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America's New War: Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Testifies Before a House Committee

Aired September 20, 2001 - 14:16   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Today on the House side of the Capitol, the House Government Operations Committee looking at how the United States should prepare for terrorism. They are hearing from former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu right now, and let's listen in to some of what the former prime minister has to say.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FMR. ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: ... prime minister for, this is what you have a president for, a commander in chief for, and unless you give that power, the terrorist will always hide behind this so-called lack of sufficient group. It is not the court of law. It's a feel of war. It must be done.


Mr. Lantos.

REP. TOM LANTOS (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank you for holding this hearing, for inviting our distinguished guest. And I want to commend you for one of the most powerful statements I've heard as a member of Congress.

It's our -- this is not an inappropriate time as prime minister to pay a moment's tribute to your brother, who is the symbol of the international fight against terrorism. But on the 4th of July, 1976, he gave his life in that struggle, and he will stand as the singular example of human sacrifice in defense of freedom, and liberty and the need to fight international terrorism.

I very much hope that the speechwriters who are preparing tonight's address of the president, that he will give to joint session of Congress, have been listening to your comments, because your comments are now in the public domain. There's no copyright, and I hope many of these thoughts will find their way into the president's speech at 9:00 this evening.

It's been stated many time as prime minister that September 11 was a wake-up call. Well, I think it was little more than wake up call. It probably provided us all of us with a moment that we can describe as a hinge of history. Because the dialogue, the focus, the attention is so different today than it was just two short weeks ago. It is true of the Congress, as it is many of our allies. It was also a wake-up call for our own Department of State. Earlier, I mentioned Mr. Prime minister that some months ago, I introduced a piece of legislation calling for the government of Lebanon to secure its entire border with Israel, not allowing Hezbollah to engage in cross-border terrorist raids. The Department of State saw fit just a few months ago to send two letters to all of my colleagues, urging them to oppose my amendment and not to vote for it. It passed by the narrowest of margins 216-212. And I so strongly welcome the new attitude of the Department of State, and I ask unanimous consent, Mr. Chairman, that yesterday's "Wall Street Journal" article entitled "U.S. Presses Lebanon on Suspects Bush Seeks Action on Hezbollah" be inserted in the record."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.

LANTOS: What we now have, Mr. Prime Minister, is the department of state at long last calling on the Moscows and Beiruts to put an end to all terrorist activities, something that just a few months ago, our own Department of State was fighting. This, I think, an index of the seismic change that occurred a week ago Tuesday, which I think will focus our attention for many coming years on this issue. It was not long ago that many in our government at the highest levels were issuing highest calls for restraint, when Israel struck back at terrorist. I remember once a specific incidence, when a terrorist chief was, with surgical accuracy, terminated by an Israeli helicopter pilot, and the Department of State was calling for -- piously for restraint.

Just imagine what an American pilot would get in the form of decorations if he would find Osama and put an end to him in his cave someplace. He would get the Congressional Medal of Honor in record time.

Now, I would like to ask you to comment on two concepts, Mr. Prime Minister. The first one relates to the issue of why the international terrorist movement hates us so much. Many argue they hate us for our policies. It is my judgment that they don't hate us for what we do, but they hate us for what we are. We are open, tolerant, accepting of others, and this is dynamic -- diametrically opposed to what the fanatic terrorist believe in, and which they are clearly are prepared to sacrifice their lives.

The second issue I would like you to comment on relates to a statement by the president of Pakistan. I very much welcome the fact that Pakistan at long last has chosen to stand with the civilized world, and not with the barbarism of the Taliban. And I publicly want to commend the president of Pakistan for his action.

Yet in his statement he offered a caution. Namely, that India and Israel not be part of the coalition. And I find that so outrageous that a military dictator should tell the two democracies which in many ways have been the most severely subjected to international terrorism to stay away. Isn't it long overdue that we not only tell all the countries of this world that the time to choose is here, not just in terms over actions, but also in terms of moral and intellectual clarity. I think it would be outrageous if Syria would be invited to join the international struggle against international terrorism while India and Israel and perhaps other democracies would be excluded. I would be grateful for your comments.

NETANYAHU: Thank you very much, Congressman Lantos. And thank you very much, too, about your kind words about my late brother. He fell in the war against terrorism. But it's interesting that even though he devoted all of his adult life -- he fell at the age of 30. From the age of 18, with the exception of short stint at Harvard, he had been in the army fighting terrorism. He never viewed the problem as strictly a military one. He viewed it essentially as a political and moral one, because of the confusion that existed in the democracies that allowed terrorist regimes and terrorist organizations to grow and expand their activity.

And I agree with him completely, and devoted good part of my adult life to making that clear. And I know you and so many others in this committee have taken part in the political and normal battles against terrorism, and it's apologists, as in South Africa, in Durban, I think, where the American delegation did the right thing.

Why do the terrorist -- why do the Islamic militant terrorist hate us so much? And it's a collective "us." I'll tell you it's a collective us in the sense of Belgium was in the Middle East or Holland was in the Middle East instead of Israel, the same thing would be there. And if Israel, by the way, didn't exist, the same thing would be there. This is centuries of antipathy of a particular virulent strain of Islam, to distinguish from the vast majority, that does not recognize modernity.

What is especially rejects is the idea of plurality and individual choice. It is a very rigid conception of life. I think a very forlorned and dark one, but it cannot tolerate the idea we're having this conversation right now, that we can have genuine disagreements, that we can have a genuine parliament. That's why they have farcical parliament in Tripoli or the Sudan. But their not real parliaments, because what they want, what they want to have is a certain uniformity. They reject our respect for life, for individual right. They reject our conception of personal choice in the way we dress and the way we educate our children, and our choice of music and art, choices I should say. It's a completely different world outlook.

And, therefore, you are absolutely right when they say that they hate the West, not for what it does, but for what it is. It is a fundamentally opposed view of the way human life and civilization should be constructed. And make no mistake about it, ours is better. Ours is right. There's is wrong. And that's why they use barbaric methods to try to stamp out ours, they cannot stand free competition. They can not stand choice on the international scene or in their own societies. That's why they're closed, because they know that given the choice, just give the choice to the citizens of Iran, you know what they will choose.

I once said to the heads of CIA, that the best way to induce a change in Iran was not the standard CIA tactics, but to get very, very strong transponders and to beam them into Tehran, "Beverly Hills 2050 (sic)" and "Melrose Place" and all that stuff, because -- I don't think high art, right. But it has its uses. This is subversive stuff. I mean, what it does, is it gives the young people, in particular the ability to see a different life, that they could have a nice house, a nice car, a nice clothes and so on. This is precisely the kind of competition that they -- that these militants not only want to avoid, but hate so much.

They want their uniform idea, based on, again, many centuries of a slithering, simmering hate. I think this has been written about perhaps most profoundly and cogently by professor Bernard Lewis (ph). There are others. There are Arab writers like professor Fouad Ajumu (ph) of John's Hopkins and a number of other Arab professors, which I -- whose books I've read, who written probably about this more honestly and more courageously than any Western writer that I can cite. So it's absolutely correct. They hate us for what we are in the first instance, not for what we do.

I cannot add a single thing to what you said about Pakistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Prime Minister, you have heard from the ranking member of the International Relations Committee.

And now I recognize...

WOODRUFF: Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describing -- and by the way, of course a country that had to deal with terrorism for a long time -- describing the mission of the terrorist, describing their philosophical underpinnings, if you will, saying that they not only hate our political system, they hate our entire way of life in the West and in the democracies, like the United States.



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