Thank you all very, very much. It’s a great honor to be here with all of you. Shalom. Governor Pawlenty and Dr. Bar, it’s an honor to join you here on this stage.
I want to thank everyone with AIPAC; Lee Rosenberg, David Victor, Howard Kor, and, of course, my friend, Baltimore’s own, America’s own, Howard Friedman. (Applause.)
Now, to all of you who are visiting from out of town, I hope you will allow me to please urge you during your time here to travel over the border and to come visit Maryland. Maryland is, of course, the birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner, which we’ll be celebrating the bicentennial of later on this year. The Star Spangled Banner and Ft. McHenry.
It was also from the Port of Baltimore that the ship Exodus sailed in 1947, picking up hundreds of displaced Jewish refugees to bring them to the promised land. And it was the Poulin family, proud Marylanders, who led the effort to find the money to buy that ship and the provisions for its noble voyage. Abe Poulin, who passed away recently (may his memory serve as a blessing) was, not surprisingly, a long-time member of AIPAC’s Board, and also a dear friend.
Maryland and Israel
Since those earliest of days, the people of Israel and the people of Maryland have collaborated on everything from marine biotechnology and agricultural research to homeland security. And, in fact, we were the first state to institute jointly funded research and development teams with Israel.
Israel, of course, is a bold leader in innovation. Our State, Maryland, which boasts the highest number of PHDs per capita of any state in the union, also believes that our future and the future of our economy depends on our ability to invest in the skills of our people; our innovative capacity in the life sciences, biotech, clean tech, green tech, information technology and, increasingly, in cyber security.
And we see great potential to expand successful partnerships with Israel in this area. In fact, the Maryland Israel Development Center, a joint venture between our State government and Maryland’s Jewish community, currently has a team visiting Israel to host a cyber security seminar.
At present there are nearly 30 Israeli companies in Maryland, including Teva Pharmaceuticals, Israel’s largest bio-science company and one of the world’s largest manufacturers of generic drugs.
There is a strong relationship that continues and is evidenced throughout our State.
We are proud to host a large community of Israeli nationals living in Maryland, working in places like NIH and the Embassy. I even understand that in my boyhood home of Rockville there are so many families of Israeli diplomats that there is an apartment complex there that is referred to as the “kibbutz,” the “Rockville kibbutz,” if you will. (Laughter.) There is also an Israeli Business Network, a Hebrew-language Israeli Boy Scout Troop, and – of course – throughout our State, one of the most vibrant Jewish communities anywhere in America.
My very able Jewish-American speechwriter, who helps me wrestle with words, Steve Rabin, is out there. And I pulled him over to the table and I said, “now, I don’t know if I go for this one or not.” He said, “I think you do.” So in deference to Steve, I will share with you — given the confluence of AIPAC’s meeting here, very historic, and the high holy day of my people, Irish American people, St Patrick’s Day, coinciding – I’m willing to share this with you. And I do so because of the place where we come together, the greatest republic in the history of the planet, the United States of America. (Applause.)
This appeared in the Jerusalem Post this last St. Patrick’s Day and the person who wrote this of Irish people and Jewish people, said that quote “both people suffered death and cruelty at the hands of oppressors. While many now live in small, beautiful and [spiritually intense] homelands of Ireland and Israel, the greater portion of both [peroples] remain scattered to the four corners of the earth,… When [our] two peoples melded together in the great melting pot of America, they collaborated in some part of the most extraordinary human achievements of all time: the space race, the moon landings and the defeat of communism and Nazism,… As the Irish and the Israelis now strive to build lasting peace in their own homelands, it is heartening to note that in the tapestry of human life, we all share far more similarities than differences.”
I’ve been blessed with two opportunities to travel to Israel, both times along with Howard Friedman, and others who are here tonight. The first was in 2005. I was Mayor of the City of Baltimore and I wanted to see for myself how is it that this country so threatened and so surrounded so often by hostile neighbors is able to preserve the fabric of a democratic society with its protection of individual rights and freedoms and also fulfill its responsibility, the fundamental responsibility, of securing its own homeland.
I learned a lot during that trip. And just about two years ago I had a chance to visit for the second time, leading a delegation from our State to work on advanced partnerships with Israeli companies in the biosciences. Another area where Israel competes so far above its weight class. Israel actually exports more healing on a per capita basis than any other country on the earth, which is why we regard them as such an important economic partner. (Applause)
It’s a beautiful illustration, don’t you think, of that Talmudic truth that the highest form of wisdom is kindness. That the highest form of wisdom is kindness – a truth that we were all reminded of when we saw Israel lead the way in assistance to the people of Haiti, some of the first responders. (Applause.)
On both of the trips that I have had the blessing and the privilege to be able to take to Israel, I was struck by not only the tremendous beauty and the sense of history, which you can feel in the air, you can feel it come up through the soles of your shoes. I was also struck by the warmth, the generosity, the courage, the resilience, the determination of the people of Israel.
And I will never, ever forget the stark beauty of the Masada or the awe I felt in the old city, a place where my mind’s eye still wanders back, especially when the General Assembly in Annapolis is driving me crazy and I need some centering.
I also had occasion, as Governor Pawlenty had, to visit Yad Vashem twice, which is also an experience that I will never forget. Such a harrowing, searing experience to walk through those somber halls that bear witness to the millions who were murdered simply because they were Jewish.
But then you walked out of the darkness of those long halls and you come out into the light of sunshine and you see the new Israel, you see the new Jerusalem. To those who doubt the right of the Jewish people to live in their ancient homeland, let them come to Yad Vashem, let them emerge out of that darkness to view Israel in the light of the present.
A Special Relationship Based On Shared Values
In our time together, I just wanted to wrap up talking about two other thoughts.
The special relationship that we have as Americans with the State of Israel, our shared values, our belief in the dignity of every individual, our belief in the importance of freedom, and our shared strategic interests in something that’s also very important and that is the shared security challenges. The shared security challenges.
Israel is our strategic ally and our friend, a fellow democracy in a region that knows no other. For these reasons, Israel has been our friend since its inception, she was our friend and ally as those around her sought her destruction, our friend and ally as together we forged in our own time to create a more just and a more lasting peace. And Israel was our friend, is our friend, and will always remain a steadfast friend of the United States of America. (Applause.)
Chief among those greatest of our shared threats is the prospect of Iran — the world’s largest state-sponsored international terror — acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Iran is getting dangerously close. It has long been America’s policy to deny Iran that capability and while I hope our diplomatic efforts succeed in dramatically escalating the international pressure on Tehran, we cannot wait indefinitely for those who are reluctant to act or to get onboard.
We must act now, with as many nations who are prepared to join with us, or, if necessary, by ourselves, to impose sanctions on Iran. (Applause.)
And I’m proud that in Maryland, the people of our State are doing their part. We were one of the first states, as Howard mentioned, to pass legislation to divest our pension system from investments in companies helping Iran to develop its energy sector, the sector that provides Tehran, by the way, with 80 percent of its hard currency earnings.
Maryland’s legislation, which I signed into law, is perhaps the toughest in the country. It’s been suggested that the leadership that we took together for Maryland also helped encourage another 20 or more states to get on board and to follow our example of action.
Let me close with this final story. For generations the supporters of Israel and the United States have engaged in that beautiful tradition of investing in Israel’s future by planting trees.
The story, which I’m fond of telling, is about a grandfather whose granddaughter came home and she had learned in science class that if you plant a tree, you actually help the environment, you help the whole earth, you help the whole planet. So this little girl wanting, of course, as all children do, to do the right thing instinctively, asked her grandfather, “Grandfather, I learned about the benefits of trees that clean the air and help with the stormwater, when is the best time to plant a tree?”
And the grandfather says, “Well, you know, it takes 20 years for the roots to go deep, it takes another 20 years — it takes the same 20 years for the branches to spread, to clean up the air. And so the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.”
The little girl says, “Well, when is the second best time to plant a tree? “ And the grandfather says, “Right now.” Right now.
A people’s greatness is not defined in times of ease. A people’s greatness is defined in times of adversity. And we’re facing our fair share of it.
Israelis are facing adversity, people in the United States are facing adversity, the people of this planet are facing tremendous adversity. And that’s why there is no better time than now for us to dig deep. And from that depth to rise to our highest potential. In our ability to heal this world of ours, to heal this world of ours with our shared belief in the dignity of every individual, as Americans, as Israelis, to strengthen and advance our special relationship. Risking action on the truth that our tomorrows can be better than our todays, but only if we choose through our action to make it so.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)