Rice backs Israel and shul security, rips anti-Semitism, in Shabbos talk at Beth Sholom


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These are the remarks that Rep. Kathleen Rice prepared for delivery last Shabbos at Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence. 

There’s no denying that it feels a little different being in a synagogue today. In recent years, we’ve seen a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism, both here at home and abroad. It’s a frightening trend that has led to two deadly attacks on Jewish congregations in the United States in just the past year.

It’s hard for me to believe that we’re still fighting this fight. That communities like this one still have to worry about their safety. And that makes me sad — and it makes me angry.

The violence, the hateful graffiti, the dangerous online propaganda, the vitriol —  it’s all a tragic and chilling reminder that anti-Semitism is still a very real threat, and that our communities remain vulnerable. But as much as there is no denying that anti-Semitism is on the rise, we cannot allow that to become our new reality. We cannot become numb to hate. We cannot accept it as a daily occurrence. We must demand more from our country.

That’s why it’s more important than ever that we stand up and speak out against anti-Semitism whenever and wherever we see or hear it. And this is something that I have always been firm on throughout my entire career.

I wasn’t afraid to call out the President of the United States when he failed to denounce the violent neo-Nazi’s protests in Charlottesville two years ago. And I wasn’t afraid to call out a member of my own party when she used anti-Semitic stereotypes — on more than one occasion. Because let me be clear: bigotry and anti-Semitism have no place in America, they have no place in the White House, they have no place in the halls of Congress, and they have no place here on Long Island. Full stop.

And we can never equivocate on that. We need to stand strong. We need to take an immovable stance. And, most importantly, we need to do the hard work of eradicating anti-Semitism and hate speech from our national discourse.

However, as much as it pains me to admit, the threat of violence and anti-Semitism will not vanish overnight. So, we also need to take the critical steps of making sure that buildings and communities like this one have the resources and support you need to remain safe.

Over the past four years, I have had the pleasure of helping more than 20 Jewish community organizations in our district secure over $2.5 million in federal funding for critical security enhancements to their facilities. These grants were awarded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help support critical security enhancements at organizations like these, such as forced-entry-resistant technology, security-modified doors, alarm systems, and surveillance cameras.

These grants have helped provide thousands of organizations and communities across this country with the safety they need and the peace of mind they deserve and I’m glad that our district has benefited from this program. And I want to assure you that I will continue supporting this community’s efforts to leverage this vital program.

As you know, another one of my priorities in Congress is to do everything I can to keep strengthening the bonds between the U.S. and Israel, to advocate for Israel’s security, and to ensure that both our countries continue to support each other and work closely together to take on the challenges we face. One thing that I know worries the Jewish community in this country is that support for Israel may be waning, especially among Democrats.

Well, let me just start off by saying that those Democrats do not speak for me, they do not speak for our party, and they certainly do not speak for our chamber. The Democratic Party and Congress are still overwhelmingly committed to ensuring Israel’s security and strengthening the partnership and friendship between our two countries.

And the recent and tragic rocket attacks by Hamas remind us why that support for Israel is so important. Because every day, hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens live in constant fear that a Hamas rocket could fall out of the sky. No country should have to contend with that type of security threat, which is why it’s so important that we support Israel’s right to defend itself.

To that end, it’s also a priority for me to ensure that we continue to have bipartisan support for Israel in the U.S. because this relationship is too important to get dragged into partisan fights. And that’s why I called on AIPAC to make its freshman member trip to Israel bipartisan — because Republican and Democratic freshman members should experience the trip together to further solidify bipartisan support for the Jewish state.

But I’m also gravely concerned by some politicians on the right who fail to denounce — or in some cases fully embrace — alt-right groups and Holocaust deniers that espouse anti-Semitic rhetoric. We cannot allow these hateful groups to gain a foothold in our government, in our communities or in our politics. We need to continue speaking out against white supremacy and anti-Semitism regardless of which side of the aisle it comes form.

We know that there has never been a shortage of people who are vocal in their criticism of Israel — and that’s particularly true on the international stage. And while it’s never wrong to challenge the policy of another country’s government — as people often do of the United  States — it’s important to differentiate between criticism and the many attempts that people make to delegitimize and undermine Israel’s rightful place as the Jewish homeland. And in the face of those efforts, Israel relies on us to have their back.

Right now, we know that anti-Israel forces are turning more and more to the BDS movement as a tool to try to delegitimize Israel. The UN Human Rights Council even passed a resolution to create a “blacklist” of companies that operate or do business with entities that operate beyond the 1949 armistice lines.

Much like the U.N. Security Council, this movement wants the world to believe that Israel is the obstacle to peace, that Israel is standing in the way of a lasting resolution to this conflict. And while forces behind the BDS movement may claim to want peace between Israelis and Palestinians, we know that BDS will not bring about that peace — that’s not the real intention behind this movement. We know that lasting peace and a lasting resolution to this conflict will only come through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

But those forces are gaining strength right now in America, especially on college campuses — which is why it’s never been more important to have people stand up and be vocal about our support for Israel — Democrats and Republicans. We need to speak up about the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and shares a region with neighbors focused on its destruction. That Israel, like the U.S., values freedoms of speech and religion and shares a deep commitment to human rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and equality.

In Congress, I’m a strong and consistent supporter of legislation that condemns BDS efforts and anti-Semitism and maintains U.S. support for Israel’s economic prosperity and national security. I’m never afraid to be vocal about my support for Israel, and I’m never afraid to stand up to those who seek to demonize and delegitimize Israel — on college campuses or even if they’re members of my own party. That’s what all of us must be willing to do in order to ensure that this relationship remains strong and continues to grow.

I hope my remarks here this morning have given you a good sense of where I stand on these issues, and of my unwavering commitment to this community, to the Jewish State, and to your safety and prosperity.