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Public Statements

Standing With Israel

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SCHIFF. Last week's interdiction by the Israeli Navy of a small flotilla of ships trying to run the blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza ignited a firestorm around the world.

Foreign commentators, who look askance at the Jewish state in the best of times, condemned the raid in the strongest of terms, attempting to cast it as another example of Israel's supposed slide toward South African-style apartheid or even fascism.

Here and in Israel, itself, the reaction reflected a deeper understanding of the broad spectrum of threats confronting Israel. The execution of the raid, itself, was criticized in some quarters, but there remains a fundamental understanding of the underlying conditions that gave rise to Israel's blockade of Gaza and a realization that those conditions persist and that, as long as Gaza remains under the control of Hamas, there can be no lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Hamas leaders and their masters in Tehran and Damascus have repeatedly refused to renounce terror, to abide by agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority and Israel and to recognize Israel's right to exist. They have used Gaza's impoverished population as human shields in their war of attrition with Israel and have subordinated their people's needs to the quest for rockets and other weapons. Two days ago, Israeli forces intercepted an armed squad of five terrorists who were wearing diving suits and who were apparently on their way to attack Israeli targets.

Madam Speaker, there can be no doubt that these are dangerous times for Israel and that America must stand by the Middle East's only democracy in its quest for peace and security.

Despite four rounds of U.N. sanctions, including today's passage of tighter finance curbs and an expanded arms embargo, Iran has not been deterred in its quest to develop nuclear weapons. While this latest round of sanctions is a welcomed step, there is deep skepticism that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the hard-line clerics who rule Iran can be dissuaded from their present course. An Iran armed with the bomb would be a catastrophe, destabilizing the Middle East and triggering an arms race in the region.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have done a great service to Israel, to the greater Middle East, and to the cause of international peace and security through their efforts to forge a consensus in the Security Council, and I offer them my personal thanks. Yet, even as we applaud today's sanctions vote, we must redouble our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and I look forward to further diplomatic and unilateral initiatives to convince Tehran that the costs of continuing on this reckless path are greater than any perceived benefit.

Hezbollah, the Shiite militia cum political party created in Lebanon by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1983, has rearmed in the aftermath of the 2006 war with Israel. Its arsenal of short-range missiles has reportedly been augmented by longer range Scuds, which can reach targets throughout Israel. The Scuds, believed to be supplied by Syria, augment Hezbollah's existing stockpile of up to 40,000 rockets stored in underground bunkers in southern Lebanon.

Turkey, which had been Israel's strongest Muslim majority ally and an important mediator between Jerusalem and Arab capitals, has, in recent months, become deeply hostile to Israel. In addition to hosting the organizers of the Gaza flotilla, Turkey has said it would reduce military and trade ties, and it has put off discussions of energy projects, including natural gas and freshwater shipments. Last year, Prime Minister Erdogan accused Israel of being a greater violator of human rights than Sudan, and today, Turkey was one of only two votes against new rounds of sanctions against Iran in the Security Council.

Most worrisome in the long term is the broad-based international campaign to delegitimize Israel. University campuses have been divided by divestment campaigns. There have been academic and economic boycotts of Israel in Europe, and many Israelis are wary of traveling to several European countries.

The great majority of the world's people alive today were not born until well after World War II and did not bear witness to the Holocaust. They did not watch as thousands of Jewish refugees, desperate to start new lives in Palestine after the war, were forcibly prevented from entering the country by Britain. They did not witness the miracle of Israel's birth in 1948 and the immediate invasion of the new state by five Arab armies.

For more than six decades, this country has stood by Israel. We have admired its pluck, its ingenuity, and its dedication to democratic principles in spite of all of the threats it faces. While there has always been a strategic dimension to the U.S.-Israel alliance, the relationship has really been rooted in our shared values.

Madam Speaker, 17 years ago, on the occasion of the signing of the Oslo Accords, late Prime Minister Rabin spoke movingly of his journey.

He said, "We have come from Jerusalem, the ancient and eternal capital of the Jewish people. We have come from an anguished and grieving land. We have come from a people, a home, a family, that has not known a single year--not a single month--in which mothers have not wept for their sons. We have come to try and put an end to the hostilities so that our children and our children's children will no longer have to experience the painful cost of war, violence, and terror.

"We have come to secure their lives and to ease the sorrow and the painful memories of the past--to hope and pray for peace.''

We share the prime minister's sorrow, and to the people of Israel, we say, America is with you.

END


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