Chairman and CEO, News Corporation
On Receiving AJC National Human Relations Award March 4, 2009 New York City
Thanks for those kind words, Hugh.
Over the years, some of my wildest critics seem to have assumed I am Jewish. At the same time, some of my closest friends wish I were.
So tonight, let me set the record straight: I live in New York. I have a wife who craves Chinese food. And people I trust tell me I practically invented the word “chutzpah”.
Ladies and gentleman, I thank you for having me tonight. I also want to thank Nelson Peltz … Michael Gould … and the many co-chairs for the time and effort they have put into this event. I am humbled by the honor you have given me – because this award speaks more to your good work than it does to mine.
Michael, I was fascinated to hear you talk about this history of this fine organization. The American Jewish Committee started in response to the persecution of Jews in Czarist Russia. And your response took a very American form: An organization that would speak up for those who could not speak for themselves.
In the century since your founding, the American Jewish Committee has become one of the world’s most influential organizations. Yet though your concerns begin with the safety and welfare of Jews, these concerns are anything but parochial. The reason for this is clear: You know that the best guarantee of the security of Jews anywhere is the freedom of people everywhere.
Your good work has helped bring real and lasting changes to our world. Unfortunately, while some threats have been defeated, new ones have taken their place. And these new threats remind us the AJC’s work is more vital than ever.
In Europe, men and woman who bear the tattoos of concentration camps today look out on a continent where Jewish lives and Jewish property are under attack – and public debate is poisoned by an anti-Semitism we thought had been dispatched to history’s dustbin.
In Iran, we see a regime that backs Hezbollah and Hamas now on course to acquire a nuclear weapon.
In India, we see Islamic terrorists single out the Mumbai Jewish Center in a well-planned and well-coordinated attack that looks like it could be a test run for similar attacks in similar cities around the world.
Most fundamentally, we see a growing assault on both the legitimacy and security of the State of Israel.
This assault comes from people who make clear they have no intention of ever living side-by-side in peace with a Jewish state – no matter how many concessions Israel might make. The reason for this is also clear: These are men who cannot abide the idea of freedom, tolerance, and democracy. They hate Israel for the same reasons they hate us.
At I speak, the flashpoint is Gaza. For months now, Hamas has been raining down rockets on Israeli civilians. Like all terrorist attacks, the aim is to spread fear within free societies, and to paralyze its leaders. This Israel cannot afford. I do not need to tell anyone in this room that no sovereign nation can sit by while its civilian population is attacked.
Hamas knows this better than we do. And Hamas understands something else as well: In the 21st century, when democratic states respond to terrorist attacks, they face two terrible handicaps.
The first handicap is military. It’s true that Israel’s conventional superiority means it could flatten Gaza if it wanted. But the Israeli Defense Forces – unlike Hamas – are accountable to a democratically chosen government.
No matter which party is in the majority, every Israeli government knows it will be held accountable by its people and by the world for the lives that are lost because of its decisions. That’s true for lives of innocent Palestinians caught in the crossfire. And it’s also true for the Israeli soldiers who may lose their lives defending their people.
In this kind of war, Hamas does not need to defeat Israel militarily to win a big victory. In fact, Hamas knows that in some ways, dead Palestinians serve their purposes even better than dead Israelis.
In the West we look at this and say, “It makes no sense.” But it does make sense.
If you are committed to Israel’s destruction, and if you believe that dead Palestinians help you score a propaganda victory, you do things like launch rockets from a Palestinian schoolyard. This ensures that when the Israelis do respond, it will likely lead to the death of an innocent Palestinian – no matter how many precautions Israeli soldiers take.
Hamas gets away with this, moreover, because they do not rule Gaza by the consent of those they claim to represent. They rule by fear and intimidation. They are accountable to no one but themselves.
This is the chilling logic of Gaza. And it helps explain why even a strong military power like Israel can find itself at a disadvantage on the ground.
The second handicap for Israel is the global media war. For Hamas, the images of Palestinian suffering – of people losing their homes, of parents mourning their dead children, of tanks rolling through the streets –create sympathy for their cause.
In a battle marked by street to street fighting, the death of innocents is all but inevitable. That is also true of Gaza. And these deaths have led some to call for Israel to be charged with war crimes by an international tribunal.
But I am curious: Why do we never hear calls for Hamas leaders to be charged with war crimes?
Why, for example, do we hear no calls for human rights investigations into Hamas gunmen using Palestinian children as human shields? Why so few stories on the reports of Hamas assassins going to hospitals to hunt down their fellow Palestinians? And where are the international human rights groups demanding that Hamas stop blurring the most fundamental line in warfare: the distinction between civilian and combatant?
I suspect the answer has to do with the same grim logic that leads Hamas to provoke a military battle it knows it cannot win. Whether Israel is ever found guilty of any war crime hardly matters. Hamas gets propaganda win simply by having the charge made often and loudly enough.
In this, Israel finds itself in much the same position the United States found itself in Iraq before the surge. There, al Qaeda realized that it was in its interests to provoke sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni – no matter what the cost to innocent Iraqis. That is the nature of terror. And what we are seeing in Gaza is just one front in this much larger war.
In the West, we are used to thinking that Israel cannot survive without the help of Europe and the United States. Tonight I say to you: Maybe we should start wondering whether we in Europe and the United States can survive if we allow the terrorists to succeed in Israel.
In this new century, the “West” is no longer a matter of geography. The West is defined by societies committed to freedom and democracy. That at least is how the terrorists see it. And if we are serious about meeting this challenge, we would expand the only military alliance committed to the defense of the West to include those on the front lines of this war. That means bringing countries such as Israel into NATO.
My friends, I do not pretend to have all the answers to Gaza this evening. But I do know this: The free world makes a terrible mistake if we deceive ourselves into thinking this is not our fight.
In the end, the Israeli people are fighting the same enemy we are: cold-blooded killers who reject peace … who reject freedom … and who rule by the suicide vest, the car bomb, and the human shield.
Against such an enemy, I will not second-guess the decisions of a free Israel defending her citizens. And I would ask all those who support peace and freedom to do the same.
I thank you for listening. I thank you for this award. And I thank you for all you are doing to make our world a safer and freer place.