The Zionist Organization of America was on Capitol Hill on Thursday urging Congress, among other issues, to enact tougher Iran sanctions and to place conditions — such as ending incitement and arresting terrorists — on the $900 million in aid going to the Palestinians. Klein said that the group did encounter some reistance to their view on aid, with some members telling them that AIPAC had been urging support for the aid without conditions.
ZOA also had a bipartisan group of about 30 members of Congress stop by their congressional luncheon, each giving brief remarks. After the jump, the ZOA press release on the event, with more details on the issues the group lobbied on and highlights of those congressional speeches:
Hundreds of Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) activist from 16 states, including dozens of students, took part in ZOA’s annual activist Mission to Washington, D.C., on March 26 to urge Members of Congress to support legislation for significantly tightening sanctions on Iran; denying $900 million in U.S. financial assistance to Gaza Arabs and the Palestinian Authority (PA) until it complies with its signed obligations to end terrorism and incitement to hatred and murder against Israelis and jailing terrorists; and taking steps to see transparency introduced for the U.S. funds going to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, which has been employing, facilitating and funding terrorists. ZOA activists also urged legislators to support legislation for withdrawing all U.S. funding for the UN’s Durban II Anti-Racism conference, which has been characterized by vociferous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric and agendas; and legislation in the Senate designed to protect writers and scholars from “Libel tourism,” whereby Muslim extremists and their supporters squelch the free flow of information on financiers of terrorism by resort to foreign libel suits, utilizing foreign legal standards that do not constitute defamation under U.S. law.
During the Mission, ZOA activists met with U.S. Senators, House Members and their senior staff members, and heard speeches from several dozen House Members and Senators, who attended the ZOA Mission Luncheon on Capitol Hill. They spoke to an overflowing ZOA crowd in the Rayburn House Office Building. In his remarks at the Luncheon, ZOA National President Morton A. Klein spoke about the false basis of the Oslo process – “the promises of Oslo were as phony as the promises of Bernie Madoff. ZOA refused to be an investor in Oslo. Like Madoff’s schemes, Oslo was a chimera with gloss and excitement which gave the illusion of a grand future. It was a political Ponzi scheme, kept alive by infusions of new money for the Palestinians and by one sided Israeli concessions and promises of future concessions. Just like Madoff made commitments he didn’t keep, so did Arafat – commitments to end terror and incitement and jail terrorists.”
Klein went on to say that, “I find astonishing this new mantra about Hamas that, in order to be acknowledged as full partners in peace, all they must do is verbally accept Israel, accept past agreements and renounce terrorism. There is not even any demand for Hamas to renounce its genocidal Charter, which calls not only for more terrorism and the destruction of Israel, but also the actual murder of Jews. We even demanded that Arafat abrogate the PLO Charter, which was also poisonous but not as bad. No-one can possibly believe that if Hamas made these statements, it would suddenly become a peace-loving civilized group willing to live in peace with the Jewish state. It is clear that all the world is asking is that Hamas lie to us, just as Arafat did. When it comes to evil terrorist groups, just as it when comes to evil leaders, a few words will not transform their behavior. They must simply be vanquished. Haven’t we learned anything from Arafat’s phony words on the White House lawn about accepting Israel and renouncing terrorism? Haven’t we learned anything from Hitler promising peace to Chamberlain? If Charles Manson now told us that he repudiated his murderous past, would we allow our daughters to start dating him?”
Senator David Vitter (R-LA) told ZOA activists that not all his Congressional colleagues who say that they are strong supporters of Israel are necessarily going to be there when it comes to the ultimate question – what will be our response to the Iranian nuclear threat? He assured the ZOA that “I’m there, Shelley [Berkeley] is there, but many are not there… Everything we do and say has to be focused on that, because that is the pre-eminent challenge of our lifetimes.” Senator Vitter also repudiated the charges of “disproportionate Israeli response” saying, “how would you feel if you lived in southern California and were hit by a regular array of rockets from Mexico or if you lived in upstate New York and were hit from Canada? Of course, we wouldn’t accept it for a week, much less the time Israel waited and tried to do something peacefully about it. Many supporters of Israel we are not prepared to support Israel with the actions that I believe will be necessary.” He also thanked the ZOA “for what you do around the county and here on Capitol Hill, because we need your voices to be heard.”
Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) told the ZOA of objections he has heard of critics of Israel and aid to Israel, recounting how he has told such people that “Israel is the strongest ally the United States has in the Middle East from a straight national security standpoint. It offers us a fantastic gain. To have the footprint that we have there that Israel gives us would cost far more than the foreign aid we give it. We also hear this from our European friends – ‘why can’t you Americans be even-handed and back off your support for Israel and get a solution to the Middle East problem. I tell them that even being the world’s No. 1 power, does not endow us with the power to solve all the world’s problems. For those who say that we’d be honest and even-handed without the power of the Jewish lobby, I tell them that no president has ever had a stronger imperative to solve it than Bill Clinton in 2000. If he had come down with a solution, Al Gore, would have been President. The lack of peace is not for a lack of U.S. trying, but because of a lack of co-operation from Palestinians.”
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) gave his customary greeting of hailing from “the ZOA wing of the Democratic Party” before launching into a strong rebuttal of the idea that the U.S. should be funding the Palestinians. “Until they demonstrate that they are not supporting terror, they should not be getting one dime of U.S. taxpayer’s money.”
Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) spoke warmly of Israel as the classic underdog in the Middle East, surrounded by hostile enemies. Nonetheless, he said, the partnership between Israel and the U.S. had grown into a real alliance of greater depth, he said, than that with Britain or any other country.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) stated the Congress has distinguished itself as being a great friend of Israel and that “it was an honor to have been a part of that friendship … and this Member of Congress will always be a great friend of Israel, working for a relationship that honors us – we have no better friend and ally, fighting under very difficult circumstances for its independence and freedom.”
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) said that it was a great honor to be a friend of Israel and reminded his audience that he grew up in Charleston, which had the largest Jewish population in the U.S. before the American Civil War and that the Province of South Carolina’s was the first provincial constitution to recognize Judaism as an established religion. The state also provided the first Jewish senator and the first Jewish patriot killed in the American Revolution. Turning to Israel, he said that “we do not see the justified outrage at the rocket attacks upon Israel from Gaza; if we had one rocket come into our country from any adjoining country, we would immediately act to stop that and there would be no second rocket … The best way to produce peace is through strength, by being strong and showing resolve, we can protect the people of Israel and the U.S.” He lamented that the Obama Administration was not standing by allies like Poland and the Czech Republic in providing them with a missile shield and that this was not “through strength but rather an indication of weakness.”
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) started his remarks by observing that “our history in this country pales in comparison to the history of the Chosen People.” He went on to challenge the notions that global warming or the economic hardships are our worst problems saying, “last time I checked, it was not warm climate that smashed into buildings, blew up bombs or killed thousands of people. Our No. 1 global threat is not global warming, not the economy, it is Muslim extremists … Israel is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. We have very few true friends in the world, but at the top of that list is Israel. Israel is the land of the Bible.
Jerusalem can be only one capital – not the capital of the world or many groups, but of Israel and the Jewish people. Israel should not bargain away any piece of Jerusalem.”
Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, spoke of his strong friendship for Israel and respect for many of its former leaders, adding, that he “had a couple of disagreements with Ariel Sharon. I know there were many reasons why they gave Gaza to the Palestinians, but I felt it should not have been done … It is imperative we guarantee the superiority of Israeli arms… As for Gaza, if they run out of soldiers, give me a gun and I’ll get over there. You don’t have to ever worry about Dan Burton.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) spoke of his recent visit to Israel and how he urged Prime minister Olmert to hold a day honoring the G- of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, observing that “If you look at the history, great days came when a national leader called the nation to honor G- and the people were blessed every time it happened. Rep. Gohmert also spoke of his meeting with the PA’s Salaam Fayyad and how he challenged him, asking how much of the U.S. tax-payer dollars he had received had gone to build homes for Palestinian refugees. Fayyad had been evasive, speaking of the need to service PA debt, but Gohmert pursued the matter and wrung from Fayyad an admission that no housing had been built at which Gohmert told Fayyad, “Do you not see that when you refuse to spend money you’ve been given from around the world, then it appears to some us that you want Palestinians to be homeless and angry at Israel. Lastly, Gohmert urged ZOA activists to read statements made by Al-Qaeda’s Khalil Sheikh Mohammed before adding, “this war on Islamism is on-going. The idea that we are no longer fighting a war on terror – they don’t know that, no-one has told them. They will fight till we defeat them or until they defeat us. My hope is US and Israel will always stick together.”
Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) spoke of his 41 years of fighting for Israel on Capitol Hill and recalled that he had been the first Jewish Member of the House to work on House Defense Sub Committee dealing with appropriations for all military spending. He recounted with pride that the Committee had provided an additional $6 million in joint U.S.-Israeli research on the Arrow missile and how he and his Illinois republican colleague, Mark Kirk, had introduced legislation to hold UNRWA responsible for how it spends U.S. aid.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) made an impassioned speech in which he declared, “Never has your organization been more needed here than right now. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do … We have great reason to be concerned when we now learn that Hizballah is now in the narco-trafficking business in Columbia, using funds to help Hizballah to kill Jews in Israel. We have reason to be concerned when the U.S. abandons the Czechs and the Poles while treating the Russians as our buddies. We have reason to be concerned when we send messages to Iran – and they respond, ‘Yes, we’re willing to talk – if you abandon Israel and give us money. And for all those reasons, at least this individual believes that there is good and evil in the world and that we must and will stand with Israel and we must never forget who our enemies are.”
Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) joked that she always brings Mort Klein her ZOA membership check each time our Mission is in Washington but that today she had left her checkbook in her car. She said that “being Jewish is a lifelong occupation. It’s what we do as Jews, more than any place else, we are experiencing the liberties our ancestors only dreamt of for generation after generation .There is a price to pay for this and the price is being engaged in our government process and no one does this better than ZOA.” Speaking of the rocket falling on Israeli towns like Sderot, she said that she “knows every neighborhood of Sderot … Israel has exercised extraordinary restraint and did not use disproportionate force. On the contrary, it didn’t use enough, soon enough. Many of my colleagues were concerned at this – I ask them, ‘Would you have been happier if a thousand more Jews had died?’ … UNRWA is nothing but the face and arm of Hamas. We are giving funds to rebuild Gaza for UNRWA to administer – I couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous than this. I was delighted when my colleagues Mark Kirk and Steve Rothman introduced it – but first I called Mort to make sure it was strong enough before I signed on … There is no way on G—’s green earth that we can allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. I remember Ariel Sharon telling a group of us at Blair House that a nuclear Iran is as much a threat to the U.S., to the West and the Arab nations and that the world should not be expecting Israel to take care of its dirty work. And I couldn’t agree more.”
Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL) opened joking, “Thanks –welcome, I’m from Boca Raton, Florida –if you’re not a constituent, you will be at some time.” Rep. Klein spoke of his vice-chairmanship of the Middle East Sub-committee and the discussions in which he has been involved regarding Hizballah, Lebanon, Iran, UNRWA before strongly supporting the government decision not to participate in the Durban II Conference.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) recounting his 2006 visit to Israel, in which he visited the Rambam Hospital, interviewing survivors of Hizballah’s rocket attacks upon northern Israel. He retold the occasion when he confronted a BBC reporter and challenged him to come and interview the Israeli injured, not merely the Lebanese injured, but was told, ‘I can’t do that – my editor wants me to be balanced. Later, he took to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer ball bearings from the exploded Hizballah warheads, saying it was these that were putting Israelis in hospital saying, “This is happening and only half the story is being told.”
Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) opened by saying that “In the Torah, it says blessed is the nation that blesses Israel, cursed is the one that curses it. I’ve been described as the Zionist Christian – and I heartily embrace that description. What has made this nation great are the Judeo-Christian principles upon which this nation was founded … the U.S. must never give up blessing Israel. The only vestiges of G-’s blessing on this nation today is because we continue to bless Israel and I will do everything in my power to continue to ensure that Israel is blessed by America. My position, based on G-d’s word, is that Canaan was given to the Israelites. The Israelites owned that territory. It doesn’t belong to anyone else. Israel should have the opportunity to ensure that everyone who lives there does so in freedom and safety.”
Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) spoke of his four trips to Israel and how in fact he had been in Tel Aviv at the time of 9/11. “I am a strong supporter of Israel and was so long before I got an opportunity to be one in Congress … I support Israel’s right to exist, to defend itself, to do so and live without fear, so I’m simply glad to be here to share this moment. And I appreciate the continuing effort you make to ensure that Israel lives safe, unfettered and unafraid.”
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) opened by saying that “It’s nice to be here with mishpacha … ZOA is a group that has really been clairvoyant, because long before others were thinking of these issues, ZOA was already doing so. Mort Klein speaks the truth … I have been a ZOA supporter when I was starting my career, because ZOA was always speaking the truth. Referring to the recent Israeli elections, he said that the Administration has to be careful not to pressure governments it may not prefer. “When Netanyahu was last prime minister, he showed tremendous flexibility to the point that we were wondering how flexible he could be. If we support democracy, let the Israelis elect whomever they desire, not whomever we desire. Support for Israel in Congress is strong because it is the right thing to do.” Rep. Engel criticized UN anti-Israel committees and activities, saying, “I want the U.S. to be squarely behind Israel. You can see by my colleagues who have spoken here today, conservative and liberal, Democrat or Republican, that we are united in our support for Israel. Am Yisrael Chai.”
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) devoted his remarks to the issue of Durban II, saying that the U.S. should withhold funding for it and that he had written to President Barack Obama in such terms and that he was pleased that the Administration, after attempting participation, had come around. “I will always stand by Israel while I’m in Congress.”
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) spoke of his own consistent support or Israel and cited the recent ZOA press release on Fatah’s Mohammad Dahlan’s statements confirming Fatah’s non-acceptance of Israel. He recounting introducing last year a resolution calling on Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas to rescind Fatah’s Constitution calling for Israel’s destruction and the use of terror and foreshadowed that he and Rep. Berkeley would recommence work on this resolution this year. He also recounted that he had confronted Abbas personally on the most recent of his eight trips to Israel with Fatah’s non-acceptance of Israel and that Abbas had indicated that it was the party’s doing, not his own.
Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ), a new Member of Congress, recorded his full agreement with the views expressed by many of the speakers, especially regarding Israel’s right to defend itself in Gaza and the need to pull out of Durban II, and noted that while he had yet to visit Israel, his colleague Mark Kirk would be arranging a visit for him in August and concluded by saying that “As long as I am permitted to be in Congress, I will stand with Israel.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) expressed his deep sense of being honored to speak to ZOA and his appreciation for ZOA’s work, personally thanking Mort Klein’s work. He spoke of the difficult challenge posed by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. He also urged the ZOA to speak out on Darfur, before recounting his long record of support for Israel and his 13 visits to the country. “I have been a long item friend and will remain a friend.”
Lastly, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) spoke strongly of the importance and depth of the American alliance with Israel, saying that Israel is as important to the U.S. as the U.S. is to Israel” before cautioning the Administration on making policy as though Iran and Syria were our friends.
ZOA Morton A. Klein said,” I want to thank our great ZOA staff for their hard work in making this mission a success. They include the co-directors of our Government Relations Department – Dan Pollak and Joshua London, Executive Director Gary Ratner, Stan Kessock, Felice Capustin, Virginia Gilley, Harriet Bachmann, Fawn Eng, Julie Sager, Josh Nason and Steve Feldman.”