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Kerry: Remarks at ADL National Conference (2004)

Kerry: Table of Contents | Views on the Middle East | Legislative Record

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Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Wow!

Dick Glovsky, thank you. Thank you, all of you, for a remarkably generous welcome. I am really thrilled to be here today. I'm happy to have a chance to share some very personal thoughts with all of you. And I'm honored to be speaking before the ADL, for a lot of reasons, one of which Dick touched on, promising some great tale to you. But I'm appreciative to Dick for his long long-time friendship and loyalty.

It's a great privilege to be here with Ambassador Ayalon. Thank you for that honor.

Senatore Marcello Pera, "bienvenuto" in Washington. Glad to have you here.

And Barbara, congratulations to you -- the first woman in 90 years to lead the ADL. (Applause.) Spectacular.

And Ginny (sp), likewise, we're proud of you, as a Massachusetts citizen, sister, and so proud of the work you're doing with the national conference. So I'm honored to be able to follow in your great footsteps. (Applause.)

Also, if I may have the privilege of just commenting, my brother, Cameron, is here somewhere. I don't know where. He was -- maybe he isn't seated. Is he? Oh, he's way down there. I just want to introduce my brother, Cam, here -- (applause) -- and a great long-time friend of mine who's graciously agreed to serve as the chair of my finance effort in Massachusetts, and he has contributed significantly to our record-breaking effort. And that's Alan Solomont, who's over here, a good friend of the community. (Applause.) Thank you, Alan.

ADL means a lot to me, because Lenny Zakim was a great friend of mine, as he was all of yours, and someone that you admired for his remarkable passion, extraordinary courage and commitment, not just courage in terms of the issues and what ADL stands for, but his personal courage as he lived out the final days of his life still always just passionate about his work and what we can achieve together, all of us.

For all of its history, ADL has been self-asked to live up to one of the oldest, most fundamental principles of civilization. It's actually one of the commandments, as we know -- love your neighbor.

And all of you are yourselves showing courage, because it can be bitter, it is tough. Bigotry, hatred, fear drive people to do things that are inexplicable. And it is hard in any community to stand up against that, but it is vital, and you've always understood that. For 90 years you have reminded the communities that you live in and contribute to, that community itself has to be built, it has to be contributed to, it has to be fought for. And for 90 years, you have shown that strong communities actually do create a safer world.

Communities take all shapes and forms and sizes. I learned that personally a long time ago when I served on a small boat which became a six-person community. But we were different people, different backgrounds, different educations, different twangs, different religions. And yet none of that mattered, none of it mattered at all. We simply came to be the same people in the same place fighting under the same flag praying to the same God, and knowing that we each depended on each other. We were literally, all of us, in the same boat. (Laughter.) And that's a great lesson to learn, my friends.

And when I came back here, it's a lesson that I've tried to put into public life through all the things that I have fought for and chosen to be part of. And I'm running for president now because I think this fundamental principle is so important to us. We are all in the same boat, whether we are here in America fighting to make our country better, or whether we're struggling with terrorism, or struggling with the peace issues in the Middle East, or struggling with unbelievably divisive and difficult issues across this planet.

And in my judgment, what ADL stands for is what I would like to fight for. It's the notion that we don't try to have a politics that goes down to the lowest common denominator, but rather, lifts people up to the highest common denominator; that doesn't try to drive wedges between people in order to govern and conquer, but recognizes the words of Abraham Lincoln that a house divided against itself cannot stand. And we should ask ourselves in this country why it is that we are so divided today.

For 90 years, the Anti-Defamation League has been helping to build this stronger America by fighting against ant-Semitism, yes; but much larger than that, and Americans need to understand that. Fighting against bigotry, fighting against stereotypes, fighting for freedom, fighting for rights, fighting for the ability of each person in this country to be who they are, which is at the foundation of what we are as a nation.

I have never met, ever in my life, any child, two-and-a-half years old, who hates anybody. Never met it. And I don't think you have either. Hate is taught. Hate is the consequence of the absence of leadership. Hate is because leaders do not stand up and fight against and stand up against and fight for those things that are the foundation of the universal principles and freedoms on which we try to organize civilization itself.

The Anti-Defamation League, I learned from Lenny Zakim, works at that in so many different ways. Lenny put together the largest-ever black Jewish Seder in Boston. I think some 600 people came to it. He also fought hard to improve relations among other communities in the city of Boston.

And ADL brought me to the fight that Dick Glovsky mentioned earlier about religion. Two Christians wanted to practice their religion in the workplace by honoring the birth of Jesus Christmas day, and they didn't think they should have to work on that day if they had made a provision for someone else to take their place and do so. Notwithstanding that rather fundamental choice, they were fired. And ADL stepped into the breach, and when that case came to my attention, we drafted legislation in the Congress to apply to all people for the right to wear a particular piece of clothing that is critical to you, for the right to be able to work out arrangements for the right -- if it's not inconvenient to a business, to be able to practice one's religion. That is part of the freedom of our country, and that is vital. So we now have the Religious Non-Discrimination Act -- Workplace Act, that we are trying to pass, and I hope we can because it will further what this country stands for.

Last week, we celebrated a number of different things. We celebrated the creation of Israel, a nation that was founded 56 years ago as a home for people who couldn't find a home elsewhere and who were unwelcome in so many places.

In May -- we celebrate this May, a few weeks from now, the 50th anniversary of Brown versus Board of Education. And after last week's conference in Berlin, we celebrate 55 countries that came together who have pledged to intensify their efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to spread tolerance. And Abe Foxman has been a leader on this issue for so long, will have much to share with all of us about the hopes that come from that.

But if you look at each of those celebrations, each of them brings with them a measure of challenge still, and we understand that, which is why we're here. The celebration in the state of Israel is met with the shooting of a pregnant woman and four of her daughters, and terror continues to divide. And there still is an absence of leadership and an entity with whom to negotiate.

We see that, 50 years after Brown versus Board of Education, we still have a fundamentally separate and unequal school system in the United States of America. And we still know that anti-Semitism, notwithstanding the meeting of 55 countries, has been growing, and demands global leadership in order to stand up against it. Fifteen hundred and fifty-seven incidents of anti-Semitism plagued our country last year, and African-American and Latino children still attend crumbling schools in cities that have been abandoned by their own governments. Gay teenagers still live in fear of beatings from their straight classmates. In Terre Haute, Indiana a holocaust museum memorializing children who were the victims of Nazi medical experimentation was destroyed by arson. A museum memorializing children is destroyed by arson.

Across the Atlantic we've seen a new wave of anti-Semitism, masking as anti-Israel sentiment, and it's creeping its way across Europe and the Middle East. And scores of Jewish graves, of memorials, of synagogues, schools have been defaced in places like France and Germany. Jews in these countries look at violence in the Middle East and see it on television screens, but now it's used a pretext for prejudice against Jewish people in their own communities and everywhere.

This feeling of vulnerability is a problem for Jews in many parts of the world, and that's something that I have come to understand, something that I have come to see as one of the great challenges for us. But it's not just a Jewish problem. It's an American problem. It's a European problem. It's an Arab problem. It is a world problem, challenging everyone who loves freedom and cherishes tolerance and understands the value of both of those to this journey that we're on, all of us together, to the place that we want to get to.

When it comes to battling bigotry, we are all in this together, in the same boat. And the resurgence of anti-Semitism throughout Europe is just sort of a leading edge, if you will, of the capacity for many other things to become unraveled, if you don't stand up when it's important.

None of us will forget the eloquence of Elie Wiesel in his many statements about what the words "never again" mean and how revisionism and history and current events have a way of shoving aside, in the absence of leadership, those things that we should remember.

I am proud that I have spent a lifetime standing with the Lenny Zakims, and Dick Glovskys, and Ginny McDowells and others who have stood up against prejudice, who fight every day for it. And I will do that every day of my presidency, because I believe that our nation itself hinges on the outcome of this struggle.

There's no -- (interrupted by applause). And there is obviously no greater danger or ultimate expression of bigotry than the terror that we face today in the world. Our friends in Israel have lived with this for their entire lives, and on a tragic day in September of 2001, it visited the shores of the United States in its first significant way, though we have seen other bombings and terror. But none like that.

So let me be clear. I intend to be a president who understands how you in fact make the United States of America safer; how you fight the most effective war on terror. And that requires us to live up to principles which every president of the last century lived up to: working with other countries cooperatively; leading on the principles that I talked about a moment; working on our common humanity and things that connect us, rather than proceeding unilaterally, indignantly, sometimes arrogantly and recklessly, but bringing the world to our side as we must.

The people of Israel should also know that for the entire 20 years that I have been in the United States Senate, I'm proud that my commitment to a secure Jewish state has been unwavering; not even by one vote or one letter or one resolution has it wavered. And as president, I can guarantee you that that support and that effort for our ally, a vibrant democracy, will continue.

I have -- (interrupted by applause) -- but I want to share with you more personally why that is so, because you often hear those words. But it's important to understand sort of how they connect to somebody, what it means. And I want to do that particularly in the context of ADL. Because my first trip ever to Israel was under the guidance of not just ADL but Lenny Zakim. And we spent one entire week traveling through the country visiting. Dick Glovsky was with me, as were other friends from Massachusetts and Florida and elsewhere in the country.

And we traveled everywhere, to all of the sites, to the north, to a kibbutz, Kiriat Shemona (sp), which I will never forget, because it was near a school where only a few years earlier children had been murdered, innocently. And we went down into a shelter where children had to take refuge when the Katyusha rockets came across the border from Lebanon.

We went up, of course, onto the Golan Heights to understand the strategic importance and to see how vital that high ground was, particularly at that moment, given where we stood; traveled also to the Sea of Galilee, to the Christian sites, the religious sites; actually stood on the Mount of the Beatitudes and read the Sermon on the Mount to those gathered with me.

And it happened that this was at a time of terrorism, and most trips had been cancelled. And we turned out to be the only people there, literally. And our guide, a fellow by the name of Yadin Raman (sp), who publishes Eretz Israel magazine, turned to us and said, "You know, in all the years I've been here and all the years I've been a guide, I've never driven into this parking lot and seen it absolutely empty." And it was a time when, I think, Gary Hart had just cancelled his trip, and others had cancelled their trips.

So we had the privilege of standing on the mount alone, in this incredible solitude, looking down onto the water on an absolutely beautiful soft day, and reading and talking about what it meant, what the meaning was of this rabbi who was preaching on the mountain as his ministry of three years had begun.

And subsequently, we went south. I got to go down to the Ovda Air Base. We climbed Masada. I'll tell you about that in a minute.

But at Ovda Air Base -- I'm a pilot, and I was longing to get up into Israel airspace. And I made several requests of Tel Aviv, and Tel Aviv kept saying, "No, we don't think this is a good idea, for the senator to go flying."

Finally, I sort of nudged the colonel that I was with. And he was an ace from the '67 war. And I said, "Colonel, is there no way we could arrange this? Would you mind going back and calling Tel Aviv and see if we could do a flight?"

So lo and behold, he gets up from the table. And we're starting to eat. And he comes back about 10 minutes later, and he says -- (speaking with the colonel's accent) -- "Senator, I hope you don't eat too much. We're going flying." (Laughter.)

So the next thing I know, I'm whisked out to the airport, which is right there, out to the airstrip, and he tells me, "Look, I'm not going to have time to give you all the instructions, but the minute we take off, it's your airplane." (Laughter.)

Now I had never explained to him whether I'd ever flown a jet before or anything.

And he was very trusting. And I got out to the tarmac and I got into my suit and my helmet and jumped into the airplane. It was a trainer, a Fuga trainer. And I got in the front seat, he got in the back. He was indeed very trusting. That's why he was an ace! (Laughter.) And we take off.

And literally, you know, we're about five feet above the runway and he gives me this signal with a stick, says, "Your plane." So I take it off. We go up into the sky. Climb up, head down towards Aqaba. And I wanted to look at Aqaba, so I'm coming down over Aqaba, and I suddenly hear this voice in the intercom and he says, "Senator, you better turn faster, you're going over Egypt." (Laughter.) So I started to wrap it in and do a faster turn.

Then I asked him if I could do a loop, a little aerobatics. And he said fine. So I went up to about 12,000 feet and proceeded to go in and do a loop. And I want you to know, ladies and gentlemen, that to be able to come out upside down and look down and catch the horizon in back of me, and see all the way down into the Sinai, to the old base that had been given up, all the way across into Jordan, all the way out into the Gulf of Aqaba, and to see Israel beneath me, and the lines contained, and to see it all upside down was the perfect way to see the Middle East and Israel. (Laughter, applause.)

But in all seriousness, it was an extraordinary lesson to look off into Jordan and Syria, to see the Mediterranean, to see the entire Sinai, to get this tiny sense of how compacted and small it was -- reinforced, may I add, by a drive along the green line looking down those eight miles or so at the thinnest spot, to see the ocean and to recognize how just absolutely extraordinary it is.

Of course, I also went to Yad Vashem. I went to Masada. I climbed Masada with friends. We took our time doing it. And Yadin was the perfect guide because he took us through all of what Josephus Flavias had written about the assault on Masada. And when we got to the top, we had a long debate, after we'd wandered through the various rooms and things, about what had really happened. And it was raised by Yadin -- he wanted to be provocative, and he wanted us to debate whether or not these 600-plus Jews had in fact been the last, and whether they had committed suicide, and what had happened because bodies had not been found. And we looked down on those Roman ruins and on the place where the assault was -- we actually walked in at first and then went up.

And at the end of all of this, this two-hour debate or so, Yadin said, "Now I want to share something special with you." We took a vote as to what had happened, and the fact that they had killed themselves won. He actually had argued the other side.

And then we went to the edge of the mountain across the chasm, and he said this is where the air force is sworn in. This is where the military comes, and they stand here and they go through a ceremony, and I want you all to yell after me. And we stood on the edge and we yelled "Am Yisrael chai!" And boom, across -- (applause) -- across came the echo, the most eerie and unbelievable sound. And we sort of looked at each other and we felt as if we were hearing the souls of those who had died there speaking to us.

So from the subtle colors of the Jerusalem stone, the beauty and warmth of the mountains and the olive trees, to the rugged extraordinary vista of those stone pastures, Israel is special. It is a place to be guarded and to be cherished by all.

And I want you to know that, as president, my promise to the people of Israel is this: I will never force Israel to make concessions that cost or compromise any of Israel's security. The security of Israel is paramount. And we an ally and we are a friend and we have a special relationship, and we must remember that. We will also never expect Israel to negotiate peace without a credible partner. And it is up to the United States in my judgment to do a better job of helping the Arab world to help that partner to evolve and to develop, and we should be engaged in that effort. (Applause.)

And we will always work to provide the political and the military and the economic help for the fight against terror because it is our fight. Obviously, yesterday's vote raises questions about where things are going. Israel has long wanted to be out of Gaza. We all understand that. We even tried to see that happen with Egypt. And whatever the future of this particular plan, if elected president I will guarantee you that I will work continuously, never disengaging as this administration did for so long, in a way that will advance that cause. And I will also guarantee that we work hard to make certain that we put pressure on the Arab countries.

But still, I wrote the money-laundering legislation a number of years ago, and I will tell you that for a long time we have known what the movement of money is and the flow to terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Aqsa Brigade, and so forth.

And I personally remember sitting with Crown Prince Abdullah and others, and President Mubarak, and asking questions about what was happening, and also about the textbooks, and about the theory that the Jews had in fact -- were responsible for 9/11. I was there after 9/11 confronting them on these issues.

And I believe that it is critical that from the first days of a Kerry administration, the world understands that we are going to be prepared to hold people accountable for their actions, and we're going to fight for a safer world and build a stronger America. And that is the first responsibility of the president, but there is no way to do that without being more engaged as an honest broker, always in the effort to try to advance the cause of peace.

I'm running because we're in a new kind of war, a very different war from what this administration is selling America. The war on terror is not just the flexing of our military muscle. It is above all an intelligence gathering and law enforcement effort which will result in military efforts when appropriate. But as we have seen, more than ever, we need intelligence that is sound, and we need to make certain that when we act, we're acting on the truth. That is at the core of who we are as a people. (Applause.)

Those who know me well know, and I hope the rest of the country will get to know this as we go forward, I will never hesitate to use force when necessary to protect our principles and our nation. And I will always stand up for the values of our country in a way that lives up to both our history and our sense of self. But I will also never cede our security to any international institution or to any other country, because I think it is essential for a president always, obviously, to maintain that right of decision and that right of the defense of our nation.

I will make sure that our armed forces, if we ever commit them, do not go to war without the equipment -- state of the art -- that they deserve and need. It is stunning to me that whether it's humvees that are unarmored or other kinds of equipment, that some of our troops have been put in harm's way in the way that they have. And I believe -- I also will guarantee you that we will never attempt to win this war on the cheap in that sense, but we will also force our enemies to wage the war on the cheap. And we will do that particularly in situations where we face money flowing through charitable trusts or charitable institutions, so-called, to support terror. We need to do more publicly to name and shame and hold accountable those who support that kind of terror. There is no room for a middle ground in those efforts. (Applause.)

As all of you know, in this war on terror we're not facing off against one man, Osama bin Laden, or two or 20. It's not just one network. It's not even the threat of terrorism itself. We face a fundamental struggle of values: democracy against terror, diversity against tyranny, all the things ADL fights about. It's all part of the same fabric, the same weaving.

So let's be clear. The war on terror is not a clash of civilizations, as some want it to be known. It is a clash of civilization against fanaticism; of the progress of humanity against the primitive fears and interpretations of the few.

We can all stand with the Anti-Defamation League in combatting anti-Semitism and racism wherever it exists. We can protect religious freedom on the job and protect that incredible line that was drawn by our Founding Fathers, that some have breached and want to breach, that separates affairs of church and state in the United States of America. (Applause.)

We can work to build our economies at home. We can work to break down the barriers of discrimination. We can lift people from the swamps of despair to the high ground of hope. We can do these things. We can literally build bridges between our neighborhoods that strengthen our common humanity. But we have to be willing, each and every one of us, to do more than just the daily fare of life in pursuit of self and in pursuit of material things.

We have to build the spirit of this country around its founding principles. And that is the symbol of that bridge in Boston that we cherish so much today, which is called the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge.

When I think of that bridge and the moment that we celebrated it with Bruce Springsteen there singing "Thunder Road" -- Lenny was a great Springsteen fan -- I remember how many different barriers this one person broke down, how much he lived out the spirit of our generation that came to life in the 1960s when we became part of the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-war movement and the environment effort and women's empowerment in this country.

All of those things came out of people -- who were willing to go out and get their heads beat in and stand in line and picket and do things to make a difference and advance the cause of country. And those individuals changed history for that period of time.

We need again in our own country to reclaim some of our democracy, to go back and make some of these issues voting issues again, to have a real conversation in America about real things that affect people, not 30-second sound bites and ads and paid destruction and these extraordinary slogans that defeat the choice of people for things that matter to their jobs, to their education, to their children, their health care, their environment and their future but reduce politics to some completely life-quality unaffecting choice.

Lenny Zakim understood that. He understood it so well that the pope actually named him a knight of St. Gregory, which was one of the highest honors bestowed on laypeople by the Catholic Church. And he was there at the end of his life, delaying his own cancer treatments so that he could keep working, keep teaching, keep spreading the values that make us strong. Lenny knew better than every single one of us, and he said it in a 1999 interview with the Boston Globe. He said, "We cannot wait for another Moses or Jesus to solve the predicament we find ourselves in today. We have to do it ourselves," echoing the words of President Kennedy in 1960 when, at the end of his inauguration address, he said "Here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own."

So this is not just the calling of the Anti-Defamation League. This is the calling of all Americans who believe in our country and in our principles, and it is the calling of all those who believe in our common humanity across this planet. I believe we can harness that spirit to lift up our land again, to lift up our aspirations, to change our politics, and to change the direction of this nation. And if you will lend me your trust and your strength and your voice and your vote, that's exactly the kind of president that I intend to be.

Thank you and God bless. Thank you.

John Kerry for President