Obama Addresses Grand Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism

Obama reiterates his record on Israel:

  • President defends commitment to Israel’s security
  • Proud of “hardest-hitting” sanctions on Iran expected to be signed into law soon
  • Obama says his administration has led fight against delegitimization

Before the speech, Obama met on the sidelines of the conference with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who had already spoke at the convention, for about a half hour.

Transcript of Remarks by President Barack Obama

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.  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.  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.  You helped to liberate Soviet Jews.  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.   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 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.  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.

So this week congregations around the world will retell the story of Joseph.  As any fan of Broadway musicals will tell you, there is a lot going on in this reading.  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 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.  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.  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.”

More after the jump.
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.  

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.  Those same values led Jewish leaders to found RAC 50 years ago. They led Abraham Joshua Heschel to pray with his feet and march with Dr. King. 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.

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.  

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.  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.  

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.  

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.

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

It’s making family planning more accessible to millions of Americans. 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.

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.

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.

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. 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.  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.  

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.  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 &mndash; that’s what this is about.  And last night, you reaffirmed the moral dimension of this debate.

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.

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.  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.  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.

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. That’s why we’ve worked on the international stage to promote the rights of women to promote strategies to alleviate poverty —  to promote the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians — and people with disabilities —  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.   I have not wavered and will not waver.  That is our shared vision.  

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.

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.

Now, that vision begins with a strong and secure State of Israel.  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.

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.

So America’s commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is unshakeable.  It is unshakeable.

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.

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.

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.

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.  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.  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.  Last year, when raging fires threatened Haifa, we dispatched fire-fighting planes to help put out the blaze.

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.  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.  

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.

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.

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.

Send Obama A Message!


— by Rabbi Avi Shafran

The Obama administration considers Israel a sponsor of terror — at least according to Dick Morris, the disgraced ex-advisor to Bill Clinton, and a host of self-styled “conservative” media. The news was shocking — well, maybe not to the clever folks who knew all along that the president is a secret Muslim, but certainly to the rest of us.

What turned out to be the case is that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency maintains a list of 36 “specially designated countries” whose immigrating citizens get extra scrutiny because their nations “promote, produce or protect terrorist organizations or their members.” Note the word “or.”

“Produce,” in this context, means that terrorists reside in the country. Thus, countries like the Philippines and Morocco, along with Israel, are on the list. Approximately a million and a half Israeli citizens are Arabs-many of whom have ties to Arab residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. So no, with apologies to Mr. Morris et al, the U.S. does not consider Israel a terror sponsor.

What makes some people all too ready to misrepresent such things is that many Americans, especially in the Jewish community, have deep concerns about President Obama’s Middle East policies. My personal view is that these concerns are overblown. While I realize there are other opinions, as far as I can tell Mr. Obama’s positions on building in the settlements and on the terms of Israel-Palestinian negotiations have been American policy since long before his presidency.

Even doubters of Mr. Obama’s good will, though, should recognize the import of the administration’s declared readiness to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood. That stance risks the U.S.’s international political capital and may even, G-d forbid, come to threaten Americans’ safety. Might it speak more loudly about the president than his opposition to new settlements?

Speaking equally loudly is what happened on September 9, when Mr. Obama acted swiftly to warn Egyptian authorities that they had better protect Israeli embassy guards in Cairo besieged by a mob. When Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minster Barak were unable to reach the apparently indisposed Egyptian military leader Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spent hours hounding the Egyptian, finally reaching him at 1 AM to let him know that if anything happened to the Israelis, there would be “very severe consequences.” Egyptian soldiers protected the hostages until an Israeli Air Force plane safely evacuated them.

Mr. Netanyahu later recounted that he had asked for Mr. Obama’s help and that the president had replied that he would do everything he could. “And so he did,” testified the Prime Minister.  

It may not be meaningful for many, but I was struck two days later on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks when the president, betraying his Islamic beliefs (joke!), chose for his reading at the New York ceremony the 46th chapter of Tehillim. The one including the words (in the White House’s translation):

“Though its waters roar and be troubled… there’s a river whose streams shall make glad the City of G-d, the holy place of the Tabernacle of the Most High.”

And:

“The God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Whatever our takes on this or that statement or position, hard facts are not up for debate.

Let’s not forget some such facts:

  • The Obama administration has provided more security assistance to Israel than any American administration;
  • he has repeatedly declared (first in 2009 in Cairo during his speech to the Arab world) that the bond between the U.S. and Israel is “unbreakable”;
  • his Secretary of State lectured Al-Jazeera that “when the Israelis pulled out of Lebanon they got Hezbollah and 40,000 rockets and when they pulled out of Gaza they got Hamas and 20,000 rockets”;
  • his State Department has condemned the Palestinian Authority’s “factually incorrect” denial of the Western Wall’s connection to the Jewish people;
  • and much more.

Last week, in the lead-up to a Congressional election in Brooklyn  in which Jews had ample other reason to vote against the Democratic candidate, some ads presented the contest as an opportunity to “Send Obama a Message”-which some Jews took to mean an angry message about Israel.

Many thoughtful Jews, though, have a different message for Mr. Obama:

"Thank you."

Sec’y of Defense Robert Gates on Strength of US-Israel Relationship

— David Streeter

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled to Israel and held a high level meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The two have met multiple times over the last two years and their latest meeting underscores the Obama Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security in the face of a changing Middle East.

During the post-meeting press conference, Barak praises Gates’ personal commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship:

I would like to welcome Secretary Gates in his visit here to Israel, and a leading American and a leading friend of the whole region and of Israel as well.  I would like to draw our attention once again to the pivotal role of the relationship and the unique relation between the United States and Israel in shaping our security, the qualitative military edge of Israel, and the stability of the whole region.

I would like to thank you, Secretary Gates, for your friendship, for your personal and institutional contribution to making our security-related exchanges more profound, more substantial than ever in the past.  We highly appreciate this, and we wish you all the best in this visit all around the region and back home.  Thank you.

Gates spoke on the current state of U.S.-Israel relations during his prepared remarks:

I would start by joining President Obama in condemning yesterday’s terrorist bomb attack in Jerusalem, as well as the rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza in recent days and even today.  The thoughts and condolences of the American government and the American people are with the victims and their families.  We underscore that Israel, like all nations, has the right to self-defense and to bring justice to the perpetrators of these repugnant acts.

In my meeting today with Minister Barak, in addition to discussing these attacks, we discussed a range of important defense issues both in our bilateral relationship and across the region, including the dramatic political shifts taking place in the Middle East and the implications those changes hold for the future; Iran’s nuclear program; the security environment on Israel’s borders, including southern Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; and the ongoing military operation over Libya.

Our bilateral relationship and this dialogue is so critical because, as Minister Barak once said, Israel lives at the focal point of some of the biggest security challenges facing the free world:  violent extremism, the proliferation of nuclear technologies, and the dilemmas posed by adversarial and failed states.  And I think it important, especially at a time of such dramatic change in the region, to reaffirm once more America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.

Indeed, I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship.  The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion-cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.

And during an exchange with a reporter Gates said:

President Obama is the eighth American president I’ve worked for.  And I don’t believe that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has ever been stronger than it is right now.  And the steps that we have taken in the last two years in terms of, just as one example, collaborating together on missile defense, I think are without precedent.  I see no change in prospect for that relationship.

Gates concluded his prepared remarks by affirming the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Every time I visit Israel, I’m reminded of the extraordinary challenges the Jewish people have overcome throughout their history, the tremendous accomplishment that the state of Israel represents and the importance of our alliance to ensuring Israel’s security.

Full transcript follows the jump.
Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Minister Barak from Tel Aviv, Israel

MIN. BARAK:  Good afternoon.  I will make a short statement in English, then a few words in Hebrew and then will yield to the secretary.  And then we’ll answer one question on each side, with your permission.

           I would like to welcome Secretary Gates in his visit here to Israel, and a leading American and a leading friend of the whole region and of Israel as well.  I would like to draw our attention once again to the pivotal role of the relationship and the unique relation between the United States and Israel in shaping our security, the qualitative military edge of Israel, and the stability of the whole region.

           We share with the United States a common set of values, and the main topic that we discussed is the developments in the region and the need to keep fighting against terror and the sources of radical behavior.

           Just in the recent hour, once again a rocket hit Ashdod and probably another one even north of Ashdod, and that’s part of an escalation which takes part in the last several days.  I would like to reemphasize that Israel will not tolerate these terror attacks, and we will not allow terror to rise once again.

           The Israel Defense Forces are our main guarantee for deterrence, consultation and even for the backing of our efforts to pursue peace in the region, which we continuously keep doing.

           And once again, I would like to thank you, Secretary Gates, for your friendship, for your personal and institutional contribution to making our security-related exchanges more profound, more substantial than ever in the past.  We highly appreciate this, and we wish you all the best in this visit all around the region and back home.  Thank you.

           (Continues in Hebrew.)

           SEC. GATES:  It’s a pleasure to be back in Israel and to have this opportunity to visit with my friend Ehud Barak, a true warrior-statesman and someone I’ve known and respected and worked with for over 20 years.

           I would start by joining President Obama in condemning yesterday’s terrorist bomb attack in Jerusalem, as well as the rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza in recent days and even today.  The thoughts and condolences of the American government and the American people are with the victims and their families.  We underscore that Israel, like all nations, has the right to self-defense and to bring justice to the perpetrators of these repugnant acts.

           In my meeting today with Minister Barak, in addition to discussing these attacks, we discussed a range of important defense issues both in our bilateral relationship and across the region, including the dramatic political shifts taking place in the Middle East and the implications those changes hold for the future; Iran’s nuclear program; the security environment on Israel’s borders, including southern Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; and the ongoing military operation over Libya.

           Our bilateral relationship and this dialogue is so critical because, as Minister Barak once said, Israel lives at the focal point of some of the biggest security challenges facing the free world:  violent extremism, the proliferation of nuclear technologies, and the dilemmas posed by adversarial and failed states.  And I think it important, especially at a time of such dramatic change in the region, to reaffirm once more America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.

           Indeed, I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship.  The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion — cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.

           As you know, I have a full agenda here during my visit.  Later today, I will see President Peres.  Tomorrow, I will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss our defense relationship and the prospects for a two-state solution, and I will then have discussions with Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad.

           I know there may be a temptation during this time of great uncertainty in the region to be more cautious about pursuing the peace process, but in my meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, I carry a different message:  that there is a need and an opportunity for bold action to move toward a two-state solution.  And as the parties move forward, the United States stands ready to support them in any way we can.

           In closing, every time I visit Israel, I’m reminded of the extraordinary challenges the Jewish people have overcome throughout their history, the tremendous accomplishment that the state of Israel represents and the importance of our alliance to ensuring Israel’s security.

           Thank you, Ehud, for hosting us, and I look forward to seeing you again at dinnertime.

           STAFF:  Thank you.  Thank you both.

           Now two questions.  We start with an American question, then an Israeli question.

           STAFF:  (Off mic.)

           Q:  Thank you very much.  Good afternoon.  This is a question for both Minister Barak and Secretary Gates.  What is your opinion of the upheaval that has now reached Syria by all accounts?  Is this something that Israel’s encouraged by?  Perhaps not, given calls by yourself at times to approach the Assad government for peace.  I’d also like to deepen that question and ask whether Israel sees potentially a Syrian connection to the flare-up in Gaza.  It’s no secret that Islamic Jihad, Hamas have their headquarters in Syria.  Perhaps there’s an outside interest in opening up that front?

           SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, I would say that what the Syrian government is confronting is, in fact, the same challenge that faces so many governments across the region, and that is the unmet political and economic grievances of their people, in some of these countries — Libya is an example, Syria is another example — where authoritarian regimes have suppressed their people and have been willing to use violence against them. Of course, the other example is the Iranian government prepared to use force against its own people.

           And so I think that what we see is the opening to the future that’s occurring in virtually all of these countries.  Some of them are dealing with it better than others.  I’ve just come from Egypt, where the Egyptian army stood on the sidelines and allowed people to demonstrate, and in fact, empowered a revolution.  The Syrians might take a lesson from that.

           MIN. BARAK:  First of all, I do not pretend to know exactly what happens now in Syria.  We learn it through a low-visibility kind of filters.  But if our — and I’m — I think that we are lucky enough to be at the center or the focal point of this internal (inaudible) Syria.  But if I would have to advise them, I would join the advice of the secretary, saying that we prefer the Egyptian model of behavior rather than the Libyan one to be adopted by our neighbors.

           In regard to the peace opportunities, once again, we cannot — we cannot pass a judgment right now whether it’s good or not, whether the situation really is right or not.  But in time, the Syrian government will decide that they are open to consider negotiating with us.  We will be open.  But it’s up to them.  It’s their decision.  We cannot pass a judgment.  I think that this difficult situation creates not just sweat and challenges but also opportunities.  And we have be — have to be alert to be able to see those opportunities the moment they emerge rather than let them slip out of our fingers and face the uncertainties of a deeper chaos in the Middle East.

           SEC. GATES:  Phil.

           Q:  Thank you.  And this is a question for both of you.  Do you believe a heavy-handed Israeli response to yesterday’s bombing and today’s rocket attacks would play into the hands of those in the region who want to sever peace talks?  And what path should Israel pursue in regards to peace?

           MIN. BARAK:  Can you repeat the question?  I’m not (inaudible).

           Q:  Sure.  Do you believe a heavy-handed Israeli response to yesterday’s bombing and today’s rocket attacks would play into the hands of those in the region who want to sever peace talks?  And what path should Israel pursue in regards to peace?

           MIN. BARAK:  I think that’s it not about giving a name or description to this response, though is a need to respond.  Every sovereign would have responded when its citizenry is — became a target for indiscriminate launching of rockets.  I do not know any government that would sit idle.  So we have to respond.

           Now, we do not want to become the — kind of the — kind of the victims of our own (inaudible).  So we keep the right to pass a judgment about how, when and in what kind of amount of firepower or ammunition to respond.  But we will respond.  We have to respond.  And we are determined to bring back tranquility to the region.  And unfortunately, this tough neighborhood, it cannot be done without the readiness and practice of using, from time to time, force.

           SEC. GATES:  I think the Israelis will have to make their own decision in terms of how to respond.  No sovereign state can tolerate having rockets fired at its — at its — at its people.

           I think one of the — one of the significant features of what is going on across the region is that as diverse as the countries are, where there is — where there are demonstrations and unrest, in virtually every case, the theme of those demonstrations has been directed inward at problems in those countries.  And I think we all just need to be mindful to keep that we don’t want to do anything that allows extremists or others to divert the narrative of reform that is going on in virtually all of the countries of the region.

           MIN. BARAK:  Please, last question for an Israeli reporter.

           Q:  Mr. Secretary, you’ve just emphasized the special relationship between the United States and Israel.  In light of the recent events in the Middle East, could you comment on Minister Barak’s suggestion that the United States will expand its military aid to Israel by $20 billion?  And Mr. Barak, regarding the shootings from Gaza, do you see Hamas as the only — only Hamas as responsible for this situation, or do you make a distinction between Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

           MIN. BARAK:  I would like to answer, sir, with your permission.  I raised the issue of 20 billion [dollars] as a part of a wider development; will Israel sign a peace agreement with a major neighbor, be it the Palestinians or the whole region or Syria or whatever.  It’s only within this context when we are taking extra mile of risks in order to stabilize the whole region that we can afford turning to the United States and ask them, in spite of all the circumstances therein, to try to help us to upgrade the security of Israel for the next generation.

           In fact, that’s nothing new.  I talked about it 10 years ago with Clinton.  I talked about it five years ago with President Bush.  I already talked to him about it more than once at the Pentagon and the (inaudible) Americans.

           So it’s nothing new about it.  In order to make peace in this tough neighborhood where there is no mercy for the weak, no second opportunity for those who cannot defend themselves, Israel has to take further security risks for all potential development that could happen, as we see around there from time to time.  And that’s where we ask the United States to help us to upgrade our security capabilities by systems that sometimes they are the only one who produces (inaudible).  And we’ve sent in support for us in systems that only we know how to build and develop.

           In regarding to your other question, we see the Hamas as responsible because Hamas is basically not just a terrorist group.  It’s also the regime in Gaza.  And they have to enforce or impose their will upon — be it the Islamic Jihad or other dissident groups.  We cannot make this fine differentiation between different sources of rockets.  When the rockets come on the head of a family somewhere in Ashkelon or in Beersheba or in a small village or city around the Gaza Strip, it doesn’t matter for them whether it came from the — this gang or the other gang or from the Islamic Jihad or from the Hamas.  For us, Hamas is responsible for whatever comes from Gaza.

           SEC. GATES:  First of all, I understood the minister’s comment and in precisely the context that he described it.  And I would just restate what I said in my opening statement, that President Obama is the eighth American president I’ve worked for.  And I don’t believe that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has ever been stronger than it is right now.  And the steps that we have taken in the last two years in terms of, just as one example, collaborating together on missile defense, I think are without precedent.  I see no change in prospect for that relationship.

           David.

           Q:  Mr. Secretary, you’ve just come from Egypt.  And I wonder whether in your conversations with Field Marshal Tantawi and others you had any chance to think about whether Egypt will be as strong a partner as it has been in security issues — for example, in preventing smuggling of weapons to Gaza — and if you had any other questions or concerns after your visit.

           And Minister Barak, I’d be interested in your views about the new Egypt.  And also, as this revolution spreads, it seems now, to Syria, to lemon — to Yemen, to other countries, do you sometimes think —

           MIN. BARAK:  Well, not Iran.

           Q:  Well —

           MIN. BARAK:  We wish together that it will jump directly to Tehran, yeah.

           Q:  Include that in your answer.  But my question is whether you ever wonder whether the United States is — has been so supportive of change that perhaps it should think a bit more about stability in addition?

           SEC. GATES:  First of all, I was quite reassured by my conversations in Egypt, and in particular with Field Marshal Tantawi, about their commitment to the treaty with Israel and to their commitment to continuing a high-level dialogue on a routine basis between Israeli and Egyptian leaders.  They, too, are concerned about the smuggling problem.  And I offered our assistance to them, technical and otherwise, in terms of getting a handle on this.  But I came away persuaded that they take it seriously, and that they also take the relationship with Israel seriously.

           MIN. BARAK:  I think that the historic aspect that we see on the — all over — all around the Arab world is something unprecedented — we didn’t see such phenomena since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire some hundred years ago, almost hundred years ago, or the — or the demise of the French colonial empire some 60 or 50 — it depends how you count — years ago.

           And it’s really — historically speaking, it’s moving and inspiring phenomena; clearly promising for the future of the Arab people, for the young generation in the Arab world, for the right of women, for the right to self — express themselves and so on.

           But unfortunately, we are experienced (inaudible).  As the secretary mentioned today, you know, an optimist in the Middle East is a — a pessimist in the Middle East is an optimist with experience.  We have to follow historic experiences of similar revolutions.  Usually after a short period of elation from the romanticism and the idealism that spreads around the streets, there might come, and came in the past, a determined group, however small, who is ready to kill and be killed if necessary in order to come to power, and they come to power.

           So we have to look around us and make whatever we can.  We are extremely limited in our capacity to influence.  United States has more influence.  But the rest of the world should support the elements that provides or ensures stability in the short range and try to minimize the chances of extremist group to come to power.

           I believe that the basic process is good.  It’s true that the moderate (inaudible) leaders in the region, and I don’t count neither Libya or Iran among them, but the others who are extremely sensitive and responsible regarding to the stability issue and extremely sensitive to international commitments, including the Israeli-Egyptian peace.  So I feel that we have to be careful and open-eyed in the short term to minimize negative developments and minimize risk for stability, but in the long run it’s — it is an extremely positive phenomena.

           In regard to the Egyptian leadership, I know Field Marshal Tantawi for many years.  In fact, 35 years or so — 30 years ago, we fought each other.  We were both (inaudible) battalion commanders in the same — in the same sector when we crossed the Suez Canal.  He was protecting the Eastern Bank with his infantry battalion.  I came with my tank battalion.  When I talked to him after he took power, I told him we have an utmost responsibility to make sure that our younger generation will not find themselves in the same experiences we had been through.

           And I cannot quote him of course, but I have a reason to believe that as long as the Egyptian armed forces are in power, they’re a major pillar of stability within Egypt.  The peace agreement, as well as other Egyptian international commitments, will be respected and kept.

           Thank you once again, my friend, Bob Gates, and have a good stay here.  Thank you all.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak Comes to Washington

National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met jointly today with Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak at the White House today.  They stressed the United States’ unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, including through our continued support for Israel’s military, and the unprecedented security cooperation between our two governments.  Mr. Donilon, Secretary Clinton, and Secretary Gates discussed with Minister Barak the latest developments in Egypt, the need to move forward on Middle East peace, our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and other regional and bilateral issues.  They agreed that the U.S. and Israel would continue to consult closely on common challenges and issues across our shared agenda.