WASHINGTON — Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) addressed the 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC, to discuss the importance of taking action to defend and strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. To watch the address in full, click here. Below are Speaker Ryan’s full remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you very much. Howard Kohr, Bob Cohen, Lillian Pinkus—thank you so much for inviting me. I’m honored to be here and to see all of you. And I know that you heard from a lot of people today. So I will get right to the point:
“It is always a good thing when America’s leaders declare their support for Israel. But it is not enough. The speeches, the statements—all the words in the world mean nothing if you don’t back them up with action.
“That is why, two years ago, when the rockets were falling on Tel Aviv, the House approved emergency support for the Iron Dome.
“That is why, within just two months of my becoming speaker, we voted to fund every penny of our security assistance commitment.
“That is why my first overseas trip as speaker will be to return to Israel.
“And that is why I can pledge to you tonight that as long as I am speaker, I will not allow any legislation that divides our countries to come to the House floor.
“It is action and deeds that builds trust. And our friendship is too important—the dangers we face are too real—to let there be any misgivings between us.
“Like my House colleagues, I understand that America is not safer when we back away from Israel. America is safer when we stand with Israel. So if there’s one thing I want you to take away from tonight, it is this:
“My colleagues and I will do everything we can to strengthen our friendship—not just with words but with concrete achievements. No taking friends for granted. No leaving them in the lurch. A friend is a priority. And America’s leaders should act like it.
“Now, that’s what I think most Americans believe—on both sides of the aisle. But I do hear people raising doubts every now and then. They say things like: ‘The Middle East is a mess. It’s none of our business. Why are we involved? Why are we picking sides?’
“They say our alliance is not an asset, but a liability. They say that it hamstrings America—that it cuts against our interests. And in my experience, it does us no good to airily wave off our opponents—or to dismiss them as narrow-minded. That doesn’t bridge the divide. That deepens it.
“Instead, we should confront their argument head-on. Have a real conversation. And I would say to them that I firmly believe the friendship between our two countries is not just in Israel’s interests, but in America’s.
“It is good for Israel. It is good for America. And it is good for the world.
“To me, it is a lesson of history. For many years, we avoided what Thomas Jefferson called ‘entangling alliances,’ We were not as strong a country back then. And the great powers wanted to use us for their own purposes.
“There was no reason for us to play the pawn in their chess game. So we stayed out.
“That all changed in World War II. We learned the hard way that even if you don’t go looking for trouble, it has a way of finding you.
“The day that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, we realized that two oceans could not protect us anymore. We had grown too strong for our enemies to ignore us. Our interests now reached across the world—and so did the threats.
“We couldn’t beat back Nazi panzers in North Africa, and liberate the islands of the South Pacific, and climb the cliffs of Normandy all on our own.
“We had to work with other countries who shared our objectives. We had to lead a global alliance.
“After the war was over, a new threat emerged: an aggressive and expansionist Soviet Union. The Soviets were setting up puppet regimes in Eastern Europe. They were aiming missiles at our friends in Western Europe. They were on the march in Asia and Africa and South America.
“And so we faced a choice. Either we could withdraw from the world, arm ourselves to the teeth, and make ourselves into a garrison state. Or we could pursue a forward-leaning defense. Create a community of free nations. Keep open the lanes of commerce. Build institutions that would foster cooperation. And that’s exactly what we did.
“These were the years that we created NATO and GATT and the International Monetary Fund. And of course in 1948 we were the very first country to recognize the state of Israel—just minutes after she declared independence. Both the world war and the Cold War taught us that free countries are safer when we work with each other, when we stand by each other, when we trust each other—because then, when a threat arises, we can confront it together.
“The threats are very different now. North Korea thumbs its nose at the world as it plays with its nuclear weapons. Iran openly backs tyrants and funds terrorist groups as it jockeys for dominance in the Middle East. An emboldened Russia is only too happy to try to reclaim its neighbors as client states. And with the rise of ISIS, an even deadlier strain of Islamist extremism has taken hold.
“Once again we face an aggressive militant ideology—with an assist from a gang of rogue states.
“And why is our relationship with Israel so important? Because in the fight against terrorism and proliferation, our interests are one and the same. For the terrorists, Israel is the first target, and we are the ultimate one. That’s because we share the same values.
“Israel, like us, is a liberal democracy in a sea of authoritarian regimes. So when America helps Israel, both countries become stronger. Both countries are protecting our way of life.
“Just remember: Israel does not fund terrorism in other countries. But it does help the New York Police Department fight terrorism in our country.
“And this is the crux of the matter: I think the current administration understands that we need our allies. But it doesn’t understand what our allies need.
“They need more than vague assurances that we’ve got their back. They need to see with their own eyes the measure of our commitment.
“And I don’t say this to castigate or lay blame. I say this to bring clarity to the situation we are in. I think this is the fundamental misunderstanding that has undermined our security.
“Exhibit A is the Iran deal. I think it was a terrible deal—and because of it, our friends in the Middle East are losing faith in us—or at least in our judgment. Iran got billions of dollars in sanctions relief, and in exchange for what? For taking apart some—not all, just some—of its nuclear program. And then in 10 or 15 years, all these limits will expire.
“In other words, they got something for essentially nothing. It was a steal. And that’s if they don’t cheat. We all wanted the negotiations to succeed. But we were supposed to get something out of it. And it is fine to negotiate with our enemies—but not at our friends’ expense. That doesn’t make any of us any safer.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that every few months we hear of Iran launching yet more ballistic missiles. Instead of dismantling Iran’s nuclear program, we legitimized it. This is a huge threat to Israel. And it is a threat to our country too.
“But whatever you think about the Iran deal, I want to make something clear: Whether you opposed it or supported it, whether you are optimistic or skeptical, it is your right to petition your government on any issue . . . at any time. And if anybody questions that right, I just want you to know that we stand with you.
“So at this point, I think we’ve got to do everything we can to shore up our alliance. We have to hold Iran accountable for its violations. We have to push back against Iranian aggression in Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria. We have to extend our bilateral security agreement with Israel and expand it to include missile defense. We have to continue helping Israel develop the Arrow 3 and David’s Sling. And yes, we have to push back—with clarity and firmness—against any attempt by other countries to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.
“What all these things will do is send a signal: that America has no greater friend than Israel, and that we will stand by her through thick and thin.
“Along these lines, in the House, I have appointed several of our members to a task force on national security. Their goal is to develop a strategy for a confident America. And near the top of their to-do list is how to strengthen our allies like Israel.
“To sum up our approach, I would use the words of General James Mattis: We need to ‘take our own side in the fight.’
“And as we put together an agenda for the next president, we are going to need the help of AIPAC and everyone here today—especially the thousands of young people. The decisions we make today will determine what kind of world you will inherit. And just seeing you here—and knowing that you want to take part—gives me a lot of hope for our future. Because with your help, I know we can do this.
“And so I want to leave you with this: I think we need to build a confident America. And the way I see it, a confident America does not shirk our commitments or shunt aside our allies.
“A confident America does not distance itself from Israel or cozy up to Iran. A confident America keeps its word. It stands by our allies. It stands by Israel. Because that is what will keep the peace. That is what will keep us safe. That is what both of our countries need to thrive.
“I know I just threw a lot at you. And you probably are thinking, ‘What does a guy from Janesville, Wisconsin care about Israel?’ But before I leave, I just wanted to say that there’s actually a vibrant Jewish community in my state. And it’s one that I’m very proud of.
“I should say that there’s also a huge, pro-Israel community—full of people from both parties, many different faiths, and all walks of life. In fact, when my wife Janna and I go to visit houses of worship—of all denominations—one of the most frequent questions I get is about my stand on Israel. So the pro-Israel community is not just some constituency to me. They are my friends and family and neighbors.
“I know what the pro-Israel community has done for Wisconsin—and for the world. And you will always have my deepest gratitude.
“And so I want to thank you again for having me tonight. And I want to thank you in advance for all the work that you will do to help us strengthen that essential friendship between Israel and America. Thank you.”