The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice at a Dinner Honoring Israeli President Shimon Peres
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Good evening everyone—erev tov. And, thank you so much, Ron, Rhoda, for this lovely evening. It’s a true honor, Ron, to be asked to celebrate one of Israel’s greatest sons and a walking global treasure, my friend President Shimon Peres.
Over the years, Mr. President, you have been many things—a dreamer, a state-builder, a founding father, a prime minister, a peacemaker. Your life has been the life of the state of Israel. You all sometimes hear him called an “elder statesman,” but I know every one of us in this room would kill to have the energy that you have (Laughter), You’ve won the world’s admiration and most of its medals, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and, tomorrow, the Congressional Gold Medal—together, America’s highest civilian honors. And you didn’t just win the Nobel Peace Prize, you earned it, and you earn it every single day. So thank you, Mr. President, for your tireless efforts to make this world a better place—for your tireless commitment to the state of Israel and tikkun olam.
President Peres and I became friends after we met in 2009 in New York, and he invited me to Israel later that year to speak at the incredible conference that he convenes. And since then, I’ve been extremely privileged to meet with him many times and to benefit not only from his extraordinary wisdom but also from his unbelievable kindness. On more than one occasion, when from very far away, he sensed that perhaps I was having a bit of a rough patch, he would call or write or find some other special way of letting me know that he was there, and that I was in his thoughts. What a wonderful man. Thank you.
Someone once asked Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv, how it is that you become mayor of a city in Israel—and he said, first, you build the city (Laughter). So, if someone asks President Peres how he came to lead the state of Israel, well—first, you build the state of Israel. And that is just what you have done, more than any other man alive. And, that makes him a great gift to all of us—the last of Israel’s founding lions.
From the moment that President Truman made the United States the very first country to recognize the Jewish state, 11 minutes after Shimon’s great mentor David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence in Tel Aviv, the relationship between our two proud democracies has grown like a mighty oak. As President Obama reaffirmed when he met with President Peres today, the United States’ commitment to the peace and security of Israel is unbreakable and unshakable. Our peoples share a friendship that’s rooted in our common values: liberty, democracy, human rights, and human dignity. You can see it in this room tonight, where we’ve all gathered—leaders and citizens from across America’s political spectrum, united in our love and support for Israel. And so much of that, too, is because of the personal efforts—over a lifetime—of Shimon Peres.
Now, everyone here knows that he’s eminently quotable. He’s the inventor of the “Peres-ism” (Laughter). I’m sure all of you have your favorites. There’s the one that every campaign manager should know, and I quote, he actually said it today, “Polls are like perfume—nice to smell, dangerous to swallow” (Laughter). Especially apt in this room. But the one that most stays with me is pretty simple. He said, “There are no hopeless situations, only hopeless people.”
Shimon Peres is someone who believes that despair is a sin and service is a duty. And, serve is what you have done your entire life—from your early days on the kibbutz, making the desert bloom, and throughout your decades of dedication to Israel. That’s the spirit in which Shimon Peres has worked with every American president since John F. Kennedy. That’s how he’s earned admirers the world over. And that’s why he remains so committed to advancing the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, including through his meeting with President Abbas and Pope Francis at the Vatican this month.
Mr. President, you set an example for us all. And so, we too will stay true to the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Because ultimately, the only path out of this tragic conflict is a secure, democratic, Jewish state living side-by-side in peace and security with a viable, independent Palestinian state (Applause).
Tonight as well, all of our hearts are hurting for the three Israeli students who were kidnapped in the West Bank, one of whom, as you all know, is also an American. President Obama and all of us in the U.S. government are deeply concerned. We have offered every assistance, and, as parents—in my case of a sixteen year old boy—we all feel this very personally. So, we pray for their safe return and for the strength for their families through this agonizing vigil. And, continued cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians is also critical—both to ensure that the search succeeds and to prevent the situation in the West Bank from further destabilizing.
One might argue that these are difficult days. But there are no hopeless situations, only hopeless people—and President Peres reminds us never to count ourselves among them. What counts is working to bend history in the direction of hope.
So, in the book that I know as Psalms, and that many of you know as Tehillim, Moses beseeches the Lord, quote, “establish thou the works of our hands upon us.” Many of us were raised on that prayer, though some of you learned it in the original. And I hear in it not only a cry to heaven, but a call to action here on earth. That’s a call you have answered, Mr. President, every day of your life. And, we are all inspired by the work to which you have put your able hands. This room is full of people deeply moved by your service, your courage, and your determination to pursue progress, security, and peace.
So, tonight, we celebrate the next chapter in the life of Shimon Peres. We join you in recommitting ourselves to the cause of peace. And, together, we ask for that ancient blessing: Establish thou the works of our hands, oh Lord. On behalf of President Obama and all of your friends here in the United States, we wish you, like Moses, “Ad meyah v’essreem!” May you live to 120! (Laughter) Thank you.