Washington, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke today at AIPAC’s annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“In 1780, when our nation was struggling to be born, and John Adams was far from home, he wrote this in a letter to his wife: I must study politics and war, so that my sons have the liberty to study commerce, so that their sons have the right to study literature, and art, and music.
“John Adams understood that so much of what we value, so much of what makes us human, rests on a slender foundation: that we can rest safely and soundly at night. That no one will trouble the sleep of our children.
“It is a universal dream. It was the dream of the generation that forged our country in war. And for centuries, it was a Jewish dream—a dream denied and deferred, in land after land of exile, as home turned to hell time and again. Generations of Jews were born and died while that dream lived unfulfilled, while their homes, their futures, their lives were in someone else’s hand, at someone else’s whim—a people of guests, and an uprooted nation.
“But in our time, the Jewish people has seen two answers, two true homes. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren called them two ‘Jewish utopias’: America and Israel.
“America: a nation mixed from every people, a nation that has made citizens out of strangers, a home where the talents of Jews have been unleashed out of all proportion to their numbers.
“And Israel: the state where Jews entered into world history again as ‘a nation like all other nations,’ in the words of the Tanakh; the state where Jews took up again, after two millennia, the precious burden of nationhood.
“Our nations’ friendship is more than six decades old, and, like all friendships, it has its trials and tensions. We can say candidly: this is one of those times. But the disagreements of the moment cannot undo the bond of generations. Today, we are reminded again why that bond is unbreakable.
“And we are reminded again that both homes, America and Israel, are indispensible to the Jewish future. If the Jewish future in one of these homes is more secure than ever, the future of the other is under grave threat.
“I’ve traveled to Israel eleven times. I’ve gone in times of celebration and times of sorrow, times of threatening war and of uneasy peace. Last summer, thanks to AIPAC’s sister organization, the American Israel Educational Foundation, I traveled there again. In the King David Hotel I met with Rabbi Daniel Gordis, an American from Baltimore who had made aliyah, and he spoke to me about Jewish fear. He said that Israel meant this to him: that for the first time in memory, Jews were responsible for their own safety, that they had to beg no prince or sovereign for the right to live their lives. And he asked me to imagine life in Israel, two or three years from today, if that right was hanging on a button in a bunker under Tehran.
“I’m a child of the Cold War, so I know something of that bone-deep fear. I know how it throws a dark cloud over life, even in the best times. I lived for 40 years under mutually assured destruction—but not with a religious fanatic on the other end. Not with a nuclear umbrella for terrorism, or the threat of nuclear terrorism here in America. Not with the prospect of an explosive regional arms race. Some of what threatens Israel, and the Middle East, and America, the world has seen before. Some, it has never seen.
“But we know two things. We know that, just last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency told the world that Iran has enriched enough low-enriched uranium for two nuclear bombs. And we know that this cannot stand.
“Under years of diplomatic silence, Iran’s nuclear program grew. Under President Obama’s patient engagement, it has continued to grow—even as Iran’s unwillingness to negotiate in good faith was exposed to the world. We can’t expect a change of heart from a regime founded in violence, and in violent disregard for world opinion—but we can demand a change of behavior. So Congress will soon take final action on sanctions to target the Iranian economy at its weakest point, the refined petroleum it depends on. These sanctions will demonstrate the high cost of Iran’s self-imposed isolation from the community of nations.
“But we know, even as we debate these measures, that the true face of Iran is not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—it is Neda Agha-Soltan, shot through the heart for demanding that her vote count. “It is in dissent silenced, in a peaceful Green opposition threatened and beaten and jailed, even as it demands freedom at home and openness to the world. And we know that sanctions are, in some ways, a tragic choice: they are never a perfectly precise instrument, and they may mean hardship for ordinary Iranians, including the brave dissenters we cheer in our hearts.
“Knowing all that, I still speak for sanctions. Because millions of lives are at stake. Because sanctions can work when the international community recognizes that an outlaw nation poses a common threat to us all—the case that America is making strongly at the United Nations. Because Tehran can choose, at any time, to negotiate in good faith and set aside its aggressive nuclear pursuit. And because the alternative to sanctions is far worse.
“This matters to you, as it matters to me, because it is an issue of Israeli survival. But survival is not enough. Survival is not Zionism, any more than breathing is life. Zionism is democracy. Zionism is Tohar HaNeshek—’Purity of Arms.’ Zionism is pluralism and tolerance and curiosity and openness, even in the face of hate. And today, the fate of Zionism is tied to the peace process—because that is the only way to preserve a Jewish, democratic Israel. What is at stake in peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the survival of the Jewish state’s deepest values. In that sense, it is a matter of life and death.
“In Israel, I met leaders, Jewish and Arab, who understand the urgency of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, the first Likud leader to recognize the necessity of two states, spoke of the promise of economic peace—the opened bridges and checkpoints that are making possible remarkable growth in the West Bank, showing Palestinians, there and in Gaza, that life holds more possibility than unending violence. Prime Minister Fayyad spoke of the day when all of his people would honor Israel’s right to exist, and said that ‘moderates gain standing when they show results—delivering services, leading by example, and being honest about failure.’
“And yet, despite that leadership, there are those in Israel and the territories who would sacrifice peace to their extremist vision. There are hard-line settlers who resort to violence and stand in the way of a settlement. And there are Hamas terrorists who hold more than a million hostage in Gaza. There are Palestinian leaders who countenance textbooks depicting Jews as subhuman, as thugs and thieves—who are working to sow a new generation of hatred. And there are the rockets that pound towns like Sderot—each one of them a war crime.
“In Sderot, at the armored playground where its children are forced to play indoors under electric light, I spoke with Eeki Elner. After the rockets began falling on Sderot—he moved there. After one crashed through his roof—he stayed. Because there is no purer resistance than living every day in proud defiance of fear.
“Eeki Elner and Rabbi Gordis are remarkable, but they are not unique—because, surrounded by a sea of hate, there is a nation of them. They are why I know in my heart that Israel will live, and endure, and have peace. They are the ones who, in the words of Abba Eban, have ‘given nationhood its deepest significance and its most enduring grace.’
“John Adams imagined one generation dedicating itself to survival, so that those to come could have commerce and culture. But in Israel, those impulses are united in one generation—in each generation. Israel has made itself remarkable even under threat of death, even while fighting for its life. Israelis can teach every man and woman in the world how to love their country.
“Some nations have monuments and basilicas left over from great ages of the past. But in Jerusalem, I have stood with head bowed at the Wall—a Wall that is also an open book, where men and women place into the cracks in the mortar, on rolled-up scrolls of paper, their dreams, their fears, their prayers. They are writing, even now, the story of a reborn nation’s enduring life—and the enduring life, I hope and trust, of its holiest values.”