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Cotton Speech to the Zionist Organization of America’s Annual Gala

November 14, 2017

Contact: Caroline Rabbitt Tabler (202) 224-2353

His remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.


Thank you very much. It's a real honor to be here celebrating the 120th anniversary of the Zionist Organization of America. And it's a privilege to again share the stage with a valiant defender of Israel, the one and only Mort Klein. And I want to thank Ron DeSantis for that kind introduction.

In fact, that welcome was so kind it makes me feel like the beloved rabbi on his deathbed. You know the story of four young students gathered around the rabbi. One of them began to weep, saying, "Oh, woe is us, how will we study Torah without rabbi's learning?"

Then the second one said, "Oh, woe is us, how will we learn Talmud without rabbi's brilliance?"

Then the third one said, "Oh, woe is us, how will we understand the prophets without rabbi's insight?"

Then the fourth one said, "Oh, woe is us, how will we survive without rabbi's generosity?"

And then, the four students fell silent.

At which point, the old rabbi sat up in his bed and said, "What, nothing about my humility?"

Well, unlike that rabbi, I won't push my luck-because to receive an award named for the Adelsons is itself a humbling thing.

Where to begin? One could praise the range of their philanthropy: drug clinics, cancer research, education programs. One could praise the depth of it: millions and millions of dollars every year. But let's look behind it all, at what motivates their magnanimity. I would suggest it's the age-old human love for freedom.

In Thucydides' History, Pericles says that the secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage. And not just courage on the battlefield-though that's the highest form of the virtue. The daily courage to take a risk, to strive and maybe to fail-that's the secret to freedom and happiness, too.

Miriam and Sheldon uncovered that secret a long time ago. Miriam has written, "Our belief is that it is one's right and obligation to rely on oneself ... to strive to do your work by yourself, not to demand others do it for you." And I recall when I first met Sheldon that he didn't talk about his great successes. No, like many successful people, he focused more on his early struggles and challenges, even his failures.

Sheldon started his first business when he was twelve. Miriam still dons her white doctor's coat to save lives. It's that love of freedom, of standing on your own two feet, that gets them going every morning. It animates their philanthropy, to help their fellow man escape the bonds of addiction and illness and ignorance, to achieve freedom and, with it, happiness.

And it's this love of freedom, I would suggest, that's at the root of their deep affection-and our deep affection-for two special nations: America and Israel. Our special friendship is no accident of history, nor a mere alignment of interests. There's a reason the second largest Jewish metropolitan area in the world after Tel Aviv is New York. There's a reason the Pilgrims called America the new Zion. Both our nations stand as beacons of freedom in a dangerous world.

Even before modern Israel was founded, there was a special bond between America and the Jewish people-because America welcomed the Jewish people and didn't feel threatened by their heritage or their success.

The same can't be said about the Old World, sadly. There, the demands of the nation-state too often clashed with the heritage of the Jewish people. You could belong to one or the other, but not both.

But in America, you could belong to both. America is, after all, a nation of immigrants-just as Israel is today. Here, we don't think you have to abandon your heritage to be a loyal American. In fact, it's the freedom to be a Jew that causes the Jewish people to love America even more.

And the Jewish people embraced their new country with the zeal of a convert. They have made so many contributions to American life-everything from George Gershwin's musicals to Jonas Salk's polio vaccine to Levi Strauss's blue jeans. It's hard to imagine America today without the Jewish people. They preserved the Jewish way of life while shaping the American way of life.

That's because they saw no contradiction between being a proud Jew and being a proud American. Just consider how many of our favorite Christmas carols were written by Jewish composers! Irving Berlin wrote not only "White Christmas," but also "God Bless America"-and his own tribute to the Jewish state, entitled simply "Israel."

And, of course, the American people have never seen a contradiction in the Jewish people's love for the United States and their love for their ancient homeland. In their mind, just as America would be the home of people, from all walks of life, who yearn for the freedom that comes with self-government, Israel would be the home of the Jewish people, who for 2,000 years yearned to govern themselves in freedom again. That's one reason why your past chairman, Louis Brandeis, said, "To be good Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists."

So ours was a natural kinship from the beginning. Both peoples settled the land, working and sweating to build up their countries. Just as the Virginia colonists hacked their way through the swamps of Jamestown, the Jewish pioneers hacked their way through the swamps of the Jezreel Valley. Just as the Pilgrims scratched out a living on the rocky soil of New England, the Jewish Legion veterans made a desert bloom.

And once they settled their lands, both peoples fought valiantly to claim their freedom. When you read Israel's Declaration of Independence, with its stirring promise to protect freedom and equal citizenship for all, you encounter the spirit of America's Declaration of Independence.

When you learn about Israel's War for Independence, you can't help but hear echoes of the American Revolution. Just as Sam Adams thundered in favor of independence, Ze'ev Jabotinsky sounded a clarion call for a Jewish state. Just as Alexander Hamilton joined the New York militia to defend his home state, Moshe Dayan defended his country's capital by commanding the Jerusalem front. And just as the American people revere George Washington, the Israeli people revere their own founding father, David Ben-Gurion.

The improbability of it all, the sheer tenacity-it's truly amazing. Here in America, a rag-tag bunch of colonists humbled the world's greatest empire. And the Jewish people, after 2,000 years of suffering, persecution, and near extermination, simply said, "We're not taking it anymore. We will fight for our freedom and we will take back our home." And they did it. Talk about chutzpah. As Golda Meir later said, "my people should not need expressions of sympathy anymore."

And indeed, the people of Israel don't need sympathy today-they inspire respect among friends and fear among enemies. Israel has again assumed its rightful place among the proud nations of the world.

Both our countries are strong and free-so our kinship is indeed natural and our alliance is just. I'm proud of what we accomplish together, not just for our own people, but also for mankind. After all, only the strong can protect the weak and only the strong can afford to be kind.

And, too often in this world, only the strong can speak the truth. So let us speak some plain truths about the Jewish people and the Holy Land.

Israel is and always will be the home of the Jewish people.

Much as we might celebrate its recent centenary, the Balfour Declaration did not establish Israel as the home of the Jewish people. God did, when he promised that land to Abraham.

That land included Judea and Samaria. After all, Jews are called Jews because they're from Judea.

And the capital of Israel is and always will be Jerusalem.

These truths may offend some of Israel's detractors, but they're no less true because of it. And the Zionist Organization of America knows that speaking the truth is the foundation for progress, security, and peace. Your organization has long defended the truth, and it's an honor to receive your award for being a fellow "Defender of Israel."

Though I'm not so sure Israel needs as much defending these days as it once did. A few years back, I was part of a small delegation to Israel. We met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He urged the United States to challenge Iran, to stop its nuclear program, and to roll back its campaign of imperial aggression across the Middle East. One American expressed worry for Israel. What if Hezbollah retaliates? Bibi said, "Don't worry about Israel. Israel can defend itself."

That's the spirit of freedom and strength speaking. It's a spirit you hear from time to time among Israeli security and intelligence types: kachol lavan. Blue and White. We rely on ourselves.

It's an admirable, proud spirit. And it's enough for almost all the challenges Israel faces, many of which we've heard about tonight. But there's one unique challenge where Blue and White must not be compelled to stand alone. And that's a nuclear-armed Iran. Because that outlaw regime is willing to trade death by the millions to destroy Israel. There's a reason they inscribe "Israel must be wiped out" on their missiles.

Israel is the home to many thousands of Muslims. Yet the ayatollahs would burn it down if they could rule the ashes.

Red, White, and Blue must stand alongside Blue and White to defeat the Iranian threat. We're in this fight, together, all the way. Remember, the ayatollahs chant "Death to America" and "Death to Israel."

I've been in that fight for a long time myself. When I was a platoon leader in Iraq, my soldiers were at the mercy of fortune to avoid roadside bombs made by Iran. Fortunately we did, but hundreds and hundreds of American troops died from those bombs.

I opposed the Iran nuclear deal from the start, as all of you did.

You may recall that I posted a letter to the ayatollahs, warning them that a future president and Congress wouldn't accept that foolhardy deal. Maybe they should have listened to me.

I was the lone vote in the Senate against a law that, though well-intentioned, bypassed the constitutional process for ratifying treaties.

I traveled to Vienna and exposed Iran's secret side deals with the IAEA.

And now that we have a president who sees Iran for the threat it is, I'm working with him and my colleagues to change the law, stop Iran from going nuclear, and protect the United States and Israel.

Please pray that our efforts succeed, that we stop this threat peacefully. But let there be no doubt about this point: if forced take act, the United States has the ability to totally destroy Iran's nuclear infrastructure. And if they choose to rebuild it, we could destroy it again, until they get the picture.

This challenge is daunting, but then our two nations have never ducked a challenge. You might say we rise to them.

I'm reminded of the story of an old Jewish musician who left his home in Leipzig in 1937, well into Hitler's rule, to join a small settlement in Israel. Those were the days of the mandate, and one day, a group of British officials recognized the man from his performances at the British embassy in Berlin.

One official expressed sympathy, saying to him, "This is a terrible change for you."

The man replied, "It is a change, from hell to heaven."

My friends, that's the kind of stuff our two nations and our two peoples are made of. To borrow from another great Zionist, Winston Churchill, "We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy." We are made of much tougher stuff.

There were plenty of bleak times in the American Revolution, just as there have been many times when Israel was locked in a seemingly hopeless war. Yet, here we stand, stronger than ever, two modern-day Davids prevailing against all the odds.

How can one read our histories and fail to see the hand of Providence guiding the affairs of man? In the struggle between good and evil, between righteousness and wickedness, between freedom and slavery, take your resolution with the knowledge that He is not neutral.

And let us be confident that after all is said and done, after all the ups and downs, Zion and the New Zion will prevail in that struggle, and freedom will not perish from the earth.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless Israel and America.