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Menendez delivers final remarks at AIPAC closing plenary session

Bob Menendez

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the concluding remarks at the closing plenary session of the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference. Below are the senator’s remarks as delivered:

“Good morning, and thank you AIPAC!

As always, I’m thrilled to address this conference – especially the hundreds of New Jerseyans who are here today, including my dear friend, a tenacious leader and a real mensch, AIPAC President Mort Fridman.

When Mort called to ask if I would, once again, close out this conference, I did not hesitate.

For 17 years the New York Yankees counted on Mariano Rivera to be their closer, and likewise AIPAC: I want you to know that, at least for the next six years, I am happy to do the same.

When I look out into this room and feel the enthusiasm, the motivation, and indeed the urgency, I know in my heart that the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong because the people here today make it strong.

You are the empowered citizens who educate our communities and Congress about the importance of this relationship, about the history of our two nations, about the values that bind our futures together.

Both America and Israel were founded and shaped by people who sought freedom from tyranny, bigotry, and oppression. People who built democracies rooted in justice, equal rights, religious freedom, respect for the rule of law and freedom of the press.

People who believed that the pursuit of truth and knowledge could unleash innovation, turn deserts green, and create untold prosperity.

As we continue the story of the U.S.-Israel relationship, let me be clear: our bond is unbreakable, our commitments ironclad, and the alliance between our nations grounded in three fundamental truths:

One: the security of the United States is strong when our bond with Israel is strong.

Two: the Jewish people have a right to live in peace, security, and prosperity in the indisputable homeland of their ancestors.

And three: Israel has a right to defend herself, and the United States will always ensure she has the capabilities necessary to protect her people and her borders against any threat.

The events of the last 48 hours have reminded us yet again that since its founding and to this day, Israel has never had the luxury of taking security for granted.

Today our thoughts are with the community of Mishmeret in the wake of Hamas’ latest brazen attack that injured seven people —including an infant.

Said a grandfather in one of the news reports, ‘If we hadn’t gotten to the bomb shelter in time I would be burying all my family.’

His words speak to the renewed fear felt by all of Israel’s citizens in the wake of this act of terror.

How can any people be expected to live with the threat of rocket attacks against their homes, against their schools, against their neighborhoods and their very existence each and every day?

It’s unthinkable. No nation can be expected to simply sit back as rockets are launched, homes are flattened, and lives are threatened. Israel has every right to defend herself, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to defend the safety and security of her people.

And to those say otherwise, I would ask you to consider what you would do if rockets were raining down on American towns and cities. You would expect the United States to respond, and we should expect nothing less from the state of Israel on behalf of its people.

Ultimately, these latest attacks remind us that Hamas’ leaders have failed to show the world that they are anything more than a terrorist organization singularly focused on the destruction of the state of Israel.

Hamas has hoodwinked the people of Gaza, who remain oppressed by terrible economic hardship and increasing political crackdowns.

Not only does Hamas funnel scarce resources into building rockets to launch at civilians in Israel; it uses people, children, schools and hospitals as human shields, risking their lives by launching these weapons from densely-populated civilian centers, fully-aware that Israel will – justifiably – take defensive action.

My friends, this is Israel’s reality. She remains surrounded by political leaders who spend their precious dollars on weapons to terrorize Israel even as their own people suffer without water, food, human rights and basic dignity.

In Syria, Iran’s support for brutal dictator Bashar al Assad has bought them proximate access to Israel’s Northern border, advancing the regime’s effort to build a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean.

And while Russia might be trying to be friends with everyone in the region — let us be crystal clear about the fact that Russia’s hand in this conflict has given Iran the space to grow its military footprint.

Make no mistake: Iran’s eyes remain fixated on Israel, and after the fighting in Syria ends that is exactly where it will direct its proxy forces and its cache of rockets and missiles.

Likewise, Hezbollah’s efforts to tunnel their way into Israeli territory are just the latest evidence of their single-minded focus.

These nefarious actors, whose malicious ideologies directly threaten Israel and U.S. interests in the region, demand our constant vigilance.

And as ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I’m here to say that Congress will never, ever waver in our efforts to ensure Israel has the means to defend herself.

That support is bipartisan, and it is ironclad.

Just this week, I’m proud to tell you that Chairman Engel and Ranking Member McCaul of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Risch and I are circulating a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the president regarding the complex and interconnected threats faced by Israel along her Northern border.

Together, we urge the president to consistently underscore Israel’s right to self- defense. Likewise we encourage the Administration to increase pressure on Iran and Russia regarding their activities in Syria; and to ramp up pressure on Hezbollah by forcefully implementing sanctions and confronting the spread of arms.

These days, when it seems like bipartisanship is in such short supply, the fact remains that we have always stood united behind Israel’s right to self-defense — always. And that has not changed today.

Now, I won’t pretend some may disagree about how to confront these challenges from time to time.

But make no mistake: there is no disagreement that the United States must stand by our ally Israel in the face of terror.

I have spent a quarter of a century working on foreign policy in Congress, and one thing I have learned is that alliances with countries who share our greatest values are critical to our national security.

When grounded in a shared commitment to democracy, justice and freedom, those alliances are more enduring – and so too, our bond with Israel is everlasting.

Of course, some of the gravest threats that are facing Israel transcend the physical, and can only be described as 21st century manifestations of anti-Semitic hatred as old as time itself.

We hear it in the voices of those who seek to isolate Israel politically, economically, and even academically.

We hear it from the voices of those who use international institutions to unfairly target Israel, but cannot muster the courage to condemn governments who poison children with saran gas or force minorities into labor camps.

And unfortunately, we also hear these voices at home.

Let me be the first to say that you can, and sometimes you must, be critical of the policies of governments around the world.

Certainly, I have never shied away from criticizing U.S. policies I disagree with, even when they come from the President of my own party.

But criticizing the very essence of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel is simply unacceptable, no matter from which corner it comes.

This kind of language, this kind of philosophy, is indeed, the modern form of anti-Semitism.

There’s no excuse for it. And together, we must reject it, we must renounce it, and we must fight back against it.

As a lifelong advocate of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, and a friend of the Jewish people, you will never see me hesitate to call out anti-Semitism in my own community and certainly not in my own party.

But having spent more than a quarter century advocating for a strong relationship between the United States and the Jewish state, I cannot stay silent when the entire Democratic Party is castigated as “Jew-haters” when what we really need is leadership that unites this nation and the world against the rise of anti-Semitism, hatred and white supremacy across the globe.

This isn’t about playing politics with anti-Semitism, or blaming any politician for its rise.

This is about how anti-Semitism lurks beneath the surface of history and in the present.

History has taught us that irresponsible, dangerous rhetoric has the ability to fan those ancient flames into a full-blown fire.

So yes, when you imply that money is the only driving factor of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, you are fanning those flames.

And just the same, when you accuse Jews of funding caravans of asylum-seekers at our southern border, or fail to call out and condemn the rise of white supremacy at home and abroad, you are fanning those flames.

There is simply no excuse for dangerous vitriol from any politician that threatens both the safety of Jewish Americans and Israel’s core existence.

So let me be clear. As a Democrat I’m proud to belong to the party of Truman, the first American President to recognize the State of Israel.

I am proud to belong to a party that at its core embraces Jewish values like social justice, equal rights and tolerance, which have always strengthened American values.

And to my Jewish constituents and friends who caucus to the right – you too are my friends.

I have nothing but respect for you. All I would say is that history warns us against letting anyone use the Jewish community as a pawn in a political game.

For what is politically expedient today may not be tomorrow when you’re dealing with a leader who lacks any genuine understanding of the history of anti-Semitism, racial hatred and white supremacy.

Because in the history of this nation, we’ve learned that the only ones who are truly on the side of justice are those who fight for it every day – not those who find politically convenient moments to criticize anti-Semitism.

Across the political landscape, across college campuses, and across the vast expanse of social media, there are forces who seek to sow disinformation, exploit divisions, and capitalize on deeply-rooted false narratives.

I know that many of you in this room are on the frontlines of fighting misguided and misaligned attacks on the Jewish state of Israel.

So let us give a round of applause to all the college students and youth activists here today. They are the torch bearers of the future!

Whether it comes from the left or the right, I believe there’s nothing more dangerous to the U.S.-Israel relationship than those who seek to poison it with politics.

For decades, the United States has stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel in the face of countless threats, buttressed by strong and unequivocal bipartisan support in Congress and beyond.

That bipartisanship has delivered a great deal.

The historic memorandum of understanding enhancing Israel’s qualitative military edge in 2016, the bipartisan sanctions passed last Congress to counter Iran’s malign activities. And I could go on.

These achievements are living proof that a strong bipartisan commitment to Israel has been the sustaining force behind a partnership between two democracies that has spanned multiple presidents, Prime ministers, Congressional majorities, and Knesset coalitions.

And if we want to sustain that bipartisan support in the 21st century, we must let no one use anti-Semitism or the U.S.-Israel relationship as partisan cudgels.

Let no one use bigotry to divide us – and even worse, divide us while refusing to confront the powerful forces that always have and always will continue to threaten us.

So I stand here today to tell you that our resolve for the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong.

Our resolve to stand with the Jewish community against any and all threats is strong.

And our resolve to uphold the legacy of bipartisan support for Israel is strong.

And it is made stronger thanks to all of you.

I can tell you firsthand, as the senior Senator from a state known for its active, informed, and engaged constituency, that your voices matter

Your phone calls matter.

Your letters matter.

Your presence in our nation’s capital matters.

It is you who keep the shared values, shared hopes and shared dreams of the American and Israeli people forever aligned.

So no, we will not let partisan politics poison a relationship that has stood the test of time.

We will not let divisive rhetoric distract us from real and persistent threats.

We will stand together. We will stand united.

And together, with the power of truth and the weight of our history, we will fortify the bond between the United States and Israel into an everlasting bond.

That is the mission you will carry as you head to the United States Capitol. That is the message you will make heard through the halls of Congress.

And just as Irish Americans hope for freedom and security in Northern Ireland, and Ukrainian Americans hope for sovereignty in Ukraine, and Venezuelan Americans hope for democracy and advocate for it in Venezuela, let no one tell you that Jewish Americans do not have a right to stand up for a safe and secure Israel living in peace with her neighbors.

That’s what you go on to the Capitol to let the nation know.

Thank you, god bless you, and god bless these United States of America.”

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