|CONGRESSMAN TOM LANTOS' SPEECH
ACCEPTING THE FRIEND OF ISRAEL AWARD AT THE STAND FOR ISRAEL WASHINGTON BRIEFING DINNER,
APRIL 02, 2003
|Thank you for being here. Allow me to say a few words about my friend Tom DeLay. Let me begin by saying it takes a lot of courage to try to give a talk after Tom's brilliant address, and with his permission, tomorrow morning I will put his speech in the Congressional Record because it deserves the widest distribution.
Now to tell the truth, it's not so difficult to be a friend of Israel when you are a survivor of the Holocaust. And I think there is a fundamental disparity between my support of Israel; which comes so naturally, and Tom's support of Israel, which stems from his deep Christian values and his sophisticated and principled view of the world. I am a Jew, and he is a Christian, and I admire him and I admire all of you who are Christians who have chosen to stand by this small, beleaguered, democratic, value rich, State of Israel.
So allow me to tell you how I learned, and what I learned, about Christians and Christianity. In 1944, I was a sixteen-year-old boy who was convinced, with good reason, that he would not survive the Second World War - none of my family did. And a Christ-ian, far away from Budapest, acted on the same Christian values that permeate my friend Tom DeLay. My wife Annette and I are here, our two daughters are alive and our seventeen grand children bring us untold joy because of a Christian. A Christian who did not know us. A Christian who lived far away in Sweden, in the ultimate lap of luxury, comfort, affluence and security. The man who saved our lives - Annette's and mine - was a Lutheran, a member of Sweden's most distinguished family, the Wallenberg family, who had the whole world as his oyster. He could have been Sweden's leading diplomat, banker, businessman, scholar; he had all the intellectual and other attributes to make it. But as he looked south to Hitler - occupied Hungary, his conscience did not allow him to remain in that peaceful and secure little island of Sweden. He took a train and joined us in Hell.
And interposing his unarmed, lean Swedish body between the Nazi war machine and the thousands of intended victims, through magic, miracle and courage, he saved about 100,000 innocent lives, including that of my wife Annette and myself. When I
worked with Raoul Wallenberg, and when subsequently I read everything about him that I could, and when with Annette's leadership, I worked on getting him an honorary US citizenship, the second only after Winston Churchill, I've truly learned the meaning of Christian values - the notion that we are all our brothers' and sisters' keepers. And that is why everyone of you in this room, and everyone connected with this organization is living and working and believing in the tradition of Raoul Wallenberg. It is a good lesson in Christianity to have been saved by a great Christian. But it is not enough to stop there. And I would like to just say a word or two about the two topics Tom spoke about; the war in Iraq and the struggle of Israel to defeat this mindless, hate-filled, bloody suicide avalanche that has engulfed it in the last couple of years.
Our President sees, as Tom does, and as I do; that the struggle is in fact a struggle between good and evil. Now some intellectual sophisticates might take issue with such a simple dichotomy. But if we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that much of the 20th century, and this very young 21st century, is in fact a struggle between good and evil. People who call for evenhandedness,
I wonder would they have called for evenhandedness between Hitler and Churchill? The people who are calling for evenhanded-ness, would they have called for evenhandedness between Stalin and his henchmen, and the victims who perished in the Gulags?
There is no evenhandedness in Tom DeLay or myself. We come down foursquare on the side of the forces of civilization, of decency, of humanity. And as a Democrat it is/was my privilege, pleasure and honor to manage the debate on the Iraq resolution on the side of the President of the United States. My friend Tom DeLay did much better than I did. I delivered less than half of
the Democrats for that resolution. He delivered the Republican party, and I hope that as the years go by and I grow up, I will be able to produce the kinds of results in these climatic struggles between freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, respect for the rule of law, that is America's battle. It is long overdue that this battle be extended to the Middle East.
As one who was born in Budapest, Hungary, who was so proud if the '56 freedom fighters, who was so anguished that my native country was under the boot of Soviet tyranny, it was almost a dream for Annette and me to see the crumbling of the Iron Curtain. I led the last Congressional Delegation to a country called East Germany. At our big negotiating session, I sat across from the German communist dictator Honecker, and in my mind President Reagan's word kept reverberating, "Get down that wall." And shortly after our visit that wall came down, and all the other walls came down. And it was almost a miracle for me to fly to Inde-pendence, Missouri with the Ambassadors of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, and our Secretary of State, to sign the accession documents of NATO by these three former Soviet satellites. One of the happiest moments of my life was last November when I had the privilege of being the only Democrat in the President's entourage to go to Prague, for the NATO summit, and to see Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, all the others of these small central east European and Balkan countries, become full-fledged members of NATO. I must admit too I never dreamed I would live long enough to see this.
And now we are at the gates of Baghdad. Twenty-two years ago, the first year of my service in Congress, the Israeli air force; in
a brilliant pre-emptive move, took out Iraq's nuclear capability just outside of Baghdad at a place called Osirak. I have been in Congress now for almost 23 years, and if I will be here another 23 years there will never be a moment that I will be as grateful for as the moment when I went down to the floor of the House that day. I was the only member of the House and the Senate to praise the Israeli air force for this brilliant pre-emptive move. Had Israel not done this in 1981 in early June, during the Persian Gulf War we would have faced a nuclear-equipped Iraq, and we would have had two options; to appease Saddam Hussein, by then
in control of the oil resources of Iraq, Kuwiat and Saudi Arabia or to engage in a nuclear exchange.
So when the President has now called on us to engage in military action to prevent Saddam Hussein from becoming a nuclear power, he has my full support, as I hope he does everyone in this room. Tom put it brilliantly and eloquently and very wittingly,
as the "blow dried armchair Napoleons" are commenting on this war. People like Tom DeLay and I are sick to our stomachs.
This is one of the history's most brilliant military operations. In two-weeks time, we secured the oil fields of southern Iraq; we secured the western desert which was used as a staging ground for scud attacks on Israel (Annette and I were in Israrel when the scuds fell), and we are within a taxicab drive of Baghdad. We did this with the tragic loss of a relatively small number of Ameri-can and British lives. We did our utmost and are doing our utmost every minute of this war to minimize civilian casualties, and
to minimize Iraqi military casualties.
And as the President said, and Tom and I agree, we will not stay in Iraq one day longer than abolutely necessary because we do come as liberators, who would like to see the slow, painful, tedious process of democratization begin among the Arab countries
of the Middle East. Without that there will be no peace for Israel or in the region. And while I may not be here when this dream becomes a reality, most of you will. And you will see the wisdom of this great nation, the majority of the Congress of the United States, and the majority of the American people, in seeing to it that freedom, the right to practice one's religion as one sees fit, human rights, respect for one another, the rule of law, as it prevails today in the United States and Europe and much of the rest
of the world will take root in the Middle East as well.
I humbly accept your wonderful honor, which I cherish twice as much for being in the company of my good friend Tom DeLay. I hope that the Almighty will bless all of us with the peace of Jerusalem.
|The above speech was delivered upon receipt of the "Friend of Israel" Award. This award, presented on April 2, 2003, in Wash- ington, D.C., was given by Stand for Israel, a project of the Intern. Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a 20-year-old organiation headquartered in Chicago and Jerusalem. Since its founding in 1983 by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. The Fellowship has been instru-mental in fostering better relations between these two communities and providing new avenues of support for Israel and Jewish people in need around the world. For more information on The Fellowship and Stand for Israel, log on: http://www.ifcj.org
Write us at 30 N. LaSalle St.,Suite 2600, Chicago, IL. 60602, or call 800/486-8844.