Over the years, some of my wildest critics seem to have
assumed I am Jewish. At the same time, some of my closest
friends wish I were.
So let me set the record straight: I live in New York. I
have a wife who craves Chinese food. And people I trust tell
me I practically invented the word "chutzpah."
Ladies and gentleman, I am humbled by the honor you have
given me - because this award speaks more to your good work
than it does to mine.
The American Jewish Committee started in response to the
persecution of Jews in czarist Russia. And your response took
a very American form: an organization that would speak up for
those who could not speak for themselves.
In the century since your founding, the American Jewish
Committee has become one of the world's most influential
organizations. Yet though your concerns begin with the safety
and welfare of Jews, these concerns are anything but
parochial. The reason for this is clear: You know that the
best guarantee of the security of Jews anywhere is the freedom
of people everywhere.
Your good work has helped bring real and lasting changes to
our world. Unfortunately, while some threats have been
defeated, new ones have taken their place. And these new
threats remind us the AJC's work is more vital than ever.
In Europe, men and woman who bear the tattoos of
concentration camps today look out on a continent where Jewish
lives and Jewish property are under attack - and public debate
is poisoned by an anti-Semitism we thought had been dispatched
to history's dustbin.
In Iran, we see a regime that backs Hizbullah and Hamas now
on course to acquire a nuclear weapon.
In India, we see Islamic terrorists single out the Mumbai
Jewish Center in a well-planned and well-coordinated attack
that looks like it could be a test run for similar attacks in
similar cities around the world.
MOST FUNDAMENTALLY, we see a growing assault on both the
legitimacy and security of the State of Israel.
This assault comes from people who make clear they have no
intention of ever living side-by-side in peace with a Jewish
state - no matter how many concessions Israel might make. The
reason for this is also clear: These are men who cannot abide
the idea of freedom, tolerance and democracy. They hate Israel
for the same reasons they hate us.
As I speak, the flashpoint is Gaza. For months now, Hamas
has been raining down rockets on Israeli civilians. Like all
terrorist attacks, the aim is to spread fear within free
societies, and to paralyze its leaders. This Israel cannot
afford. I do not need to tell anyone in this room that no
sovereign nation can sit by while its civilian population is
Hamas knows this better than we do. And Hamas understands
something else as well: In the 21st century, when democratic
states respond to terrorist attacks, they face two terrible
THE FIRST HANDICAP is military. It's true that Israel's
conventional superiority means it could flatten Gaza if it
wanted. But the Israel Defense Forces - unlike Hamas - are
accountable to a democratically chosen government.
No matter which party is in the majority, every Israeli
government knows it will be held accountable by its people and
by the world for the lives that are lost because of its
decisions. That's true for lives of innocent Palestinians
caught in the crossfire. And it's also true for the Israeli
soldiers who may lose their lives defending their people.
In this kind of war, Hamas does not need to defeat Israel
militarily to win a big victory. In fact, Hamas knows that in
some ways, dead Palestinians serve its purposes even better
than dead Israelis.
In the West we look at this and say, "It makes no sense."
But it does make sense.
If you are committed to Israel's destruction, and if you
believe that dead Palestinians help you score a propaganda
victory, you do things like launch rockets from a Palestinian
schoolyard. This ensures that when the Israelis do respond, it
will likely lead to the death of an innocent Palestinian - no
matter how many precautions Israeli soldiers take.
Hamas gets away with this, moreover, because it does not
rule Gaza by the consent of those it claims to represent. It
rules by fear and intimidation. It is accountable to no one
This is the chilling logic of Gaza. And it helps explain
why even a strong military power like Israel can find itself
at a disadvantage on the ground.
THE SECOND HANDICAP for Israel is the global media war. For
Hamas, the images of Palestinian suffering - of people losing
their homes, of parents mourning their dead children, of tanks
rolling through the streets - create sympathy for its cause.
In a battle marked by street to street fighting, the death
of innocents is all but inevitable. That is also true of Gaza.
And these deaths have led some to call for Israel to be
charged with war crimes by an international tribunal.
But I am curious: Why do we never hear calls for Hamas
leaders to be charged with war crimes?
Why, for example, do we hear no calls for human rights
investigations into Hamas gunmen using Palestinian children as
human shields? Why so few stories on the reports of Hamas
assassins going to hospitals to hunt down their fellow
Palestinians? And where are the international human rights
groups demanding that Hamas stop blurring the most fundamental
line in warfare: the distinction between civilian and
I suspect the answer has to do with the same grim logic
that leads Hamas to provoke a military battle it knows it
cannot win. Whether Israel is ever found guilty of any war
crime hardly matters. Hamas gets a propaganda win simply by
having the charge made often and loudly enough.
In this, Israel finds itself in much the same position the
United States found itself in Iraq before the surge. There,
al-Qaida realized that it was in its interests to provoke
sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni - no matter what the
cost to innocent Iraqis. That is the nature of terror. And
what we are seeing in Gaza is just one front in this much