Thank you, and what a pleasure it is to join you this afternoon. I'm delighted to be here with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Although we're on opposite sides of the political aisle, we are absolutely united when it comes to the US-Israel relationship. Steny is a genuine leader on this issue in his party, and I respect and thank him for that.
We gather here today under a dark cloud of uncertainty. Despite all the bloodshed Israel's small population has borne, despite the hand of peace Israel has consistently extended to its neighbors, the 2,000-year-old dream of self-determination in the Jewish ancestral homeland is in mortal danger. We are in a critical time. Now is not the time to be picking fights with Israel in what seems to be an attempt to curry favor with the Arab world. Now is the time when the U.S. must stand with Israel in the global struggle against the threats posed by radical Islam.
It is times like these when we must remember what happens when Americans and decent-minded people everywhere fail to stand up to evil. Seventy years ago, after the violence of Kristallnacht, newspapers across America screamed Hitler's warning that the Jews would be wiped out unless other countries took them in. Hitler correctly predicted that the world would be shocked, but do nothing. The U.S. Congress refused to raise quotas on refugees. The State Department erected a barricade of paperwork to keep the Jews out.
In 1938, two members of Congress sponsored a bill to admit 20,000 German-Jewish children into the United States. It was a priority for many Americans, including the first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. But isolationist forces sabotaged the effort, and even the president failed to offer his full backing. The result? The bill died. And 20,000 Jewish children, who could have been saved, joined the 1.5 million children who would die in the Holocaust. Another instructive moment can be found in the tragic journey of the ship St. Louis.
Exactly 9 years to the day before the birth of the State of Israel, some 900 German Jews fleeing the Nazis set sail from Hamburg en route to Havana, Cuba -- where they thought they had permission to land. But when the St. Louis pulled into Havana Harbor two weeks later, virtually all of the passengers were denied entry. Efforts to pay Cuban officials to accept the Jews broke down, and the ship was soon ordered out of Havana. On its way back to the cauldron of Europe, the St. Louis sailed so close to America's shores that the passengers could see the lights of Miami. So near, yet so far. The German boat captain pleaded with U.S. officials for permission to dock. But instead of helping them come ashore, the U.S. Coast Guard patrolled the waters to make certain no one tried to jump ship. Passengers aboard the St. Louis frantically cabled President Roosevelt begging for refuge, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. The State Department's reply: Get in line and wait your turn.
American Jews and other well meaning Americans were powerless to move our government to save countless lives. There was no State of Israel to take the Jews in. In fact, British-run Palestine was off-limits to Jewish refugees. At that moment, the tragic fate of the passengers was sealed. The majority were destined for the death camps. The takeaway for us? We must do all we can to ensure the survival of the state of Israel.
At a time like this there's nothing more critical than making the case that a strong Israel is in the best interest of U.S. national security. There's no better way to demonstrate this than to take people to see Israel first-hand. Steny and I have had the tremendous privilege of leading AIPAC-sponsored trips to Israel for members of Congress. Our colleagues are often moved to tears when they exit Yad Vashem and walk up to a balcony overlooking the eternal city of Jerusalem. Meeting with besieged families in Sderot, these members begin to understand the struggles the Israeli people go through every day. One Congressman summed it up like this: "Some of us came as supporters. Some of us were ambivalent and others were skeptical. But now we have seen this nation's courage, and we've seen how it shares our values. We're going home as Zionists."
In 2010, a new set of dangers has emerged. A new enemy has arisen. And once again, Israel and the Jewish people are in the crosshairs. The Iranian regime, emboldened by the west's lack of unity and resolve, brazenly forges ahead with its nuclear weapons program. Iran's President denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Hamas, Hezbollah and other Islamist terror groups operate on Israel's borders with the support of Tehran. They threaten the Jewish state with weaponry that grows more lethal by the day. No less dangerous is the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel as a state among the nations. Israel's critics deny the Jewish people's irrefutable, historic and religious link with the holy land.
Today's blood libels and anti-Semitic incitement is a page taken directly from Nazi propaganda. Like a plague, this vitriol has spread throughout the international media, across the Internet, and into our colleges and universities. My message to you today is simply this: Should any of us ever grow weary, should any of us for one minute waver in our resolve to safeguard Israel, We must let the powerful lessons of history propel us to action! Unfortunately, there are signs of tension right now between our two nations. So we must remind our leaders here in Washington of the critical importance of the US-Israel relationship.
Let's face it. Israel is not the problem. From Yemen to Afghanistan to Pakistan, terrorists are not going to lay down their arms against America if we abandon Israel. We must do everything possible to hold the media accountable and empower our communities at home with an understanding of the true nature of our shared struggle with Israel. We must begin with Iran. To those growing voices that say we shouldn't take seriously the threats of a "madman", we must ask: "Have we not been down this road before?"
We cannot take cover under the notion that we can actually deter a nuclear Iran. That would merely be lulling ourselves into a false sense of security. Iran must be dealt with firmly, with real sanctions that have real teeth. The message should be clear: If you deal with Iran, you are not welcome to deal with the U.S. Stopping the regime in Iran will involve empowering the domestic opposition and delivering Tehran the message that our willingness to use force is on the table.
As we face these new threats, one could ask, "What is the difference between 70 years ago and today?" The answer: The grassroots force of the American pro-Israel community led by AIPAC!!!
Thanks to you, I have complete faith that the United States Congress, and the American people, know well who our one true and reliable friend in the Middle East is: Israel.
The American people know who stands with us in our fight against terrorism; we know who wept at candlelight vigils when America was attacked on 9-11; and we know who sends teams of doctors and millions of dollars halfway around the world to save lives in Haiti. In the same way, we Americans also know who teaches their children to emulate suicide bombers; who danced and tossed candy around in the streets on 9-11 celebrating that horrible day. And we do know who names their boulevards, schools and their public squares after terrorists.
The case I press before you now is more than just a "Jewish cause" or just an Israeli issue. These are challenges to America. Israel's security is synonymous with our own. The People who point guns at her with murder in their eyes will next turn on us. Israel has turned out to be not just a friend who shares our values, but a critically important strategic ally who brings stability and balance to a volatile region.
As Golda Meir said, Zionism and pessimism are not compatible. With your ongoing commitment, the miracle of the modern-day state of Israel will survive. And together, we will hasten the day, when the Jewish people, after 2,500 years of uninterrupted persecution, will at long last live in peace in their ancestral homeland. Thank you.