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Statement on Tragic Synagogue Slayings

  • Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin
    US












Senate

113th Congress, Second Session

Mr. President, I know I express the sentiments and outrage of every Member of this body about the tragic events in Israel this past Tuesday where those in a synagogue were brutally slain. It was a shock to all of us–in a synagogue, in a place of worship, people there praying and studying, and their lives were brutally ended.

Let me just mention the victims. Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, Rabbi Kalman Levine, Avraham Goldberg, and Zidan Saif, a police officer.

I particularly want to mention Rabbi Kupinsky because there is a connection here to Maryland. Three of the victims had U.S. citizenship. Rabbi Kupinsky is a cousin of a distinguished constituent, Judge Karen Friedman of Baltimore. So this affects all of us.

I know first and foremost our prayers are with the families and we express our deepest sympathy. I also express our resolve to eliminate such extremists and to work with the international community so there is no refuge anywhere in the world–anywhere in the civilized world–for such extremists. Then I would hope we would all recognize and speak out for Israel’s right, indeed its obligation, to defend its people from such brutal attacks.

The Baltimore Sun said this morning in its editorial there could be no excuse, no explanation, no reason or even plausible justification for the horrific attack on a Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday that left four Rabbis and an Israeli police officer dead.

I know we all believe in that statement. There is no justification for such actions. Yet Hamas–and again I would quote from the Sun paper–“Hamas, the militant [extremist] group that controls Gaza, hailed the attack in the synagogue as a blow against Israel’s occupation. ….. ”

This just points out the difference between Hamas and Israel. I have been on the floor many times talking about Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and Hamas’s desire to put innocent people in harm’s way. It is our responsibility to speak out. If this event would have happened in the United States, I think we all know what the reaction would have been. So our resolve goes out to the people of Israel that we will stand by them and that we stand by their right to defend themselves.

This is in the backdrop of a rise of anti-Semitism. We have seen these violent attacks in Brussels and Toulouse earlier this year, a brutal slaying in Antwerp, Jewish schools and community centers and synagogues being targets of attacks, extremist parties gaining political support espousing anti-Semitism. We saw that in Hungary and other countries.

I want to mention once again the role this Congress plays in the Helsinki Commission. I have the honor of being the Chair of the Helsinki Commission during this Congress, and the Helsinki Commission implements the commitments we made almost 40 years ago–the Helsinki Final Act; the core principles of human rights and tolerance. Our bedrock principle is that in order to have a stable country you have to have a commitment to basic human rights, and it is not just your obligation but every country that is part of Helsinki, including the United States, that has the right to challenge any other country in its compliance with those basic human rights. We have made progress.

Ten years ago I was privileged to be part of the U.S. delegation in the Berlin conference. The Berlin conference was established to deal with the rise of anti-Semitism, and an action agenda came out of that conference 10 years ago. It put responsibility on us–political leaders–to speak out against anti-Semitic activities in our own country or anywhere in the world. It set up an action plan to deal with educating, and particularly dealing with Holocaust education, to deal with the Holocaust deniers. It dealt with police training because we understand a lot of criminal activities are hate crimes and the police need to be able to identify when hate crimes are taking place in their own community.

We decided to share best practices by providing technical help to countries to do better, and we established a special representative to deal with anti-Semitism. Rabbi Baker is currently that special representative. But we went further than that, we expanded it to all forms of intolerance–not just anti-Semitism but xenophobia, anti-Muslim activities–because we recognized that the same people who are extremists and who deny individuals because of their anti-Semitic acts would do the same against Muslims, would do the same against any people because of their race or ethnic background.

I was very pleased to see commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Berlin conference. There was a reconvening in Berlin–Berlin plus 10. Ambassador Powers, our Ambassador to the United Nations, led the U.S. delegation. She did a great job. I want to acknowledge that Wade Henderson, representing the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also participated because there is unity here. It is not just the anti-Semitic activities, it is the intolerance we have seen grow too much in our world community today.

The concluding document said we need to increase our political and financial support for civil societies, and I agree with that. Transparency and supporting the NGOs, supporting civil societies, is critically important.

The bottom line is we must work together to root out all forms of anti-Semitism and all forms of intolerance. Let us work together to make all our communities safer by embracing diversity and recognizing basic human rights. 

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