House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer


Thank you very, very much. I am so honored to be here, and when I came in, it was just before the singing of the national anthem and the Hatikvah. What an extraordinary rendition of those two great anthems. And as we all know, The Star Spangled Banner ends with land of the free and the home of the brave. We have just been honored by two of our bravest in America. God bless them.

Frankly, we all know that America and Israel are both free because they too are the home of the brave. I am so pleased to be here with Ken Stumpf and Al Rascon. Al Rascon lives in my district. We are honored by his presence. I want to say how pleased I am to be here with my friend Eric Cantor. As Americans do, we disagree on some things. You may have noticed that. But we do not disagree on Israel, and it's importance to America.

And I was honored to be on the platform with Irene Inouye, an extraordinary United States senator, an extraordinary American. How American it is to have a Japanese-American win the Medal of Honor and be so honored by being the third in line to the presidency. And then what extraordinary courage and fortitude and commitment was represented by that extraordinary United States senator, who although he took halting steps and had been physically affected by his stroke, his heart and his brain told everyone not only that Iran should know he's back, [but] that we know he's back, Mark Kirk.

Now, I saw the dancers, and I thought I might do the Harlem shake. But I've got a pretty good speech here. So -- those are the 2,000 students that are probably rather see the Harlem shake than -- God bless you.

We gather tonight, recognizing that Israel's existence is testimony that faith and courage can triumph even in a cold run of enmity, terror, and constant threat. Israel's history is that of a courageous people's perseverance against injustice from one generation to the next. It is a history Americans understand and look to for inspiration. The state of Israel, though besieged by forces of hatred, intolerance, and extremism has never, never abandoned its founding principles nor lost sight of its historic mission to provide freedom and sanctuary in a democracy for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland.

Some of my proudest moments as a member of Congress were working with many of you to help Soviet Jewry emigrate from behind the Iron Curtain to reach that freedom and security in the land of their ancestors.

As many of you know, in January we lost a dear friend and a passionate advocate in Ambassador Max Kampelman who was instrumental in that effort. I was chairman of the Helsinki commission at the time, and Max was leading the negotiations with the Soviet Union on arms reduction and human rights. Max Kampelman may no longer be with us, but his legacy of linking human rights to international security is a practice that can and must serve us well today. The safety and prosperity of democracies such as Israel, which promote freedom and individual rights, advance the interest of all and advance America's national security interest.

Today we continue to fight for what Israel represents, not just the land but the values that it represents, an outpost of freedom in a region where democracy struggles to take hold with no guarantee of success. From Tahrir Square to Tripoli, from Aiden to Aleppo, America and Israel will remain vigilant and work to ensure that legitimate yearnings for democracy are not high-jacked by extremists.

My friend, Howard Freeman, and I have discussed that on a regular basis. Howard Kohr visits my office with Esther Cruz on a regular basis with my friend Jeffrey Snyder, and we talk about those interests and how we have to hold high not only rhetorically but actually the defense of Israel and of its values. And nowhere must we be more united and vigilant than when facing the threat posed to all of us by Iran.

You and I know that the stakes have never been higher. If there's one lesson we have learned about the Middle East in recent years, it is that nuance is not only not effective, but can be dangerous. We must speak with unambiguous clarity. The United States will not accept a nuclear weapons-abled Iran. They must know our clear intent and firm commitment.

America and Israel cannot leave any uncertainty in the minds of those who describe us as their common foes. Let there be no doubt that it is America's direct interest to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. A nuclear Iran would set off an arms race in the region, pose a clear and present danger to American troops stationed in the Middle East and Europe, not to mention the millions in Israel itself and Israel's very existence. That cannot be allowed to happen.

As nuclear talks with Iran continue still without result, Iran's leaders must understand that these talks cannot go on indefinitely. Let me repeat this point because it is a critical point. The day will come when diplomacy ends, and Iran's leaders will ultimately decide whether it's because they have willingly dismantled their nuclear weapons program or whether they have compelled the free world to do it for them.

The threat from Iran comes not only from its nuclear ambitions but from a long history of state-sponsored terrorism across the globe. A nuclear-armed Iran would be even more aggressive in sponsoring its deadly agents of terror, Hamas and Hezbollah, and proliferating its weapons of mass destruction. Now, there's some who say that Hamas and Hezbollah are simply politicians. Make no mistake. They are terrorists.

Do not sugar coat it. Do not pretend. Be vigilant for that is the price of our freedom. Those in Europe who think differently ought to listen to the defense of one of Hezbollah's agents who was arrested in Cypress scouting areas frequented by Israelis, and he said this. And I quote, “I was just collecting information about Jews. That is what my organization is doing everywhere in the world.” Everywhere in the world.

Surely, surely we have not forgotten the lessons of yesteryear. Surely we have not forgotten the danger posed by those who watch to take us out, Jew and Gentile alike. The threat Hamas and Hezbollah pose to Israel and to the Jewish people is chillingly clear. And so like any sovereign nation, it is Israel's right and indeed its duty, as Prime Minister Netanyahu said last year from this podium, its right to take such step as are necessary and proper to defend itself and its people. It is not only international norms that give Israel that right but the hard lessons of Jewish history.

As my friend Eric Cantor said just a little earlier tonight, Jews in America and throughout the world will open the Passover Haggadah and remember the history with these perennial words, "In every generation there are those who have risen against us." He did not complete that sentence, but the second part of that sentence says, "But the holy one saves us from their hands."

My friends, doing so, however, is not only the work of God but it is the work of our generation. It must continue to strengthen and fortify the relationship between Israel and America for freedom's sake, for value's sake, for justice's sake, for the sake of democracy not just in America and in Israel but all over the world.

My friend Lee Rosenberg and I were talking just a little earlier tonight. I don't know any organization in America who raises high the banner of freedom and democracy and justice more than AIPAC and the Jewish community generally in this country and around the world.

Thanks to the work of AIPAC performs on Capitol Hill, as you will tomorrow, as Howard Kohr says, visiting every United States senator and every member of the House with an extraordinary and compelling message important for them to hear, Congress's support for Israel has endured and grown stronger each year. The bipartisan nature of Congress's support makes is ever more clear to those who would do the Jewish state harm that Israel is here to stay and will never, never, never stand alone, for the interests and commitment of America and Israel are the same.

One direct result of America's commitment to Israel's security we have honored here tonight, Iron Dome. I hope you will again join me and thank again operators of Iron Dome for protecting Israel's communities and its people. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to the developer, the inventor, and those brave young people who deploy those weapons to protect communities like Sderot and so many others. America's ties with Israel run far deeper than matters of security and state craft.

The United States is relatively a young nation and Israel heir to an ancient birthright. We're both founded on the same values. These are the principles of human dignity and basic justice that first laid out in the Torah and embraced by America's founders. A line connects the wisdom of our shared scripture to the hearts and minds of those who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and our Bill of Rights.

Jewish history is and always will be intertwined with American history. And from helping to draw back an iron curtain to constructing an Iron Dome, it has been the privilege of my life to work with so many of you to shape that history. I thank you for that.

And with clarity in our common cause, with the courage to pursue our common commitment, we must face our shared challenges with an iron resolve. Such is AIPAC's legacy and our enduring mission to ensure the survival and success of Israel and the safety and security of its people in our generation and for every generation yet to come.

We will be together on that mission. It is the mission of America. It is the mission of Israel. It is the mission of all those in this world who want to see peace and justice prevail.

God bless you in your work. Keep on keeping on. God bless you. Thank you very much. Thank you.