Good afternoon. Thank you for your invitation to speak here today.
Of all the candidates and other politicians who will be coming to your conference, I am the one most like the audience members I see before me today. And I am the one most unlike this audience, too.
How am I like you? I am a 74-year-old Jew, and most of the people before me are Jewish and of an older generation. My father immigrated to America from Poland when he was 16, escaping persecution in eastern Europe, and I know many of you had immigrant parents or grandparents from the old country. The rise of Hitler and the Holocaust were the signal events of my childhood. Most of my father’s relatives were wiped out by Hitler, and believe me, the lesson was not lost in our household. We learned that Jews were unsafe in countries that did not have strong protection for minorities. We learned that sometimes societies must support war to defeat evil. And as I told a town hall not long ago, my historical heroes are Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Because they stood up to the Third Reich, and smashed it.
Our belief in Jewish vulnerability was so strong in my parents’ household that the UN Resolution adopted on November 29, 1947, to establish a Jewish state in part of Palestine was heard by my parents as an act of deliverance. After 2000 years our people who had been persecuted and discriminated against and stuck in ghettoes and had lost all freedom of movement would be sovereign in their own land. At last, Jews would govern themselves!
My belief in Israel as a liberation story for the Jews was so deep and strong — as I believe it is for you — that when I was in my 20s I did what many in this audience did. I moved to Israel to try and build the country. I worked on a kibbutz in northern Israel for several months. I saw the vigorous society that Israel had built for its Jewish citizens. I stumbled along in Hebrew, and I believed it when friends said we were witnessing a historical miracle, the rebirth of Jewish nation on its ancient lands.
So I would say I am very much like the people I see before me.
Well then how am I, among all the politicians who will visit you during this lavish conference, most unlike you?
Because I no longer believe in the need for a Jewish state and I will not lie to you about that belief. Because my campaign is paid for my millions of donations from average citizens, I am not dependent on big campaign donors, many of whom are gathered before me; and therefore I will not tell the American people fairy tales about the state of Israel. I will tell them that it is an apartheid state that treats its Palestinian subjects much as Jews were treated in the lands from which our ancestors came. And I will tell them that its militaristic policies that are held up here as a model for the American role in the world are in fact a disastrous influence over America foreign policy; and in fact they played a part in the decision to invade Iraq, which has disrupted the Middle East and caused so much pain and suffering in our country too.
In fact, I am the only candidate who will tell these truths to Americans, because I am uniquely positioned. I am a Jewish American who once believed that the establishment of Israel as a Jewish democracy was the answer to the Holocaust. There are many special things about my campaign, and my American story; but today that is the most important thing I have to tell. And just as Barack Obama was in a unique position to move the country forward on race in his campaign of 2008, today I am going to tell you some uncomfortable truths. He gave Americans a race speech, I will give you my Jewish speech.
Israel began with great promise and it built great institutions. Very true. But it never could figure out the basic constitutional problem in its establishment, what is the role of the minority, the Arabs or Palestinians, in a Jewish democracy? Its failure to answer this basic question over 70 years and countless governments and countless international efforts to suggest a solution has resulted in the unfair society that we see before us today. In the West Bank, millions of Palestinians are subject to cruel checkpoints manned by teenage soldiers of a different ethnic background who often treat them with contempt. These Palestinians live alongside half a million Jewish colonists who have full rights while they have none, who have swimming pools while their own villages must ration water. In Gaza 1.8 million Palestinians live in an open air prison with zero freedom of movement, and are visited with heinous massacres every few years so as to tame any spirit of resistance. It is no surprise that they have turned to Islamic fundamentalists to lead them, because those leaders refuse to cooperate with the authoritarian regime that rules their lives. In East Jerusalem hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are called residents; but they cannot vote for the government that determines their lives, from building codes to who they can marry to where they can work.
Inside Israel, 1 million Palestinians are second-class citizens, enduring scores of laws that discriminate against them; and a recent Pew survey says that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis like it that way and half of those Jews want their government to expel the Palestinians.
That is the Jewish state that I celebrated when I was a child. That’s how it turned out, a cruel ethnocracy.
The so-called Jewish state has created the very sorts of discriminatory conditions that my father fled in Eastern Europe. So I have no choice but to oppose them today. And at least my father could immigrate to America. Israel has a discriminatory immigration policy. Any Jew in the world has a right to move to the country. But Palestinians who were born in what is now Israel and forced to flee in 1948 cannot go back to the village of their childhood. Many of them live in refugee camps that are reminiscent of the famous DP camps in Europe after World War II. With this notable exception. Those Palestinian families have lived there for generations, and the camps have helped to destabilize Israel’s neighbors.
While the DP camps moved the conscience of the world to act, moved Harry Truman to act.
I believe we must act now as a nation to try and relieve these conditions before they blow up, as they inevitably will, in a bloodbath that could destroy the entire society, as we have seen in Israel’s neighbor to the north, Syria. As Rabbi Hillel said, If not now, when? So when I am president, I will send the strongest signals to Israel that its behavior must change. I will not sign any bill that contains military aid to Israel. I will not, as my opponent has promised to do, invite the Israeli Prime Minister to the White House in the first year, let alone the first month, as she has promised. I will not engage in the charade of a peace process so long as Israel continues to engulf the West Bank and Jerusalem. That’s like negotiating over the division of a pizza while one person eats that pizza. I will not hire any aide who acts as Israel’s lawyer, as Hillary Clinton has; and I will not hire any aide who is steeped in neoconservatism, as all the Republicans will do. And I will reverse the White House policy on the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, movement. I will support BDS, as a nonviolent form of pressure aimed at curbing Israel’s behavior so that Palestinians don’t need to turn to violence — as Nelson Mandela turned to violence, as American revolutionaries turned to violence.
As you know, I have offered myself to the voters as a revolutionary; but let me be clear: the revolutions I believe in are nonviolent. And at this stage of history, mankind is capable of them. That is what I believe.
I have called for a revolution in the economic establishment and the political establishment and the media establishment, and let me say today: that includes the foreign policy establishment too.
That is the last way that I am different from the other candidates who stand before you: I do not think that Israel’s behavior toward its subjects and neighbors is a model for the American role in the world. Israel’s oppressive practices and indiscriminate bombing campaigns breed terrorism, rather than ending terrorism.
In fact, I believe the lessons of my youth in Brooklyn: a country is strong only when it respects the rights of minorities and allows all citizens to pursue their dreams in equality. That is the American dream, still unfulfilled. But it is why, for me, as a young man and then an adult living out my hopes and disappointments and fulfilments in a beautiful part of this country, the story of America superseded my youthful belief in the Jewish state as the stage for political deliverance in the 21st century.
Let me close by invoking the great culture that I share with so many of you. I didn’t always pay attention in synagogue and Hebrew school. I will admit that to you today. But one lesson I absorbed from my Jewish education in Brooklyn was Rabbi Hillel’s answer to the wiseass who asked him to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one leg. Hillel said: “That which is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary.”
Thank you very much.