Reagan, at Wiesenthal Dinner, Proclaims Commitment with Israel

Looking back 50 years on the horrors of Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, President Reagan on Sunday pledged his country’s vigilance “in the battle against those who would follow Hitler’s example” and declared that Americans “have no better friends than the people of Israel.”

In a departure from his prepared text, Reagan announced that he will shortly sign legislation which will finally allow American participation in the international convention against genocide.

Reagan’s remarks were frequently interrupted by extended applause from 2,000 supporters of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who were at a dinner to mark Wiesenthal’s 80th birthday and to confer the center’s 1988 Humanitarian Award on the president.

Reagan used the occasion to reiterate the need for a strong U.S. defense posture. “The fact is that a strong Israel depends on a strong America,” he said.

Such strength and resolve, he added, “coupled with diplomatic vision and a commitment to political reconciliation, are essential if Israel is to help achieve a negotiated settlement among the war-weary people of the Middle East.”

The president reviewed relations between Israel and the United States over the last five years, pointing to successful negotiations of a strategic understanding and free-trade area.

Reagan spoke of “the promise that we would not permit Israel to lose its qualitative edge in the Middle East — and we delivered on that promise,” he declared.

Wiesenthal, whose energetic delivery belied his 80 years, recalled his 40-year battle to bring Nazi war criminals to justice.

The motive, he said, was not an unattainable revenge for the murder of 6 million Jews, but “as a warning to all those who might be tempted to participate in another genocide.

“We proved that there is no escape, not even 40 or 50 years later, and there is no place on the face of the Earth where they can ever feel safe and secure.”

Sharing in the evening’s honors was Nancy Reagan, who accepted the Wiesenthal Center’s first Beit Hashoah-Museum of Tolerance Award for Public Service.

Ben Kingsley served as the master of ceremonies. The British actor portrays Wiesenthal in the forthcoming HBO film “Murderers Among Us,” based on the Nazi-hunter’s life.

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