WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following speech, as prepared for delivery, at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee National Convention.
“Thank you to my good friend Lonny Kaplan and all of AIPAC’s leaders and members. As I look out at this sea of fellow Americans I want to recognize the New Jersey delegation – this year almost 500 strong. To all of you from New Jersey and around the nation... welcome to Washington…
“My name is Bob Menendez, and anyone who knows me – knows three things: I believe it is in the national security and interest of the United States to have a strong unwavering relationship with the State of Israel. I have always stood for the Israeli people’s right to defend themselves and live in peace in the land of their ancestors. And, 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.
“I may agree with some Democrats that the political timing of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s invitation to speak to Congress tomorrow may have been unfortunate, and that we must work fervently to keep the US-Israel relationship a strong bipartisan endeavor. But I take issue with those who say the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States is “destructive to U.S.-Israel relations.”
“And tomorrow I will be proud when I escort Prime Minister Netanyahu to the House Chamber to give his speech! 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 only vibrant democracy with a dynamic economy, a proud strong, responsible military – home to entrepreneurs, activists, intellectuals, artists, and scientists – and a model for the region and the world.
“Prime Minister Cameron of Great Britain came to Washington in January – and lobbied 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!
“The fact is – the U.S.-Israel relationship and security of the Israeli people is much more important than any one person or any speech to Congress. It is sacrosanct, untouchable. It transcends faith, party affiliation, or political philosophy.
“That’s why we’re here at AIPAC. It’s why all of us – Democrats, Republicans, Christians, and Jews – come together at one of the largest assemblies Washington hosts every year – to exercise our constitutional rights to advocate with our government, to stand up for Israel and stand against anyone who would dare challenge Israel’s fundamental right to exist.
“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.
“When it comes to Iran, I say to the Ayatollah and President Rouhani that any deal – to be a good deal -- 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 break-out 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.
“That’s simply not good enough. It is not a good deal if it leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear state, or if Iran decides to kick out inspectors. It’s not a good deal if Iran proceeds on a covert path and we have no more than a year to respond. It’s not enough time for us to do anything other than exercise a military option.
“Let us do all we can now to get an agreement that dismantles Iran’s illicit program and ensures that it will not have to be a military response. A good deal, not just any deal, is what we need.
“If what the published reports describe are true – and it is a deal where Iran remains a threshold nuclear power for the next 10 years – with the potential to build up its nuclear infrastructure – in exchange for large scale sanctions relief and access to currently frozen assets – especially in the last 5 years, that essentially makes this a 5 year deal, not a 10 year deal, let alone the 20 years we were originally seeking – if that’s the case, then we’ve gone too far toward Iran’s positions.
“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.
“I’ve agreed to wait until after March 25th before supporting a vote on prospective new, tighter sanctions – before voting on a new sanctions bill that I’ve authored with Senator Kirk, but Iran needs to understand that there are consequences to an impasse – and those consequences are additional, consequential sanctions.
“Iranian leaders must make up their mind about what’s more important – a nuclear weapons program or the welfare of its people. Until now, Iran has not been motivated to make that decision.
“And, if we do reach an agreement, I have joined Chairman Corker and Senators Graham and Kaine – along with Senators Donnelly, Heitkamp, King, Nelson, Ayotte, Rubio, McCain, and Risch – in introducing bipartisan oversight legislation to ensure that Congress has a chance to review the legislation before it goes into effect and to oversee its compliance after it goes into effect. It was Congress that was responsible for bringing Iran to the table, and it’s Congress that will have a role in deciding whether to provide sanctions relief based on their compliance or non-compliance with the agreement.
“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. Not when Iran still holds nuclear aspirations, not as it continues to sponsor terrorism and not while it asserts hegemonic interest from Yemen to Bahrain – Iraq to Lebanon. Not as events in Syria worsen, a human tragedy of now unimaginable proportions – supported, encouraged, and financed by Tehran. And not while Iran’s fingerprints remain in the dust of Argentina’s Israeli embassy and Jewish community center even as it seeks to bargain with that country’s leader for absolution. This is Iran. This is the state we are negotiating with!
“There can be little doubt that under a flawed deal that fails to roll back Iran’s nuclear program every extra cent – every extra Rial – would go directly toward Iran’s nefarious adventures that threaten Israel, the region, and are diametrically opposed to the national interests of the United States, our friends, and allies.
“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!
“Israel is a country, a government, and a people that loves peace and values life. Last summer, Israel, under assault from Hamas’ campaign of terror-rockets in the air, and terror-tunnels from the ground, stood by its inalienable right to self-defense. But forced to take-on an enemy who celebrates death, hides rockets in mosques, schools, and hospitals, and shields them with women and children, what did Israel do -- given its range of impossible options?
“It chose to distribute flyers and warn innocent citizens that the IDF is coming, “Leave – go now,” they said. It made phone calls – “Leave – go now.” It made radio announcements – “Leave – go now.” What other army in the world tells you: we are coming? As a result Israeli soldiers were put at risk, but Israel did it anyway. Why? Because it was right to try to protect innocent Palestinians who should not have to suffer more than they already have.
“For the past year, the U.S. has actively sought to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders together to directly negotiate for peace and security in the context of a two-state solution. Unfortunately, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, rather than face the hard work of building domestic support for compromise, has turned to international unilateralism. He ran to New York and the UN Security Council this past December with a lop-sided resolution that was so egregiously imbalanced it failed without a veto. He ran to Rome to join the International Criminal Court despite the fact that he is not the President of a State.
“Here is the tough reality that Abbas must accept – a Palestinian state will only come through the hard work of direct negotiations. It will only come with a commitment to build-up non-corrupt government institutions. It will only come through economic development, education, and responsible security. These are realities he is yet to face.
“Abbas must see that the consequence of his unilateralism is diminished international support. I renew my call for the Palestinian Authority to end its pact with Hamas, a recognized terror organization that is committed to Israel’s destruction and whose charter calls for the murder of Jews. As I have said before, President Abbas’ actions cannot stand – assistance is not a blank check, U.S. support is not unconditional.
“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.
“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.
“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. It has been forged by the fires of history. It has been nurtured by the blood, sweat, tears, and suffering of the Jewish people. By the courage of generations of men and women who have made the desert green, by Nobel Prizes earned, by groundbreaking innovations and enviable institutions – by lives saved, democracy defended, peace made, and battles won.
“There can be no denying the history or the courage of the Jewish people. And I know there can be no denying the Jewish people their legitimate right to live in peace and security – on a homeland to which they have had a connection for thousands of years.
“That is why you are here in Washington. That is why I will not yield to those who wish to break me. For so long as I have a voice and a vote, I will not yield to those who wish to break my resolve on stopping Iran’s elicit nuclear program – and on preserving the unshakeable bond between Israel and the United States.