Ambassador’s Speech at the AmCham 75th Anniversary Gala
October 12, 2023
Thank you, Stephanie.
Wow. Hard job to follow Stephanie and the Prime Minister, my good friend, Alexander.
What a building this is. What a wonderful view I have at this very moment, to look out at this wonderful audience, in this incredible venue.
Your Royal Highness, Princess Astrid, Prime Minister again, ladies and gentlemen. For nearly two hundred years, the United States and Belgium have stood side by side to uphold and perpetuate our common democratic values that the Prime Minister so eloquently elaborated on.
Our shared history goes back to when we needed to struggle together and make sure those values are what our children and grandchildren can have for generations.
And thousands of Americans and Belgians have benefitted from academic and cultural exchange programs between our countries. And you can see – your Prime Minister is a Fulbrighter, how that has affected our transatlantic relationship.
Our robust trade was mentioned by Stephanie and I’m glad our statistical numbers are the same: $185 billion, 900 companies, 117,000 jobs that American companies have here in Belgium. And I think we heard the exact reason why. It is because of these shared values.
You know, we can talk about diversity and inclusion, or we can act upon it, and I see that action taking place in the United States and here in Belgium. I’m asked all the time, what is it that you like about Belgium? What is the one thing that you find here? And as I was saying earlier this evening, there are many beautiful buildings in this world. There’s wonderful food, wonderful beer, wonderful chocolate. But that to me isn’t what I find to be meaningful here. What I find outstanding about Belgium is the people, and I thank all those friends I have made here in this room, for being so well-received. I feel that together, we’re on a mission to make the United States and Belgium better societies for all of us, through our business efforts specifically.
I come to these events like yours tonight often, and I was really happy to hear the Prime Minister say how proud he is of being Belgian. When I’m asked how to describe the Belgian people, I will now say even more what I’ve said before: “Well, they’re sort of modest. They’re humble.” And they really aren’t like Americans, getting out there, we can be boastful sometimes, Americans can be. But I’ve always said I can detect that inner confidence. Even though we have regional differences here, from one end of this country to the other, I’ve found that you really have the same love for country that we have in the United States, and I believe it’s founded on the same values: that we really care about people. We don’t talk about democracy and values, we act upon them, and I think that’s our shared value.
I’d love to go on and talk as I normally do and I have so far, but because of this moment in time, I have to give prepared remarks that I put together. A lot of what I’m going to say are not my personal words, even though I can talk about these issues because of my personal experiences,
because I am a Jewish-American. Because I do have personal relations and family in Israel. But because words matter, I would like to have the words that I say to you tonight to be those of President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken.
Today the United States and Belgium, and all countries that share democratic ideals and values, have arrived together at this moment. What the President said – and first, before I say this, I want to thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for the support you have given, and what you have again said so strongly again tonight.
The President stated this week to the American public and to the world: how the attacks in Israel have, and as I said I quote: “brought to the surface painful memories of the scars left by millennia of anti-Semitism and genocide of the Jewish people.” He continued: “So in this moment, we must be crystal clear. We stand with Israel, and we will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, to defend itself, and to respond to these attacks. There is no justification for terrorism. There is no excuse.”
He also said, “Hamas does not stand for the Palestinian people and their right to dignity and self-determination. Hamas offers nothing but terror and bloodshed, with no regard for who pays the price. The loss of innocent life is heartbreaking.”
And in a joint statement with European leaders that President Biden put out, he recognized “the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and support equal measures of justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
In Israel today, Secretary Blinken said: “A litany of brutality and inhumanity, that yes, brings the mind the worst of ISIS: babies slaughtered, bodies desecrated, young people burned alive, women raped, parents executed in front of their children, and children in front of their parents. How can we understand this? How can we digest this?” The Secretary continued: “In this moment, where evil, hatred, and madness have once again taken so many innocent lives, we must stand together, resolved to confront what is the worst of humanity with what is the best. We must provide an alternative to the vision of violence and fear and terror that Hamas presents. That is what the United States will do, standing with Israel, working together with its people, and with all those in this region who remain committed to the vision of a more peaceful, more integrated, more secure, and more prosperous Middle East.”
In the face of this unspeakable tragedy and the continuing brutality of Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine, it is clear that the challenge of our time is to prove that our model of democracy can still generate the best: the most innovative, the most workable solutions to today’s challenges for the future. But beyond our united front in support of both Israel and Ukraine, as was mentioned earlier, we have challenges to which we must take aggressive action: climate change, supply chain resiliency, preparation for the next global pandemic, just to name a few. Our respective governments will rise to the challenge of solving these problems, creating once-in-a-generation policies that have the ability to change the world’s economy forever. But alongside government, private sector leadership and action are just as critical at this juncture.
These policies cannot succeed without the innovation, operational know-how, and cooperation of world-class U.S. and Belgian companies here this evening.
I applaud Stephanie’s call for action. This is the time we must look inside, each and every one of us and ask what are we doing in our private lives and in our workplace to make it a better world. Since arriving in Belgium almost two years ago, I have relied on the insights and perspectives of AmCham and its members to understand the challenges of the U.S. and Belgium business community. AmCham helps so many American companies to enter, expand, and thrive in this complex market. And they also provide a critical lens through which our governments can better understand the implications of these policies. The feedback loop is important for all of us.
I want to thank AmCham in Belgium for the continual willingness to work hand in glove with my team and to advance the U.S. Belgium trade and investment partnership. Congratulations on 75 years of astounding work.