Now I know there is no issue so close to your hearts as the future of Israel’s security. The threat from Iran, the unrest in Syria, the questions surrounding nuclear weapons and chemical weapons, the lingering fallout of the Arab Spring, the status of a peace process that is hardly a process at all – all of these matter tremendously to each and every one of you, and they matter above all to Israel’s future. And Israel’s future is what I want to talk to you about today.
I had the great honor of becoming Secretary of State in February. I visited Israel in March, April, and May, and I will be back soon. (Applause.) And each time that I go, the deep personal connection that I feel with the state and the people of Israel is only strengthened. These are actually bonds that reach back into my own family tree, including relatives I never met and never knew about until the last decade, relatives who perished in the Holocaust, relatives I thought about in new and personal ways on Yom HaShoah when I laid a wreath on behalf of the United States at Yad Vashem. And it was an extraordinary privilege to spend that day alongside survivors and veterans and to sit at that ceremony between President Peres on one side and Prime Minister Netanyahu on the other, the father of the State of Israel and a man who I believe can lead Israel into a new era that we very much want to see.
These personal bonds have been reinforced during quiet walks through the sacred spaces of Jerusalem, and in the nervous neighborhoods of Sderot, and through the bustle of downtown Tel Aviv. These are bonds that I felt on my first trip to Israel in 1986, almost 30 years ago, with my friend Lenny Zakim and a group of 15 Jewish friends from Massachusetts. I stood atop the spectacular summit of Masada, which we climbed up, where 2,000 years ago 1,000 martyrs made the ultimate sacrifice in unison and in the name of defending the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. We together, all 16 of us, looked out across the desert, across the crest of that precipice at the top of the mountain, across the Dead Sea, the vast desert below, standing in the very spot where every new soldier begins his or her service by swearing an oath to honor the history of the people of Israel and defend the future of their State.
Our guide, a wonderful man named Yavin – Yavin Roman – instructed us after a long discussion about what had happened or not happened and how the history had played out, and how Josephus Flavius had written it, and whether it was accurate. We had a big debate. In the end we took a vote, and we all voted that what had happened had happened the way it was described. And he instructed us to stand at that precipice and call out across the chasm, to yell: “Am Yisrael Chai!” We did it together: “The people of Israel live! The State of Israel lives!” (Applause.)
And we shouted, and then we listened. And we actually heard our voices bouncing off the cavern on the other side of the mountains, and they came back to us, and it was really as if, eerily, it was the voices of those who had fought coming back to us, the voices of past generations.
These bonds I share with Israel and all of its modern-day challenges, and they were strengthened each time that I got to see the State. Once, I got to see the State from the air, when someone actually let me fly an Israeli Air Force jet across the Negev. (Laughter.) It was on that unforgettable flight from the Ovda Air Base, from the luncheon we were having, when the colonel came back an ace from the war in ’67. He said, “Senator, I hope you haven’t eat too much. We go flying.” (Laughter.) So I said, “Sounds good to me,” and we left everybody, we jumped in the jet, and he said, “The minute we’re off the airport, the jet’s yours; you take it wherever you want.” (Laughter.)