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Homeland Security, Race In America, Issues Facing Oval Office Highlighted At ADL Leadership Conference In Washington, D.C.

New York, NY, April 29, 2009 Keeping America safe from terrorism should not come at the expense of civil liberties, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).


"We understand that one of the things that terrorists seek to achieve is that we don't exercise the freedoms that we have," Ms. Napolitano told more than 400 ADL leaders gathered in Washington, D.C.  "So we need to get it right and make sure we maintain that balance, recognizing the freedoms inherent in our country, in our society, in our United States Constitution."


Three months into her tenure as the head of the third-largest federal department, Ms. Napolitano delivered the keynote address to the ADL Shana Amy Glass National Leadership Conference, April 19-21.


Napolitano assured League leaders that the 20 agencies within the purview of Homeland Security would uphold a "scrupulous respect for civil liberties" under her watch, while forging partnerships with state and local government, law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations in an effort to prevent future acts of terrorism and secure the nation's borders.


Napolitano was one of a number of administration officials, ambassadors, Congressional representatives, journalists and others to address ADL leaders gathered from across the country. Speakers included White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, syndicated Chicago Tribune Columnist Clarence Page, and Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor.


Key Issues for the Oval Office


The Obama Administration's policy of engagement abroad to restore America's leadership, its commitment to Israel's safety and security and a two-state solution, and support for immigration and civil liberties were among the issues explored by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.


"We strengthen America when America's image is stronger around the world," Mr. Emanuel said. "Our image in the world is different today because of the leadership of the President."


On Israel, Mr. Emanuel reinforced the administration's commitment to the peace process.  "We are committed to seeing the peace process through to a two-state solution, so that there will be a homeland for the Palestinians and a secure state of Israel for the Jewish people."

Race in America: Where We Were, Where We Are


Clarence Page, syndicated columnist with The Chicago Tribune, was
presented with the League's Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize for his lasting contributions to the national conversation on issues involving race, politics and civil rights.  


In his remarks, Page discussed what he termed as "The Barack Obama Effect" and the changing face of race and racism in America, and the challenge for America to respond appropriately.


"Racism and anti-Semitism, as that great sage D.L. Hughely said, is like losing weight; the last few pounds are the hardest to get rid of," said Page, who enumerated acts of violence carried out in recent years by far-right extremists.


"Americans value robust free-flowing expression.  We need to protect that.  But it is not always easy to distinguish expressions of hate from passionate and legitimate, if sometimes crude, expressions of legitimate political criticisms or dissent," Page said.


Israel and the Middle East


Israeli Ambassador
Sallai Meridor spoke of the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran, which he described as "a threat to the entire region and world interests in the region."  Ambassador Meridor said Iran poses multiple threats, with its anti-Israel and anti-West rhetoric, nuclear ambitions, and support for terrorist organizations, including Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.


"There is nothing more serious coming at us in the 21st century than the nightmare of the merger between nuclear and terror," Ambassador Meridor said.  "And the time is running out, and the time for the world to act is now."


A discussion on U.S. Policy in the Middle East: Next Steps for Diplomacy & Peace featured remarks by Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and Former Deputy National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush; Martin Indyk, Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution, and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel; and David Makovsky, Director, Project on the Middle East Peace Process, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.


Recognizing Nations For Moral Courage at Durban


At a special session ADL leaders recognized and acknowledged those nations that had the moral conviction to stay away from Durban II, the United Nations anti-racism conference in Geneva, which turned into another anti-Israel hatefest.  The Durban II conference was tainted from the outset by a virulently anti-Israel speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier who accused Israel of racism and genocide against Palestinians.


"We would have hoped that the group of nations that has chosen to absent itself from the tainted proceedings of Durban II would have been much bigger than it is," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.  "Yet we celebrate the few that have stood up and said, 'No' to this unsurprising reprise of the first Durban hatefest.  Their actions speak louder than words, and even the very small number of nations who took a principled stand against the hate is very, very significant."


ADL recognized the ambassadorial representatives to Washington of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands for their nations' courage in deciding to pull out of the conference in protest of those pushing an anti-Israel agenda.


Catholic Rescuer of Jews Honored


Irene Gut Opdyke, whose courageous story of saving Jews during the Holocaust is the subject of a current Broadway play, Irena's Vow, was honored posthumously for her heroism in risking her life to save others with the ADL Courage to Care Award.  Irene's daughter, Janina Opdyke Smith, accepted the award on her mother's behalf.


Other Highlights


ADL leaders also were briefed on anti-Semitism, the U.N. Durban Review Conference, the Faith-Based Initiative, and immigration reform, among other issues.  Sessions included:


  • Durban Redux: Another Vehicle for Anti-Israel Bias at the UN, with Erica J. Barks-Ruggles, Deputy to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. and Ambassador Daniel Carmon, Deputy Permanent Representative of Israel to the U.N.
  • Immigration: Toward A Civil and Bigotry Free Discussion, with Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America's Voice and Clarissa Martinez De Castro, Director of Immigration and National Campaigns, National Council of La Raza.
  • Safeguarding Civil Liberties in the War on Terror, with Kenneth L. Wainstein, Former Assistant to President George W. Bush for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Elisa Massimino, CEO and Executive Director, Human Rights First; and Stuart Taylor, Senior Writer and Columnist, The National Journal.
  • Riding on Faith: The Future of the Faith-Based Initiative, with Rep. Bobby Scott, D-VA, and Melissa Rogers, Director of the Center for Religious and Public Affairs, Wake Forest University Divinity School and member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
  • Three Months & Counting: The Obama Administration on the Issues, with Lynn Sweet, Washington D.C. Bureau Chief, The Chicago-Sun Times and Juan Williams, Senior Correspondent, National Public Radio.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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2009 Anti-Defamation League