihilism. it inspires us to have faith that our future, like our past will be shaped by values that we share. at home, those values compel us that work to keep alive the american dream of opportunity for all. it means we care about issues that affect all children, not just our own. we are prepared to invest in early childhood education.
that we are concerned about making college affordable. that we want to create communities where if you are willing to work hard, you can get ahead. the way so many who fled and arrived on these shores were able to get ahead. around the world, those values compel us to redouble our efforts to protect our planet and to protect the human rights of all who share this planet. it is particularly important to remember now, given the turmoil taking place in so many corners of the globe, in one of the world's most dangerous neighborhoods, those values cause us to affirm that are
-- reaffirm that our enduring friendship with the people of israel and our unbreakable bonds with the state of israel, that those bonds of friendship cannot be broken. [applause] those values compel us to say that our commitment to israel's security and my commitment to israel's security is and always will be unshakable. [applause] and i said this before. it would be a moral failing on the part of the u.s. government and the american people, a moral failing on my part, if we did not stand up firmly, steadfastly. not just on behalf of israel's
right to exist, but israel's right to thrive and prosper. [applause] because it would ignore the history that brought the state of israel about. it would ignore the struggle that has taken place through millenia to try to affirm the kind of values that say, everybody has a place, everybody has rights. everybody is a child of god. [applause] as many of you know, i visited the houses hit by rocket fire. i have been to yad vashem and made that solemn vow, never forget, never again.
when someone threatens israel's citizens or it's very right to exist, israelis necessarily take that seriously. and so do i. today, the military and intelligence cooperation between our countries is stronger than ever. our support of the iron dome rocket system has saved israeli lives. and i can say that no u.s. president, no administration has done more to assure that israel can protect itself than this one. [applause] as part of that commitment there's something else that the united states and israel agree on. iran must not under any circumstances be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. [applause]
there is a debate about how to achieve that. a healthy debate. i am not going to use my remaining time to go too deep into policy. although, for those of you who are interested -- [laughter] we have a lot of material out there. but i do want everybody to remember a few key things. the deal that we already reached with iran has already halted or will roll back parts of iran's nuclear program. now we are seeking a comprehensive solution. i will not accept a bad deal. as i pointed out in my most recent article with jeff goldberg, this deal will have my name on it, so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure it delivers on its promise.
[applause] i want a good deal. i am interested in a deal that blocks every single one of iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon. every single path. a deal that imposes unprecedented inspections on all aspects of the nuclear program so they cannot cheat. if they try to cheat, we will immediately know about it and sanctions snap back on. a deal that endures beyond a decade, that addresses the challenge for the long-term. in other words, a deal that makes the world and the region including israel, more secure. that's how i define a good deal. i cannot stand here and
guarantee that an agreement will be reached. we are working hard, but nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. when it comes to preventing iran from getting a nuclear weapon, all options are and will remain on the table. moreover, even if we do get a good deal, there remains the broader issue of iran's support for terrorism, regional destabilization, and ugly threats against israel. that's why our strategic partnership with israel will remain, no matter what happens in the days and years ahead. that's why the people of israel must always know, america has its back, and america will always have its back. [applause] [applause]
now, that does not mean that they will not be, or should not be, periodic disagreements between our two governments. there will be disagreements on tactics, when it comes to how to prevent iran from getting a nuclear weapon. that is entirely appropriate. and should be fully aired. the stakes are sufficiently high that anything that is proposed has to be subjected to scrutiny. and i welcome that scrutiny. but there will also be disagreements rooted in shared history, which go beyond tactics, rooted in how we might remain true to our shared values. i came to know israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzes, golda meier, israel overcoming incredible odds in the '67 war. the notion of pioneers that set out to not only safeguard a
nation, but to remake the world. not only to make the desert bloom, but to allow their values to flourish. to ensure that the best of judaism would thrive. those values in ways came to be my own values. they believed the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world. a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.
to a young man like me, grappling with his own identity, recognizing the scars of race here in this nation and inspired by the civil rights struggle the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as israel was, but not be trapped by it, to be able to repair the world, that idea was liberating. the example of israel and its values was inspiring. so when i hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support of israel, i must object. and, i object forcefully. [applause] for us to paper over difficult
questions, particularly about the israeli-palestinian conflict or settlement policies, that's not a true measure of friendship. before i came out here, the rabbi showed me the room that has been built to promote scholarship and dialogue. to be able to find how we make our shared values live. and the reason you have that room is because applying those values to our lives is often hard, and involves difficult choices.
that's why we study. that's why it's not just a formula. that's what we have to do as nations, as well as individuals. we have to grapple and struggle with how we apply the values we care about to this very challenging and dangerous world. it is precisely because i care so deeply about the state of israel, precisely because, yes i have high expectations for israel, the same way i have high expectations for america, that i feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what it takes for the preservation of the jewish homeland. i believe that is two states for two people, israel and palestine living side-by-side in peace and security. [applause] just as israelis built a state in their homeland, palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land as well.
[applause] now, i want to emphasize, that's not easy. the palestinians are not the easiest of partners. the neighborhood is dangerous. and we cannot expect israel to take existential risks with their security, so any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility. but it is worthwhile for us to keep up the prospect, the possibility of bridging divides and being just.
and looking squarely at what is possible, but also necessary, in order for israel to be the type of nation it was intended to be. [applause] and that same sense of shared values also compel me to speak out, compel all of us to speak out against the scourge of anti-semitism wherever it exists. [applause] i want to be clear. to me, all these things are connected.
the rights i insist upon and now fight for for all people here in the united states, compels me then to stand up for israel and look out for the rights of the jewish people. the rights of the jewish people than compel me to think about palestinian child in ramallah who feels trapped, without opportunity. that's what jewish values teach me. [applause] that's what the judeo-christian tradition teaches me. these things are connected. in recent years, we have seen a deeply disturbing rise in anti-semitism, in parts of the world where it would have seemed unthinkable just a few years or decades ago. this is not some passing fad. these are not just isolated phenomena.
we know from our history, they cannot be ignored. anti-semitism is, and always will be a threat to broader human values to which we all must aspire. when we allow anti-semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed. and it will spread. that's why tonight, for the first time ever, congregations around the world are celebrating a solidarity shabbat, a chance for leaders to publicly stand against anti-semitism and bigotry in all of its forms. i am proud to be a part of this movement. i am proud that six ambassadors from europe are joining us today, and their presence here our presence together, is a
reminder that we are not going -- we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. [applause] our traditions, our history, can help us chart a better course as long as we are mindful of that history and those traditions and we are vigilant in speaking out and standing up against what is wrong. it is not always easy to speak out against what is wrong, even for good people. so i want to close with a story of one of the many rabbis who came to selma 50 years ago. a few days after he arrived to
join the protests, he and a colleague were thrown in jail. they spent a friday in custody singing to the tune of "we shall overcome." that in and of itself is a profound statement of faith and hope. but, what is wonderful is that out of respect, many of their fellow protesters again wearing what they called freedom caps, yarmulkes, as they marched. the day after they were released from prison, the rabbi watched dr. king lead a prayer meeting before crossing the edmund pettus bridge. dr. king said, we are like the children of israel, marching from slavery to freedom.
that's what happens when we are true to our values. it's not just good for us. but, it brings the community together. [applause] tikkun olam. it brings the community together and helps to repair the world. it bridges differences that once looked unbridgeable. it creates a future for our children that once seemed unattainable. this congregation, jewish-american life is a testimony to the capacity to make our values live. but it requires courage. it requires strength. it requires that we speak the truth, not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.
so may we always remember that our shared heritage makes us stronger, that our roots are intertwined. may we always choose faith over nihilism, and courage over despair, and hope over cynicism and fear as we walk our own leg of a timeless, sacred march. may we always stand together here at home and around the world. thank you. god bless you. [applause]
on c-span. next, q and day with the direct your of the library in than the senate hearing on syria in iraq. after that, the joint chiefs of staff on global threat. ♪ announcer: this week on "q&a," our guest is michael witmore director of the folger shakespeare library. he talks about the library the life of william shakespeare, and modern-day politicians in the world. brian lamb: michael witmore, director of the folger shakespeare library. when did you first notice in your life politicians using shakespeare's quotes?