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‘More in a mood of solemn reflection than unbridled festivity,’ US ambassador to Israel says on July 4

Jack Lew offered remarks at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem ahead of American Independence Day.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew raises a glass for U.S. Independence Day with Isaac Herzog, the president of Israel, on July 3, 2024. Credit: U.S. State Department.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew raises a glass for U.S. Independence Day with Isaac Herzog, the president of Israel, on July 3, 2024. Credit: U.S. State Department.

Jack Lew, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, offered the following remarks—lightly edited for style—at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, ahead of American Independence Day on July 4.

Good evening, distinguished friends and colleagues. It is a pleasure for my wife Ruth and I to welcome our friends President Isaac Herzog and Israel’s first lady, Mrs. Michal Herzog. We are also honored to welcome so many distinguished guests, including Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz and speaker Amir Ohana. We are delighted to have you join us tonight to mark the 248th anniversary of the United States.

We celebrate the independence of the United States, and with it the birth of democratic traditions that are so central to the shared values that bind our two nations.

We gather today more in a mood of solemn reflection than unbridled festivity—but with undiminished delight in the freedom that Independence Day represents. At the same time, we are painfully aware that not far from here, in Gaza, 120 hostages are still captive after 270 days in the hands of brutal terrorists.

As we celebrate freedom and democracy, this is not a time, this year, for fireworks and spirited parties. I know we are accustomed to grander celebrations that are not fitting here and now, while so many Israelis are displaced and mobilized, and as we anguish over the fate of the hostages. For so many reasons, I fervently hope that next year will again be a time for more spirited celebration.

Since the start of November, I have been privileged to represent the United States in Israel, and at every moment the shattering impact of Oct. 7 remains very close. Showing remarkable resilience, sacrifice and determination, the people of Israel have restored an appearance of life going on as usual. But no conversation is ever more than a split second removed from the ongoing trauma.

Israel has been part of my life from my earliest memories. Serving as the U.S. ambassador to Israel is always a great honor, but especially at such a critical time, when security assistance and diplomatic support from the United States is more vital than ever.

The speed of my confirmation, weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden submitted my nomination to the Senate, reflected the urgency of the moment. And the speed of my coming to post only days after being confirmed, I’m told set a record in the United States.

Upon arrival on a Friday morning with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, I went straight to work meeting with the war cabinet, even before I could present my credentials to President Herzog after Shabbat.

And that Sunday, my first solo meeting, right here at this house, was with the families of American hostages in this garden. And every day since, Israel’s security, the long-term stability and the well-being of the people of the region, and bringing home the hostages has been forefront on my mind.

It is a privilege to work with so many of you, distinguished friends and colleagues, in advancing our shared goals.

Independence Day is always a time to reflect on our values, and here today it is a moment to reaffirm the shared values that sustain the strong bonds between the United States and Israel.

Our enduring democratic values make for lively political debate, but are also the strongest foundation for a future of strength and unity. And we share a common pursuit of a future that is more stable, prosperous, and secure for our two nations and for the people of this region.

Even the closest of friends may disagree on occasion about how that vision should be achieved. But make no mistake: the United States and Israel are aligned on the big strategic picture. Israel must endure as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and prosperity alongside its neighbors, in a more secure and stable Middle East.

As President Biden has said, there is a positive path forward toward this vision—for Israel, the United States and our strategic partnership.

It begins with a deal to release the hostages and begin a ceasefire, as President Biden presented on May 31—based on Israel’s proposal. This plan offers an opportunity to wind down the war in Gaza, recover the hostages and ensure that Hamas no longer governs Gaza.

The proposal has been embraced by the United States and Israel, and most of the rest of the world. Now Hamas needs to say yes.

Tonight, I mostly want to reflect on the core values that Americans and Israelis share—democracy, hope and resilience. These characteristics enable our nations to overcome each challenge we confront. They are values that bring us together as the closest friends and allies and are a source of tremendous strength and untold potential.

Our common embrace of democracy is the first pillar.

Democracy isn’t always graceful, it isn’t always as quick as it might be, but it brings people with different views and backgrounds together into one strong nation. It enables those elected by a majority of the people to govern, while protecting the rights of those not in power. It provides the best model for the people to choose their own path, while all segments of society are treated fairly and respected.

The ideal of democracy—commitment to rule of law, individual liberty and dignity is the goal that we always strive for. And in America, when we fall short of achieving that goal, we only work that much harder to achieve a more perfect union.

While our electoral systems and founding documents are different, Americans and Israelis share a belief in popular democracy.

In America, our founding documents make this very clear. Our constitution begins with the words, “We the people” to remind us that our people are the source of all governmental authority. And we who serve have the solemn responsibility to keep our democratic system strong and resilient.

The second pillar is hope. Here in Israel, it is reflected in the very words of the national anthem we just heard—Hatikva, or The Hope. In both of our countries it is reflected in the indomitable spirit of our people to pick themselves up from war, economic crisis, and internal divisions.

We saw that in the recovery from COVID, when our two nations led the world in coming back strong. We see it here today as the people of Israel refuse to surrender hope for a better future even as the trauma of the hostage crisis and war make each day so challenging.

And the third pillar, resilience, can be seen so clearly in the robust and dynamic economic ties between our countries. The United States is Israel’s largest trading partner, and our bilateral trade continues to grow, creating jobs and opportunities on both sides.

Israelis responded to Oct. 7 with tremendous energy and initiative, showing up to volunteer, to donate and to help those whose lives and communities were suddenly shattered.

I am still struck by the generosity that people found in their hearts at a moment of, shock, horror and unfathomable loss, and for the energy they found to turn hope into action. That spirit augurs well for Israel’s economy and society now and in the years ahead.

Despite dire predictions, Israel’s economy has weathered the attacks of Oct. 7 and the ongoing war better than anyone expected. And American companies recognize the resilience and ingenuity that characterize Israelis, and which define Israel’s economy.

U.S.-Israel cooperation is at the leading edge of innovation, earning success in the defense and technology sectors, and I look forward to seeing more fruits of collaboration and partnership in fields like clean energy and quantum computing, which will lead us toward a more sustainable future.

In education and culture, Americans and Israelis continue to look to each other for expertise and new ideas. American scholars and students continue to arrive in Israel and the latest cohort of Israeli Fulbright fellows—who I recently had the pleasure of meeting—are making their way to U.S. universities this summer.

There is still so much potential to realize in the United States’ relations with Israel. An Israel that is more closely integrated into the region also stands to gain immeasurable security and economic benefits. As we continue to build pressure on Hamas to release the hostages, we must at the same time focus our energy on bringing peace, prosperity and stability to the region.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1774, delegates met in Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress, charting a course toward what two years later would be America’s declaration of independence. Those founding patriots meeting in 1776 understood that the way ahead was long and perilous. But they persevered in the faith that a commitment to democracy, a hope for a brighter future, and the resilience to endure could overcome any challenge. Likewise, Israel, with the ironclad support of the United States, will overcome, endure and thrive.

In that spirit, I wish you all a happy Independence Day!

Thank you for being with us here this evening to celebrate America’s independence this evening.

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