June 2008

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Senator Barack Obama addresses the Philadelphia Jewish Community at Congregation Rodeph Shalom.
News and Opinion

At 60, Israel Has Much to Celebrate

-- Sen. Barack Obama

As the festivities surrounding Israel’s 60th anniversary get underway, Israelis can be forgiven if they don’t feel in an entirely celebratory mood. With terrorism and rockets from Gaza, a serious threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, hostages held by Hamas, and too many of its neighbors playing tired old games rather than working toward peace and security, Israel can at times feel like a nation facing enormous challenges.

It is, but is also much more than that. It is precisely at this moment that, despite the challenges, Israelis should take stock of what they have built, and their hearts should swell with pride. And it is also at this moment that Israel’s friends around the world should raise their voices in a chorus of support. Because Israel has more than just friends -- it also has legions of admirers. I am proud to be one, and I know that millions of Americans join me in saluting the State of Israel and its vast array of achievements over these past 60 years.

From building one of the world’s most vibrant democracies, to agricultural advances, biomedical breakthroughs, and strides in immigrant absorption; to creating a powerhouse economy, a world-class military and vibrant cultural and literary scenes, Israel has not only made enormous leaps for its own citizens, but it has lived up to its founders’ vision of being a "light unto the nations." The problems and challenges are real, and should not be brushed aside. But they do not obscure the truly remarkable story of Israel and its astonishing accomplishments over such a relatively brief period.

“In Israel," said David Ben-Gurion over a half-century ago, “in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” The fact that your great strides have taken place against the backdrop of so many external threats is one of the reasons Americans hold Israel in such awe and with such reverence. Israel’s achievements have not come without sacrifices. But when possible, the United States has tried to lessen the burden, especially in terms of defense cooperation, trade and economic assistance.

The 60th anniversary is also an ideal time to celebrate this special relationship between our two countries. Washington and Jerusalem not only share ideals and values, but we share common interests. The bond between Americans and Israelis remains unshakable. It is a tie that every American president (whether Democrat or Republican) has and will continue to uphold.

Our unique relationship rests on a deep reservoir of friendship and support that crosses political divides. It permits us to work together in many ways, from bilateral cooperation on counter-terrorism, to joint military exercises with other regional allies, to science and technology collaboration. As president, I would further deepen our already strong bilateral ties, particularly in the areas of defense, science and energy.

Still, there is no greater gift America can give to Israel--no better way we can salute our Israeli friends on this important anniversary -- than to redouble our commitment to help Israel achieve its goal of true security through lasting peace with its neighbors. The United States does Israel no favors when it neglects opportunities for progress in Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

Israelis can always count on the United States to stand with them against any threat, from as close as Gaza or as far as Tehran, and to ensure that Israel has the means to defend itself. Israel has real enemies, and we will face them together. But standing with Israel also requires America to do everything it can to reduce and ease the conflict with the Arab neighbors. To do any less would be to prevent Israel from achieving its full, extraordinary potential.

Israelis have much to be proud of as they approach this anniversary, and they should know that their friends and admirers in the United States are eager to preserve and expand upon our unique relationship with the Jewish state. May the next 60 years bring Israel continued growth, increased prosperity, genuine security, and the gift of an Israel at peace to pass on to the next generation of Israelis.

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