The Democratic author of Iran sanctions measures that have drawn ire from the Obama administration took aim at his critics and embraced his allies in a passionate address before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, also took a dig at National Security Advisor Susan Rice as he rallied the conference crowd in the speaking slot after the administration official.
“I take issue with those who say the prime minister’s visit to the United States is ‘destructive’ to U.S.-Israel relations,” Menendez said. Rice made such comments in an interview with PBS aired last week.
“And tomorrow I will be proud when I escort Prime Minister Netanyahu to the House Chamber to give his speech,” he continued. “To show him the respect he deserves from every American who cares about our relationship with the only true democracy in the Middle East.”
The senator stressed that “when it comes to defending the U.S.-Israel relationship, I am not intimidated by anyone — not Israel’s political enemies, and not by my political friends when I believe they’re wrong.”
Menendez noted the “political timing” of Netanyahu’s speech “may have been unfortunate,” but British Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain came to Washington in January to lobby Congress against Iran sanctions. “It seems to me that if it’s okay for one prime minister to express his views, it should be good for all prime ministers,” he said.
“…I know there are more than a few people here in Washington who say that I’m outspoken in my defense of Israel – and, frankly, I’m not only proud of it, I’m fully prepared to stand on this stage today – or on any stage anywhere, anytime – to carry that message to both the friends and enemies of Israel around the world.”
He also ripped at the administration’s goals for a nuclear deal, saying it “has to be built on more than mothballing Iran’s program – more than on an inspection-and-verification regime focused on monitoring a one-year breakout capability.”
“You can be certain, the mullahs are not going to call us in Washington when they decide to breach the agreement. They are going to sneak-out – covertly, gradually, over time – when they think we’re not looking, just as they have in the past and they are going to parse the words of this agreement and argue – as they have already – about whether a nuclear advancement technically violates the agreement,” Menendez said.
“…Here we are, near the end of negotiations, and the goal posts have moved from dismantlement to reconfiguration. From a peaceful nuclear program to just enough to detect break out. From no right-to-enrichment to getting an alarm system.”
And he got in another dig. “A deal cannot be built on trust alone. It cannot be built on hope. It cannot be built on aspirations or good intentions like the North Korea deal,” he said. A new report found that Pyongyang’s nuclear program is undergoing “significant expansion” that could results in a stockpile of 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.
“I can tell you one thing: as long as I have an ounce of fight left in me, as long as I have a vote and a say and a chance to protect the interest of Israel, the region, and the national security interests of the United States – Iran will never have a pathway to a weapon. It will never threaten Israel or its neighbors, and it will never be in a position to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Not on my watch,” Menendez vowed.
He also said the world “must always have Israel’s back” when the Jewish state is being pushed to negotiate with a Palestinian regime that includes Hamas.
“We hope and pray for peace, but we must always have Israel’s back, and having Israel’s back means fighting back against efforts by any nation or any anti-Semitic terrorist group – any haters or Holocaust deniers who try to delegitimize Israel,” the senator said.
Menendez repeatedly earned enthusiastic standing ovations throughout his address.
“As I’ve said here many times and on many occasions, the Holocaust was the most sinister possible reminder that the Jewish people in exile lived in constant jeopardy. But while the Shoah is central to Israel’s identity, it was never the reason behind its founding, and it is not the main justification for Israel’s existence today,” he said. “The true justification is written in thousands of years of undeniable history that lead to an undeniable conclusion: the re-establishment of the State of Israel in modern times is the result of a political reality that has grown from strong, deep roots going back to the time of Abraham and Sarah.”
“The argument for Israel’s existence – the argument for its legitimacy – does not depend on what we might say in speeches.”