U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ Dist. 6) made a strong case for United States-Israel ties at a student leadership dinner organized by Rutgers Hillel.
Speaking April 15 at the Cook Campus Center in New Brunswick, Menendez and Pallone spoke with affection about Israel, its strategic importance to the United States, the threats both countries face from Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the evils of anti-Semitism.
The dinner drew about 100 people, including representatives of 37 on-campus student organizations.
Gil Lainer, consul for public affairs at the Israeli consulate in New York, also took part in the event.
Menendez said that while the Palestinians have legitimate issues that can be resolved through a two-state solution, Israel stands virtually alone in seeking that peaceful solution.
“Israel voluntarily left Gaza and has already given up land for peace,” said Menendez. Israel remains a target for terrorist rockets and anti-Semitism promoted by Hamas in schoolbooks and media, he said, while Iranian leaders have threatened the country with annihilation.
The senator gave a brief overview of Israeli history, saying that Jews have had a continual presence in the land for thousands of years and have longstanding religious claims. After accepting the United Nations’ two-state solution, he reminded his audience, Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbors in 1948.
Pallone, whose legislative district includes the university’s New Brunswick-area campuses, admitted to having a romanticized view of Israel as a country “that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust.” But beyond such emotions, he said, the United States and Israel are united by shared values, including a history of serving as a haven for those persecuted in their native lands.
In addition, he said, “Israel’s security needs are very much linked to our own security needs.” Iran must be prevented from gaining nuclear capability. “This is a threat not just to Israel,” said Pallone. “If anything, Israel has done us a favor by making us aware of the threat to the U.S. and the rest of the world.”
Pallone quoted President Barack Obama in noting that soon “the last opportunity” for Iran to halt its nuclear program may be nearing; “we are running out of time,” he said.
If the United States feels it is out of options, the congressman said, “there might be a time either on behalf of Israel or in support of Israel” that America would take military action.
Menendez called the increase in worldwide anti-Semitism and attempts to delegitimize Israel “frightening.”
“Whether it’s on the Rutgers campus or in the West Bank, the demonization of Israel is counter to our values as a nation,” said Menendez. “That is why, as President Obama said, ‘We will always have Israel’s back.’”
The message resonated with student leaders. Hannah Johnson, a junior from Branchburg and president of the newly formed Christians United for Israel on campus, said she agreed with the speakers’ reasons for supporting Israel.
“Also as a Christian I feel an obligation to Israel and to stand with God’s chosen people,” she said. “As a Christian it is our holy land, too.”
Anthony Covington of Bordentown, a freshman newly elected to the Rutgers University Student Assembly, said the evening proved eye-opening.
“I’m not Jewish so I didn’t really know all that much about Israel and found the program very informative,” he said. “I didn’t know much about the alliance with America or the threat both countries are under from the Middle East. I didn’t know their existence was being so threatened.
“It made me feel great pride in my own country that we are standing with Israel and we are both working toward democracy.”