Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) delivered a speech in the United States Senate on Tuesday of this week, following last week’s murder of a Holocaust Museum guard by a neo-Nazi. Titling his speech, "Acknowledging Israel's History," Menendez traced the international legitimacy of the State of Israel, and declared, “We cannot erase the moral distinctions between tyranny and freedom, and we must not edit history.”
Though President Obama and Menendez are from the same Democratic Party, the speech contained several implicit criticisms of Obama’s recent speech in Cairo. Menendez stated that the Holocaust is “not the reason behind [Israel’s] founding and it is not the main justification for its existence” – contrary to the implications in Obama’s speech.
In addition, though Menendez did not address the issue of settlement construction directly, he appeared to take on the Obama administration’s admonishment to Israel to cease this activity when he said, “While as a country we … might have disagreements with our allies, in this case especially, it is critical to have those disagreements in private.”
Click here to see video of the Menendez speech.
“Last Wednesday, just a few blocks down the street, a neo-Nazi opened fire at the Holocaust Museum. He murdered a security guard and terrorized the museum's visitors, including school children, who had come to learn, to express sympathy, to pray. That evil act was the work of a killer who had made his hatred of other religions and ethnic groups well known. And it was a reminder that intolerance, ignorance and anti-Semitism have not yet been defeated in our world.
“This tragedy reminds us of the need for sound understanding of one of the darkest episodes in the history of the world. Far too many misrepresent the significance of the Holocaust, especially in regards to the State of Israel and her people. And far too many deny it happened altogether…
[Though] the Shoah has a central role in Israel's identity, it is not the reason behind its founding and it is not the main justification for its existence. The extreme characterization of this mistaken view is the following: the Western powers established Israel in 1948 based on their own guilt, at the expense of the Arab peoples who lived there. Therefore, the current state is illegitimate and should all be wiped off the face of the map. This flawed argument is not only in defiance of basic human dignity but in plain defiance of history. It is in defiance of ancient history, as told in Biblical texts and through archeological evidence. And it ignores the history of the last several centuries.
…There has been a continuity of Jewish presence in the Holy Land for thousands of years… Jews were repeatedly massacred and expelled, and the departure of so many from the land they had always called home developed into an unparalleled Diaspora. From the 16th century until the early 20th century, the land that is now Israel was under the control of a distant Ottoman caliphate based in Istanbul-and during this time, as earlier, many Jews returned to their ancestral homeland. The Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, and the treaty they signed with the Allied Powers granted Great Britain a mandate over the area then known as Palestine.
The League of Nations endorsed and clarified this mandate in 1922, requiring Britain to reconstitute a Jewish national home within the territory they controlled, in accordance with a declaration made by British Foreign Secretary Balfour in 1917, making the restoration of Jewish communities in that area a matter of international law.
By the time World War II had ended, there were more than 600,000 Jews living in the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1947 the United Nations approved a plan to partition the territory into Arab and Jewish states. The Jewish Agency accepted the plan. The Arabs did not.
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel declared its independence. On May 15, five Arab nations declared war. Despite being surrounded on all sides, Israel prevailed and expanded its borders, providing a small additional measure of security against attacks which were certain to come-and did.
So, to be clear, the more than 700,000 Palestinians who left Israel were refugees of a war instigated by Arab governments, bent on seizing more land for themselves.
…Mr. President, several thousand years of history lead to an undeniable conclusion: the reestablishment of the state of Israel in modern times is a political reality with roots going back to the time of Abraham.
…The attacks on Israel have barely stopped since 1948… Today, it is still surrounded by hostility; its back is still to the sea. It is surrounded by hostility from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In looking at the threat Israel faces on its southwestern border, one thing must be absolutely, indisputably, unequivocally clear: there is no moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas. Israel is a sovereign, democratic state of seven and a half million people - Jews, Muslims, Christians. Hamas is a terrorist organization. It won control of Gaza after men in ski masks waged gun battles with another branch of Palestinian leadership. It used that control to launch rockets at sleeping children in the nearby Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Sderot. This is the thanks Israel got for withdrawing from Gaza… Hamas has rearmed, and it is readying itself for the day when it's going to take on Israel again.
…Especially in light of the threat of Iran, and in light of the threats extremists pose to so many innocent civilians around the globe, the importance of Israel as a strategic ally and friend to the United States could not be clearer. It is hard to overstate the value of having such a stalwart democratic ally in such a critical part of the world, an ally in terms of intelligence gathering, economics, politics and culture. Israel … is an ally we can constantly depend on, and count on, to be with us in international fora and on the key decisions that affect the safety and security of Americans around the world. For more than six decades it has been a key U.S. trading partner and a scientific innovator. We have Israeli engineers to thank for everything from advances in solar power to cell phone technology to AOL Instant Messenger… [M]edical treatments we're using in U.S. hospitals to fight cancer, heart disease and chronic pain were developed in Israel. Israeli-born actors are stars of Hollywood, and an Israeli astronaut has accompanied Americans into space.