Rep. Steny Hoyer Remarks to ADL National Leadership Conference
Posted: April 5, 2011
Remarks (as prepared)
by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD),
House Minority Whip
to the Anti-Defamation League
National Leadership Conference
Washington, D.C., April 4, 2011
"Sigmund Livingston, the founder of the Anti-Defamation League, reflected that anti-Semitism is 'an expression of hatred the seeds of which were planted in the days of childhood, when the mind is subtly conditioned for the reception of libels and fictions.' He understood that anti-Semitism feeds on ignorance and can take root very early in life. And he created the Anti-Defamation League because he believed in the power of truth, boldly and unapologetically stated, to overcome that ignorance. I believe that that mission has taken on a special importance at this moment in history.
"In large part, that's because this time in history is full of so much challenge and apprehension—and also opportunity—for our ally Israel. We all know that the attacks on our ally are not just physical: they are ideological attacks as well. They are attacks on Israel's right to exist and attacks on the Jewish people as a whole. And as anti-Semitism has always been a weapon used to undermine Israel, exposing and countering anti-Semitism matters especially at this moment. That's because it's a moment of historic change for the Middle East. Across the Middle East, we've seen inspiring scenes of men and women peacefully demanding their rights; we've also seen shocking scenes of violence. In countries like Egypt and Tunisia, we've seen the possibility of real reform; we also have reason to fear the possibility of violent extremist groups taking advantage of political vacuums.
"We don't know what the future will bring, and everyone who values the security of Israel is right to be concerned. But we do know this: if this is a new era of openness in the Middle East, then the work of defending Israel from ideological attacks becomes even more pressing. That's because, if this is a new era of openness, it matters more than ever that the Arab people have a view of Israel unclouded by bigotry.
"Unfortunately, that work will be complicated by the lingering effect of generations of anti-Semitic propaganda and incitement of hatred. For far too long, Mideast leaders have peddled a monstrous image of Israel and of Jews—in large part, to distract their people from their own shortcomings as leaders. We see that image in the Hamas leadership's renewed claim this year that the Holocaust was 'a lie that has crumbled,' or in disgusting blood libels circulating in the Arab media depicting Israelis harvesting the organs of innocent children.
"The Middle East may be changing—but the power of anti-Semitic propaganda remains. I've traveled to Israel 11 times, and fighting the incitement of hatred—in political messages, in media, in educational systems—has been a dominant theme of those visits. On my last trip, in the summer of 2009, I confronted the Palestinian leadership over biased school textbooks that are helping to create a new generation of prejudice and suspicion. And I know that the ADL works tirelessly for the same cause. My message to you is: confronting hate is more crucial than ever to ensuring a safe, secure, and successful Israel. And words, once said, are nearly impossible to take back. To understand that truth, we only have to look to the recent news about the Goldstone Report. I'm pleased that Judge Goldstone has retracted his most explosive accusations against the Israeli government—but which, in the end, will be heard more widely, the accusation or the retraction? The damage, I fear, is irreversible.
"Because I share your understanding of the power of words, I believe that strong action against incitement must be a part of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process—so that Israelis and Palestinians can one day have a peace that is lasting and durable. But just as importantly, I strongly believe that peace between the Israeli and Palestinians must be negotiated—not imposed from the outside. That's why, in February, the United States was right to veto the anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution on settlements—the Obama Administration's first veto of a Security Council resolution. And that's why we must use the veto again if the Palestinians come back to the UN on the recognition issue.
"But I want to leave you with this reminder: while our fight against bigotry has an historic resonance for our foreign policy, let's not pretend that bigotry is only an issue for foreign nations and foreign cultures. Raising children free of hate matters just as much here in Washington, or in any American city, as it does in Cairo, Ramallah, or Jerusalem. Bullying and harassment shape young lives for the worse in schools in every American city—and bullying is especially damaging and divisive when it singles its victims out on the basis of race or faith or sexual orientation. As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, I hope we'll keep in mind the growing consensus that bullying needs to be taken seriously—by teachers, by administrators, and by the legislators who write education laws.
"Whether we are fighting against hate overseas or here in our communities, we come to the struggle with a conviction that it is winnable. As Sigmund Livingston put it, 'I have an abiding faith that religious prejudice and mass hatred will be vanquished, in time, by reason and truth.' That time is still not here—but every one of you deserves credit for your work to bring it closer."