Thank you so much. It is great to see so many good friends from all across the country. I want congratulate Howard Friedman, David Victor, and Howard Kohr on an extraordinary Conference and on the completion of a new headquarters just a few blocks away. I want to my great friend, Lee Rosenberg who has been just tireless in working on behalf of the US Israel relationship.
I want to--I want to make a point of acknowledging our extraordinary Speaker of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi who spoke just before me, and how important her words were and particularly in remembering the three soldiers that are still held by Hezbollah. We will not forget them and we will bring them home. That is a priority of US policy and Israel’s policy.
I also have to note that we had an eventful night last night and my staff and I may still be a little bleary-eyed but we have a number of supporters in this room and we’re very grateful to them, and I also want to acknowledge that following my speech I know that you are going to have the great pleasure of hearing from an extraordinary candidate and an extraordinary public servant and I want to publicly acknowledge Hillary Clinton for the outstanding race that she has run. She is a true friend of Israel; she is a great Senator from New York; she is an extraordinary leader of the Democratic Party and she has made history alongside me over the last 16 months, so I’m very proud to have competed against her. Before I begin I also want to mention that I know some have been receiving provocative emails that have been circulated throughout the Jewish communities across the country and a few of you may have gotten them. They’re filled with tall-tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for President and all I want to say is let me know if you see this guy named Barak Obama because he sounds pretty scary. But if anybody has been confused by these emails I want you to know that today I’ll be speaking from my heart and as a true friend of Israel.
And I know--and I know that when I visit AIPAC I’m among friends--good friends, friends who share my strong commitment to make sure that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, unbreakable tomorrow--unbreakable forever.
One of the many things that I admire about AIPAC is that you fight for this common cause from the bottom up. The life-blood of AIPAC is here in this room; grassroots activists of all ages, from all parts of the country who come to Washington year after year to make your voices heard--nothing reflects the face of AIPAC more than the 1,200 students who have traveled here to make it clear to the world that the bond between Israel and the United States --that the bond between Israel and the United States is rooted in more than our shared national interest; it’s rooted in the shared values and shared stories of our people. And as President I will work with you to insure that it is this bond that is strengthened.
You know I first became familiar with the story of Israel when I was 11 years-old. I had a camp counselor who was an American Jew but had lived in Israel for a time and he told me stories of this extraordinary land and I learned of the long journey and steady determination of the Jewish people to preserve--preserve their identity through faith, family, and culture. Year after year, century after century, Jews carried on their traditions and their dreams of a homeland in the face of impossible odds. The story made a powerful impression on me; I had grown up without a sense of roots.
My father was black; he was from Kenya. He had left when I was two. My mother was white and she was from Kansas and I had moved with her to Indonesia and then back to Hawaii and in many ways I didn’t know where I came from, so I was drawn to the belief that you could sustain a spiritual, emotional, and cultural identity and I understood the Zionist idea that there is always a homeland at the center of our story. And I also--I also learned about the horror of the Holocaust and the terrible urgency it brought to the journey home to Israel. For much of my childhood I lived with my grandparents and my grandfather had served in World War II and so had my great-uncle. He was a Kansas boy who probably never expected to see Europe let alone the horrors that awaited him there.
And for months after he came home from Germany he remained in a state of shock, alone with the painful memories that wouldn’t leave his head. You see my great-uncle had been a part of the 89th Infantry Division, the first Americans to reach a Nazi concentration camp. They liberated Ohrdruf, part of Buchenwald on an April day in 1945. The horrors of that camp go beyond our capacity to imagine, tens of thousands died of hunger, torture, disease or plain murder; part of the Nazi killing machine that killed 6,000,000 people. When the Americans marched in they discovered huge piles of dead bodies and starving survivors. And General Eisenhower ordered Germans from the nearby towns to tour the camp so they could see what was being done in their name. He ordered American troops to tour the camp so they could see the evil they were fighting against. He invited Congressmen and journalists to bear witness and he ordered that photographs and films be made.
Explaining his actions, Eisenhower said he wanted to produce firsthand evidence of these things. If ever in the future there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda. I saw some of those very images at Yad Vashem and they never leave you and those images just hint at the stories that survivors of the Shoa carry with them. Like Eisenhower, each of us bears witness to anyone and everyone who would deny these unspeakable crimes or ever speak of repeating them. We must mean what we say when speak the words never again.