Hoyer Remarks at AIPAC Policy Conference

For Immediate Release:

March 5, 2012

Contact:

Katie Grant, 202-225-3130

WASHINGTON, DC - House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks today at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Yesterday I returned, along with a number of my colleagues, from an annual pilgrimage to Selma, Alabama, site of the Civil Rights marches in 1965.  It was led by Representative John Lewis – who, as a young activist, was beaten nearly to death on the original march. 

“Two weeks after that ‘Bloody Sunday,’ citizens of every race and creed joined together to complete the march that had been halted so violently, and they sang these words as they walked forward into history:  ‘Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us; sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.’

“Among the marchers in Selma was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who locked arms with Martin Luther King at the front of the group.  He later said that at Selma his feet were praying. 

“Rabbi Heschel knew the power of a dream born of faith and hope.  He understood its endurance, its energy, how it could smolder without end until a single breath brought revival and rekindling.  As energetically as he campaigned for the dream of civil rights in America, Rabbi Heschel eloquently supported the rebirth of the State of Israel out of the dream of Jewish history.  He wrote that Israel emerged from ‘a stream of dreaming, the sacred river flowing in the Jewish souls of all ages.’ 

“Israel is truly the product of a dream fulfilled.  I have been personally enriched each of the twelve times I have visited Israel.  The most recent was last summer, when I brought twenty-six Members of Congress with me.  Now that I’ve been there twelve times, I guess you could say the next visit will be my ‘bar mitzvah’ trip. 

“To land in Israel is to confront the reality of a harsh land made beautiful and productive by the love and labor and courage of an extraordinary people.  A people besieged, tormented, and with millions murdered through millennia.  But, a people who, through faith and conviction and an incredible will to honor their history, have brought forth a country, like ours, conceived in liberty and dedicated to peace and freedom; democracy and free markets; freedom of worship for those of all faiths; and the determination to survive and succeed in the face of daunting odds and opposition.  A people who, upon setting foot in Israel, break into joyful and hope-filled song:  ‘He-vey-nu Shalom Aleichem – We have brought peace unto you!’

“We are living in an age of uncertainty.  The peace process has slowed to a near-halt, and Iran-sponsored Hamas remains in control of the Gaza Strip.  Palestinian textbooks continue to preach the hatred of Jews and the eventual destruction of Israel.  At the same time, the threat of terrorism looms around the world and just on the other side of Israel’s security fence.  Across the Arab world, popular discontent has sparked a wave of protests and uprisings that give promise of empowerment of the people but threaten, as well, such stability as has existed.   It remains to be seen whether this will portend democratic peace or unleash ethnic and religious hatred.  

“Though much is uncertain in the region, one thing in the Middle East is always certain:  the bond that links the United States and Israel.  Our relationship, based on our shared values and shared interests, is unshakeable. 

“Let me repeat:  Our relationship is unshakable.  It is enduring.  And no one should misconstrue difference of opinion or emphasis as in any way weakening a bond forged by principles, values, history, and common interests. 

“Yesterday, you heard this same message from President Obama when he said:  ‘We are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share -- in security for our communities, prosperity for our people, the new frontiers of science that can light the world. …That is why America’s commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties.’ 

“This is a president, as were his predecessors, committed to Israel’s security – who has proven through his actions that he is willing to do what it takes to stand up for Israel around the world.  A president who has continually reaffirmed a position so many of my colleagues and I share:  that Israel has a sovereign right to defend itself against threats to the security of its people.

“Today, the greatest threat to Israel’s security – and to stability in the region – is Iran. 

“Again and again, Iran’s leaders preach the destruction of Israel and deride the values Israel and America share.  Its President, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, infamously called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’ and again this summer called the Holocaust ‘one of the biggest lies.’ In February, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised Iranian aid to any group opposing Israel, which he labeled ‘a cancerous tumor that should be cut [out].’

“Iran and its Revolutionary Guard continue to sponsor and arm Hezbollah and Hamas, putting Israeli civilians under the constant threat that rockets will again be launched against them.  Even this month, rockets still rain down on Israel’s southern communities.  So those who may doubt the imminence of the threat to Israel, let them go to Sderot. 

“Iran’s refusal to accept international inspectors and its leaders’ violent rhetoric against Israel make it absolutely clear: the development of a nuclear capability represents a red line we cannot permit Iran to cross. 

“President Obama made this clear yesterday.  He said– and I quote: ‘No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.  And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weights on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak and all of Israel’s leaders.’ 

“A nuclear Iran would be not only a grave danger to Israel but also to the United States and our allies in Europe.  It would spark a nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf and threaten the global oil supply.  It also would carry the risk of Iranian nuclear weapons technology potentially ending up in hands of terrorist groups intending to use them against American targets.  For these reasons, a nuclear Iran is threat to America’s national security. 

“Let me be absolutely clear:  a nuclear Iran is a threat to the United States, and we must do all that it takes to eliminate that threat. 

“Under this Administration, Iran is facing the toughest sanctions yet from both the United States and our European allies.  In November, after an IAEA report revealed that Iranian researchers were exploring nuclear weaponization, President Obama took swift action through an executive order to impose new sanctions on foreign companies that do business with Iran.  Furthermore, the Treasury Department designated Iran’s financial system a threat to foreign banks and other financial institutions.  

“In December, I was a cosponsor, along with Eric Cantor, the Majority Leader, of the Iranian Threat Reduction Act, which tightens sanctions on Iran’s energy and financial sectors, including the Central Bank of Iran, which has financed the activities of terrorist groups and has been linked to its nuclear program.  That legislation passed the House with over 400 votes, and the language on Iran’s central bank was included in the Defense Authorization bill signed into law. 

“Last month, the President issued another executive order that imposes further sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and freezes assets in the United States.  This followed a successful effort by the Obama Administration to secure additional sanctions from our allies in Canada and the European Union. 

“Iran’s leaders are feeling the pressure.  We must continue applying that pressure – and increasing it – while refusing to deny ourselves any recourse to preventing a nuclear Iran. 

“The President and Congress are in firm agreement when it comes to this point, which President Obama made here yesterday when he said:  ‘The effective implementation of our policy is not enough – we must accomplish our objective.  …Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.’

“And, the same when he said yesterday:  ‘I will take no options off the table. …I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.’ 

“Let me make this same point today:  The United States must not allow a nuclear-armed Iran.  Our policy is not containment but prevention. 

“It is critically important that the United States and Israel work closely together to meet this threat, and that’s why I’m introducing this week, along with Republican Leader Eric Cantor, the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, which we expect will pass with overwhelming bipartisan support.  It will enshrine in law the deeper military and security cooperation this Administration has forged with Israel and made a high priority.  It is a reminder of the bipartisan support for Israel that has long brought Americans together across party lines. 

“Military cooperation between the United States and Israel has never been closer.  Together, we are developing responses to common threats, exchanging vital intelligence, and sharing in the production of new technologies.  As I have said so often, Israel’s survival and success is and must be a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy.

“Israel inspires us as Americans.  We too are a nation built on a dream and know how powerful dreams can be.  As Israel has proven, even the passing of centuries and dark periods of persecution could not extinguish that ancient dream of a Jewish state reborn and living in peace.  

“When they excavated the fortress of Masada, where Jewish fighters made their final stand against Rome, archaeologists discovered clay pots containing ancient seeds from the time of Masada’s fall.  Those seeds came from a date plant that had since become extinct.  Israeli scientists regenerated one of those seeds and planted it.  It grew.  It thrived.  Once thought lost forever, that 2,000-year-old date palm now lives again.

“The dream of Masada’s heroes lived on through the ages and has now borne fruit.  So too, we pray, shall the dream of peace for Israel and a secure future for its people. 

“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel exulted in this same power to endure through the ages when he described Israel, as I said earlier, as born from ‘a stream of dreaming,’ a ‘sacred river flowing in the Jewish souls of all ages.’ 

“America will continue to stand side-by-side with the nation born from that dream of the ages – the fulfillment of which can be heard in that song of arrival:  ‘He-vey-nu Shalom Aleichem – We have brought peace unto you.’

“Those words recall another of Rabbi Heschel’s joyous observations:  ‘A land that was dead for nearly two thousand years,’ he wrote, ‘is now a land that sings.’  Our joint mission must be to keep that song alive.  Our values demand it; our security demands it; and history demands it as well.”

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