Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s speech in the presence of U.S. President Joe Biden in Jerusalem on July 14, 2022:

Mr. President,

In March 1965, on Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous march from Selma to Montgomery, walking beside him in the front row was a Jewish rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. When he returned home that day, Rabbi Heschel wrote in his diary: ‘Today, I felt my legs were praying.”

In the State of Israel, Mr. President, our legs pray every single day. Nothing in our lives is taken for granted. My father was a Jewish child in the Budapest Ghetto, hiding from those who tried to kill him.

The fact that I am standing here today, did not happen by itself. We learned the lesson, Mr. President. At all times, Israel must be strong, free and safe, with a powerful army that can defend our citizens.

Be it Joshua crossing the Jordan River, or Dr. King crossing the Alabama River, the principle is the same: If you want your independence, your hands must defend you, and your legs must pray for you. You must march fearlessly towards the river.

This past year, with Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine, with the Iranian nuclear threat becoming more dangerous and with the threats of terrorism worldwide—we were all reminded of something: in order to protect freedom, sometimes force must be used.

Nobody wants that, but neither can we shy away from it. On the side of terror stand people who will not hesitate to exploit any weakness, people who do not play by the rules.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to be born free people, sometimes do not understand the intensity of the hatred behind the attack on democracy. What did we do to them? What makes them crash planes into skyscrapers in New York and fire rockets at kindergartens in Sderot?

The answer is fear. What scares them the most is that their citizens, their people, can see us. They can see our quality of life. The dynamism and creativity of our economy. The rights of women and the LGBTQ community. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Our way of life is what threatens them. It’s what makes the Iranian regime develop its nuclear program, Hezbollah aim its missiles at us and terrorist organizations worldwide send suicide bombers. They want to destroy the only Jewish state in the world. We will never let that happen.

Words will not stop them, Mr. President. Diplomacy will not stop them. The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program the free world will use force. The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table.

You have said many times, Mr President, that “big countries do not bluff.” I completely agree. It should not be a bluff, but the real thing. The Iranian regime must know that if they continue to deceive the world, they will pay a heavy price.

Here in the Middle East we have an alternative; it is growing and gaining power. We are creating an alliance of moderate countries that believe in peace, that believe that our children deserve the opportunity to live a better life.

From here, from Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the State of Israel, you will travel to Saudi Arabia.

Your visit to Saudi Arabia is important for Israel and for the region. For our security and for the future prosperity of the Middle East.

We send with you, to all the nations of the region, including of course the Palestinians, a message of peace.

Israel wants peace and believes in peace. We will never yield an inch of our security. We are obligated to be cautious at every step. But to any country, any nation that wants peace and normalization with us, we say: “Ahalan wasahalan, shalom, welcome.”

Mr. President, you will meet with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Iraq. I would like you to pass them all a message from us: Our hand is outstretched for peace. We are ready to share our technology and experience, ready for our people to meet and learn about one another, ready for our scientists to collaborate and our businesses to cooperate.

The book of Psalms says all of this in one verse. Chapter 29 reads: “The Lord will give strength to his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.” If we are strong, if we are determined, if the world understands that we will not hesitate to defend ourselves and our values—peace can come.

Mr. President, our relationship runs deep. It crosses party lines. It connects not only our governments but also our peoples.

This friendship is one of the cornerstones of Israel’s national security. It is moving—and it is certainly not taken for granted.

Throughout all your years in public service, you were one of the chief architects of this relationship, for that you have the everlasting gratitude of the people of Zion.

Thank you.


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