Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at the 94th Anniversary Dinner of the American Jewish Committee
Washington, DC, May 4, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman, May 5, 2000
U.S. Department of State
Thank you very much. Thank you, Bruce Ramer; President Rau; Prime Minister Persson; Secretary General Schwimmer; Your Excellency Minister bin Alawi of Oman; Excellencies from the diplomatic corps; distinguished Representatives from Capitol Hill; David Harris, members, guests and friends of the American Jewish Committee; good evening. I am truly delighted to be here.
At last year's dinner, you did heard from a woman on a movie screen. And you might have thought it was Julia Roberts, but it was only me. (Laughter.) This year, it's great to be here in body as well as in spirit, so I can talk with you, instead of at you.
I want to begin by thanking the American Jewish Committee for a most generous loan. Your former President, Ambassador Al Moses, is now our Special Emissary for Cyprus. And he's doing a terrific job helping two traditional rivals to find and expand common ground.
So thanks for the loan and for so much more.
Because throughout this week, the American Jewish Committee has called attention to the debt we all owe to "righteous diplomats." But we are indebted, as well, to this righteous organization.
In 1906, when the Committee first met, huge chunks of our planet were still ruled by Kings, Kaisers, and Czars. Hamburgers and hot dogs were just being invented-to the delight of everyone, except the French. And the average hourly wage was 22 cents. And the Secretary of State had a mustache.
Since then, we have reinvented the world. But the passage of time has not diverted this Committee from its core mission. From generation to generation, you have been of good courage and proven strong for our people and for all people.
Around the equator and from pole to pole, you have done more than preach; you have taught. And the benefits of your teaching have spread like manna upon the water, bringing diverse communities into the shared light of mutual understanding. For you believe, as do I, that the more we know about each other, the more we will see ourselves in each other. And that is the beginning of tolerance, and the origin of human progress.
Unfortunately, the urgency of your mission has not lessened. In recent decades, we have learned how to split atoms, transplant hearts, fly spaceships, and clone sheep. We have consigned obsolete technologies to the garbage compactor of history. But we cannot say the same for genocide. In fact, the past century was the bloodiest in human history.
So the American Jewish Committee remains indispensable. Because no one understands more clearly the need for vigilance; the danger of silence; and the truth of President Truman's warning, "It is easier to remove tyrants and destroy concentration camps than to kill the ideas which gave them birth."
Over the past decade, we realized some of our fondest foreign policy dreams. The Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War ended, the nuclear threat diminished, and the Warsaw Pact became democratic. This is cause for cheering. But it has also given rise to a new spirit of complacency and provincialism in some quarters of our country. And these new provincialists ask why we should still care about what happens abroad, especially in places many of us have never been, don't intend to go, couldn't find on a map and can't even spell.
Such thinking is seductive. It means we don't have to care. But we have been down this road before, when too many people in too many countries cared too little about events in hard-to-find and spell places, such as Ethiopia and my native Czechoslovakia, Auschwitz and Dachau.
Every day, we face choices, as individuals, members of organizations and citizens. Do we sit on the sidelines or take a stand? Look the other way or confront evil? Attempt only what is easy, or strive for what is right?
Fortunately, as we scan the horizon this evening, we are encouraged by at least some of the choices we see.
Because NATO was right to stop Milosevic's campaign of terror and to send a message throughout Southeast Europe that ethnic cleansing is intolerable.
And violent nationalism will be opposed.
I thank the American Jewish Committee again for its unwavering and visible support for our efforts, and I commend the generous campaign of relief you launched to aid the victims. To the people of Kosovo, Bruce Ramer and this Committee are humanitarian heroes. And I am glad of your help now, as we strive with our partners, to transform the Balkans from a source of chronic instability into a full participant in a Europe whole and free.
The world community was also right when it came together, in Geneva last month, to call for a credible investigation of reported human rights abuses in Chechnya, and the start of a political dialogue aimed at ending that bloody war.
The United States and the EU were right when we responded to the entry of the so-called Freedom Party into Austria's Government, by saying "No, we cannot conduct business as usual any longer."
There is no room anywhere in Europe for the politics of hate. We allowed that virus to spread in the past; we will not allow it to infect the future.
Governments from around the world are right in telling officials in Iran that what happens in the trial of the 13 Jews will have repercussions everywhere; and that if you want to earn international respect, the way to begin is by respecting the dignity of your own citizens.
The American Jewish Committee is right to warn against the ongoing threat posed by anti-Semitism. Bigotry comes in many forms. All are troublesome. But anti-Semitism has been a recurring curse. Pogroms in Russia brought this Committee together nine decades ago. And you have never failed to stand up or speak out when confronted by persecution, prejudice or lies.
Unfortunately, ignorance is recyclable. From the former Soviet Union to the Middle East, from California to Central Europe, anti-Semitism persists. This demands vigilance from all who love freedom. For, as David Harris recently testified, "the treatment of Jews has become a remarkably accurate barometer of democracy. Where Jews are safe to express their identity, all citizens are likely to be secure; and where Jews are endangered it is not long before other groups are targeted."
Democracy requires tolerance, but those who deny history or spread venomous falsehoods can never be ignored. And as Professor Deborah Lipstadt has reminded us, they must be answered; they must be exposed.
Congratulations to you.
Jewish advocacy organizations are also right in prodding and pushing the world to safeguard its future by honestly remembering its past. Everyone wins when restitution is made for labor and assets stolen during the Holocaust era.
And speaking of righteous diplomats, I could not be prouder than to have served with my colleague Stu Eizenstat, whose relentless efforts on behalf of justice are being honored at the Holocaust Museum tonight.
And I pay tribute to President Rau and Prime Minister Persson, for the valuable roles you each have played on these issues.
Finally, it is right for the United States to persist in helping Israel and her Arab neighbors find the path to peace. Prime Minister Barak has made the pursuit of a secure peace his top objective, and we are doing all we can to assist.
His goal, and ours, is nothing less than a Framework Agreement soon, and a comprehensive settlement of all permanent status issues by September 13.
President Clinton and I were encouraged by the recent visits to Washington of both the Israeli Prime Minister and Chairman Arafat. Each expressed a determination to press forward rapidly. Each understands the importance of the weeks immediately ahead.
We are also encouraging progress on the Syria and Lebanon tracks. We believe the parties remain interested in finding the way forward, and are in contact with each other.
The months to come will be filled with promise and peril. Overall, it is clear that the logic of peace has never been so compelling; or the opportunity for peace so clear. Yet the parties are under great pressure, and the prospect for new breakthroughs is uncertain.
What is certain is America's support not only for the peace process but also for Israel. Other Secretaries of State have explained our special relationship on the basis of Israel's strategic significance, its democratic character, its economic might and the ties of family and friendship that bind our peoples. On other occasions, I have made these same points, and they are more than sufficient to justify our alliance.
But the focus of our gathering tonight calls to mind an experience Eleanor Roosevelt had while visiting a refugee camp shortly after World War II. The camp was populated by the survivors of Hitler's abomination. Walking along, the former First Lady encountered an old woman. "I had no idea who she was," wrote Mrs. Roosevelt, "and we couldn't speak each other's language. But she knelt in the muddy road and threw her arms around my knees." With anguish in her voice, she said just one word, but she said it over and over again. "Israel" she murmured, "Israel, Israel, Israel."
Other grounds are sufficient. But Israel's origins are another reason I am confident that America's commitment to its security and defense will remain as fixed and permanent as the sky.
Of course, America's support will mean little if we don't have the resources to back it up. For many years, we have provided generous assistance to reinforce our commitment to Israel and our support for peace. This remains a cornerstone of our policy. But even a cornerstone can erode if the building above it collapses. And we are currently engaged in yet another struggle to obtain the resources we need to sustain America's leadership role.
Already this year, Congress approved a budget resolution that will slash more than twelve percent from the President's foreign affairs funding request. Meanwhile, Congress failed to approve emergency funds to pay our share of UN peace operations in Kosovo, East Timor and elsewhere.
This is irresponsible. The 21st Century is no time for America to retreat.
Congress should approve the funds the President has requested.
We must meet our responsibilities in the Middle East and around the world.
The American Jewish Committee teaches us that no part of humanity can hope to secure its rights if the rights of others are abused and denied.
We each know too much of life -- and of ourselves -- to expect any human society to be entirely peaceful or perfectly just. But we also know enough of history to understand both that a better world is obtainable and that atrocities which should be unimaginable can not only be imagined, but carried out.
Although there may be limits on what any of us can do, we each have the power to choose. To hide behind ethnic identities, or to enrich our heritage through understanding and respecting others. To hide behind national borders, or to enrich our world through promoting justice, tolerance and law. To hide behind words, or to enrich our future through actions that build peace, open minds, and honor truth.
The American Jewish Committee was founded and sustained by those who made the right choices. So was the United States. Together, let us uphold the proud traditions we have inherited, and thereby pay our debts to the past by safeguarding the future.
For all you have done here at the American Jewish Committee, I congratulate you. For all you are doing and will do, I encourage you and wish you well. And for your kindness and courtesy this evening, I thank you very, very much.
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