This is a very special day and moment to join you, for so many reasons. It is a delicate moment for America. It is a difficult moment for Europe, and for the Middle East – and in a few days we will present, together with the other leaders of the Middle East Quartet, a report on how to preserve the two-State solution, and turn it into reality.
Today is also the first day of Ramadan. And I am sure you will allow me to wish our Muslim friends all the best, and to do it from here. Because one thing Europeans have learnt – or rather, should have learnt, in our long history – is that religions should unite people, and when they don’t, we are all in trouble.
But today also marks the anniversary of D-Day, and there could be no better opportunity to be here and celebrate the friendship between Europe and the United States.
On D-Day a new chapter in our common history began. The free people of the world stood up against Nazism and Fascism. My generation can only remember the stories we heard from our grandparents. Just two days before D-Day, the Allied forces had liberated my hometown, Rome. We must all keep in mind how much we owe to those who sacrificed for our own liberty – be they Europeans or Americans, all together
That was not simply a battle between two armies. On D-Day President Roosevelt reminded the whole world, what the Allied forces were fighting for: (I quote) “They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise.”
And they won. In fact, that day we all won – because it was a victory against tyranny and racism. We all won, against the mad idea that one nation, one people, one ideology should enslave all others. That society would be stronger, “perfect,” with all differences eliminated, with all people identical, with all diversity destroyed.
But we won. We won against the Holocaust, the shame of our continent and of all human history.
The Americans who died in Normandy, were not just fighting for America, but for the whole of us. They were black and white, Christians, non-believers – and Jews. And as an Italian, I can only be grateful to the Jewish Brigade for their contribution to the liberation of Italy.
The possibility of a free and united Europe, was born on that day, on D-Day. And it was born thanks to our American friends. Our continent rose up, with America’s economic support, and friendship. The Transatlantic bond is written in our European Union’s DNA.
This does not mean we didn’t have our tough moments. The AJC’s Transatlantic Institute was funded during one of those bad moments – back in 2004, at the height of the crisis sparked by the war in Iraq. And we must truly be thankful to the American Jewish Committee and to the Baruch [read: Barùsh] family for having invested in our friendship right when we needed it the most. True friends know how to overcome difficult moments.
The very night Barack Obama got elected in 2008, he spoke clearly about “alliances to repair.” Eight years later, our alliance couldn’t be in better shape. And let me tell you: Whoever the next President will be, I can only hope that our European Union and the United States of America will keep working together, as we’ve done in the past years. Hand in hand, always. Because in difficult times, there’s nothing you need more than good friends. Both Europe and America need our friendship to remain strong. Is the entire world needs our friendship to remain strong. In Europe, we know it well. I’m sure Americans know it too.
And these are difficult times indeed. This is very true for the Middle East – and I’ll come to that in a moment. But these are also tough times inside our own societies. Times when anti-Semitism and racism are once again on the rise – including in Europe. We don’t want to deny it, we want to face it – and fight it.
Four people were killed in a kosher shop last year in Paris. Four, the year before at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Europe is today exposed to a new kind of threat. But it’s not just terrorism we have to worry about. There is also something else, and deep.
We see movements and parties who nourish and foster anti-Semitic discourse. At a time of global uncertainty, and economic crisis, racism has become a shortcut for political leaders with bad policies, or rather no policies at all.
Let me be totally clear on this. We will not close our eyes against the new anti-Semitism. We will not wait until it goes away – because we know: if we don’t act, it will no go away. We have to act together.
We know very well that this fight cannot, and must not, be left to the Jews: it’s a responsibility for all political leaders, for society at large, for our institutions. This is why our European Union appointed our first Coordinator on combating anti-Semitism, and I’m glad Katharina is here with us tonight.
By the way, let me share with you a personal note: Katharina and I have known each other for many years. We met just a few hundred meters from here, in DC, when we were both taking part in the German Marshall Fund Fellowship… Talking about Transatlantic bonds, they also help Europeans get together!
So, the EU has taken very seriously the fight against anti-Semitism. And we are working with our Member States to make sure that each kid in a European school knows about the Holocaust – because only knowledge can illuminate the true meaning of the words “never again.” Never again.
Europe and America are the homeland of free speech. For this very reason, we know well what cannot be masked as free speech, because it has nothing to do with it.
When someone is told to shut up just because he or she is a Jew, when a synagogue is vandalised – this is an insult to everyone’s freedom, and to the very idea of liberty, that is cherished by our Constitutions.
Just a few days ago the European Commission signed an agreement with tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, to make sure that all illegal hate speech is taken down quickly and effectively. These are criminal acts, and must be treated simply as such.
Jewish communities and Jewish culture are central to the social fabric of our continents, both in the United States and in Europe. Here in America you have always focused on where people are going, not where they’ve come from – and this makes your country such an incredible place.
We have much to learn from you. I know this is not something you hear frequently from an European. But while we work on it, and we continue to keep in mind our past – where we come from – let me tell you that in Europe, our history is impossible to separate from the history of the Jewish people. Let me tell you something about Rome, where I’m from – the “other” eternal city together with Jerusalem. When someone wants to prove he or she is truly from Rome, they say: “I’m a seventh-generation Roman.” This is almost certainly not true – and almost impossible. I am myself a first-generation Roman. But there are some cases: the only seventh-generation Romans I know – they are Jewish Romans.
Rome would not be Rome, without its Jewish community. Even the food would not be the same, and this would be a real disaster! Europe would not be Europe without European Jews and their culture – that is, our own culture.
And this is not just about history. This is about our present and future. It is about the very essence of our European Union. After the Holocaust, with the liberation from Nazism and Fascism, we decided to build a Union based on freedom, and diversity, and respect.
Diversity is the foundation of our Union. Diversity is who we are, and who we have chosen to be. We have not given up our own backgrounds and identities. On the contrary. We have tried to build a Union where all different identities can live together, and grow together – the French and the German, the Eastern and the Western, the Catholic and the Protestant, the Christian, the Jew, the Muslim, and the non-believer.
This might sound idealistic, in times when we’re faced with too many attacks against Jews, and against all minorities – as a matter of fact, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are rising at a similar pace, and anti-Semitic groups are very often anti-Muslim, too.
But against this background, there is also some good news.
Think of London. As you know, for the first time ever a European capital has elected a Muslim mayor. Just a few days ago Sadiq Kahn decided to join the Mayors United Against Anti-Semitism, an initiative launched last year by the American Jewish Committee. It was a powerful decision from him, and it really hints at the kind of Europe we can build together: a continent where our identities are not bound to clash, but to meet and flourish.
The AJC really deserves our gratitude for this “Mayors against Anti-Semitism” initiative, and for your way of working. Your way of thinking, of living. It is not sectarian, it is not “tribal.”
And we truly need this, in times of growing “tribalism,” in all our societies – in Europe, in America, and in Israel, as described by President Rivlin exactly one year ago in a powerful speech
The question is whether we want to focus on the “dividing lines” among our tribes, or look instead at what binds us together.
It is a difficult challenge for all our societies. But I am convinced that what truly divides our peoples, is not religion or nationality. The only meaningful dividing line, runs between those who are ready to work for peace and coexistence, beyond our differences, and those who refuse the idea of living together in peace. That is what is at stake.
In these times, it feels like the peacemakers are some kind of endangered species. The global security environment has perhaps never been so unpredictable and dangerous. And the State of Israel lies in the most fragile and dangerous region in the world.
The spread of Daesh in the Middle East is a direct threat to all of us.
The Muslim world is going through a massive “clash within a civilisation” – possibly the most violent fight in a century, to redefine the regional balance of power. It’s a complex one, and we could discuss this for days (and it would be an interesting and useful conversation). But one force, among all, is not for sure just seeking power, but power through chaos. Daesh is trying to destabilise all countries in the region and beyond, misusing and manipulating religion for their dirty fight for power.
Against chaos, I know very well that working for stabilisation and reconciliation and even peace is an uphill task, that the war rhetoric can fascinate many. This is exactly what they want. They want the war rhetoric to win in our societies. And still, I believe there is no other way out. We need a new deal among all the peoples and the powers of the Middle East, or conflict will spread even further, to the entire region and beyond – Europe, Africa, Asia.
Our European Union – together with the United States and the international community – is working to avoid an even greater escalation. We all know how difficult this is: our efforts for peace in Syria have faced a huge number of stops and goes, and a long-awaited political transition is still not at hand.
But I am convinced that finally we are walking on the right path, together with our American friends. There is no other way to do this, than to reach out to all regional and local players, both the old powers and the new actors, Sunni and Shia, Muslim and non-Muslim. Only if we engage, can we try and move beyond a logic of confrontation, towards some kind of cooperation. This is the lesson Europe has learnt from its bloody history: regional cooperation is what can turn enemies into some kind of partners. You might not like your neighbour, still you have to share the same space. You cannot change geography as you can't choose your parents.
I know we have different views on the deal we reached last year with Iran. But let me be as sincere as I can, on what I believe we have achieved in Vienna.
One year ago we had no way to ensure that Iran would stay away from nuclear weapons. Today the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency are monitoring Iran’s nuclear program very closely. I chair regular meetings with ministers where we ensure that the deal is properly implemented. As long as this continues, there is no way Iran can develop an atomic weapon. And this makes the region, and the world, a safer place. This makes Israel, a safer place.
The sanctions that Europe and the US imposed on Iran were linked to the nuclear program. Sanctions are never a policy in itself: they serve a purpose. And when we reached our goal, we also lifted our sanctions. It is a matter of credibility, in a rules-based international community.
I know some of you are worried, about Teheran’s influence in the region. Yes, Iran is a player, in regional dynamics. This is true for both historic and geographical reasons, and you cannot change either of them. The real matter is what kind of influence Iran exerts. Iran can choose cooperation, or confrontation. It has to decide whether it will keep threatening the State of Israel, or denying, or act responsibly towards a more cooperative regional order.
I believe the Iranian people have an interest to choose cooperation – and we are making this clear to the Iranian leadership in each and every exchange we have with them. The people of Iran are asking for change: they are asking for their country to open up to the world, and leave behind a culture of isolation and confrontation. We must accompany the Iranian people, the Iranian youth. And we believe there is no better way to do so than to engage.
The deal does not imply that all our disagreements with Iran have disappeared overnight. Or that they will disappear anytime soon. On the contrary, there are many things on which we know we disagree. And we will continue to monitor the full implementation of the deal. And as you know, Europe will keep cooperating with Israel on its security, and on regional security. As a partner, as a friend.
I’ve seen a lot of chatter in the past few years about Europe’s relations with Israel. Many times I read of alleged “crises” in our relationship. Let me tell you about my experience over this year and a half.
Whenever I talk to Israeli leaders, any of them, we all know that Europe and Israel are tied very closely. Of course this has something to do with our economies: our Union is Israel’s first trading partner; our cooperation on science and research has produced so much innovation, and so much progress. But there is more. Much more.
We are friends. We are friends. And we will always be. Full-stop.
Friends can disagree, from time to time, that's even healthy, on single specific issues or policies. But we are and we will always be friends. It is in our DNA and that will never, never change. We can and must trust each other. And on that basis, we can see what we can do together to achieve the goals we share.
Just like the American Jewish Committee, our European Union works for a negotiated and viable two-State solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
It’s been a long time since Oslo. It’s been a long time and the conditions for two States have still not been achieved. And yet, to date there is no other option to achieve peace than two-States living side by side. In security and peace.
I’ve seen your pain with my own eyes, in Ashdod, in July 2014, together with then-Foreign Minister Lieberman. I have seen the pain of a family whose house had been destroyed by a shell fired from Gaza. This is why we need peace. Those kids I met there deserve the normal live they don't have today. And the only way is bringing peace. I've learned it from great Israelis: Peace will come from security, security will come with peace.
Let me tell you something: my first visit as High Representative was to Israel and Palestine. And I was the first to visit Israel after the last general election. During that visit, after a heated electoral campaign, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly confirmed, standing next to me, his commitment to a two-State solution. And I was glad to hear that he, and other ministers, repeated just the same a few days ago, after the new coalition deal. Still, we are not moving forward. The opposite is true: the perspective we say we want to achieve of two-States is fading away.
It would be great if new and meaningful negotiations could begin immediately, tomorrow. But we should all recognise that the conditions for this to happen are simply not there.
On the contrary, the situation on the ground could not be more serious, and more dangerous. The stabbing attacks have become a sad new feature in the everyday life of Israeli citizens. Any incitement to this, and any other form of violence is totally unacceptable. And this is a responsibility that the Palestinian leadership has to take. But yes, settlements too are putting the two-State solution beyond reach, and Susan (Rice) made it clear.
Some argue we should just wait for better times. In fact, that’s not even an option. If the situation does not improve, it will get worse. It is like riding a bicycle: if you don’t move forward, you fall.
The next escalation of violence could spiral out of control. We don’t want to face the next Gaza war. We don’t want to witness to a collapse of the Palestinian Authority. We don’t want to see the propaganda of Daesh spread to the Holy Land and infect the Palestinian youth, and the Arab Israeli youth. We don't want to see this because we are friends of Israel.
Our actions must be inspired by a sense of gravity, and a sense of urgency. First and foremost for the sake of Israeli security.
We must aim high, but we must also deal with the reality we currently face, and be as pragmatic as we can. As President Shimon Peres said so many times, there is still light at the end of the tunnel – there is just no tunnel. This is the great sense of humour of the Jewish people… Our number one priority must be to create a new “entry point” for serious talks, as we also prevent things from getting worse. We need to be the “tunnel” that will lead us to the end of this conflict.
This is exactly the aim of the Report by the Middle East Quartet, which will be presented soon. We will describe very frankly, as friends do, the immediate obstacles to direct talks, and the policies that threaten the viability of a two-State solution. We believe our recommendations will be hopefully a contribution to recreate the conditions for the two sides to get back to meaningful negotiations. With at least some minimum degree of confidence. With the united support of the key regional players, starting with the Arab countries and the key international players backing it.
Ultimately, real change is in the hands of the Israelis and the Palestinians. Peace cannot be imposed upon them – this should be very clear to everyone. At the same time, war and peace in the Holy Places don’t simply concern the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have a very direct vital impact on the entire region. And they reverberate through the whole globe – in a way, the world does revolve around Jerusalem. There is a responsibility.
The region and the world cannot shy away from their responsibilities. Our European Union pushed to re-launch the Quartet’s initiative – and the Quartet is indeed back to work. Europe, the United States of America, Russia and the United Nations, together: it’s the whole world trying to revitalize a peace process that today doesn't exist. We have also decided to work hand in hand with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – with the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis. And I know Buji Herzog was mentioning it earlier today. Because – for the first time ever – the Arab countries can represent an opportunity, rather than a threat, to Israel’s security. Please don't waste this opportunity. It's new, we have to use it.
Europe’s commitment to peace won’t falter and won’t waver. Our Union’s internal debate is often heated, as it is indeed the case in Israel. But the fundamental choices of our foreign policy are solid, and they are here to stay. You will hear me saying the same message here, in Ramallah, in Teheran, in Jerusalem. We are friends, we are true friends.
We are committed to peace in the Middle East. We are committed to multilateralism, and to cooperation beyond ethnic, cultural and political divides. We are committed to the two-State solution, and to Israel’s security. Our Union needs to engage with Israel even more – not to boycott Israel. Boycotting can do no good, and it would be an admission of our own failure. We are friends and we don't want to separate our future. In our part of the Mediterranean we say: “We are on the same boat.”
For me – and for so many Europeans – Israel is a natural partner. We are and we will remain friends. Europe and Israel share so much, and the history of the Jewish people is the history of Europe. European literature would not be the same with no Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Italo Svevo. European culture would not be the same with no Freud, Spinoza or Einstein. Our music would not be the same with no Gustav Mahler – or Amy Winehouse. Even our cuisine would not be the same…
Too many times you have seen the sorrow and the pain in Europe. Too many times Jewish families had to leave their land and look for a new home. The Jewish people has suffered like no other people on earth. And in Europe we know it very well. Through centuries of diaspora, the Jewish wisdom has spread to the entire world, it has inspired so many peoples and cultures, and reached out, to the whole human kind.
Jewish values and ideals have become part of our shared background. We share the idea that our actions have consequences, that they matter, and we are responsible for what we do. We share the idea of “tzedakàh” – that solidarity is not only a matter of charity, but of justice. And above all, we share the aspiration to peace –shalom..
Shalom, Salam, is a gift, but it is also something we need to work hard for – individually, in our own societies and together. This is the sense of the work we can do together – the American Jewish Committee, our European Union, the United States, the regional players, the whole international community.
You will always find Europe ready to work for peace. Actively, quietly, humbly but stubbornly. We will be there.
I’ve grown up to the dream of Oslo. I see it dying, in the Israeli and Palestinian youth. This is painful. In the political discourse, in our societies. We are giving up peace. Peace is something you shouldn’t give up to. We are starting to find this whole situation normal. It is not. And it is a risk no one can run. In Israel, in Europe, in America. If we want peace – because we know that only peace will bring security, for all – we all need to start building it. We have a responsibility.
Together we can be peace-makers. And this is the most difficult, but also the most important, and most beautiful thing we can do, in these difficult times, in the history of our world. And to build it in beautiful, difficult part of the world.
Shalom Aleichem, Salam Aleikum – may peace be upon the whole of us.
Washington, 6 June 2016