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Ilan Ramon - Israel's first astronaut

America and Israel grieve together

By Tom DeLay, US House Majority Leader. Speech delivered at the Republican Jewish Coalition National Leadership Meeting, Boca Raton, Florida, February 1, 2003.

Friends, we gather tonight on an evening of sorrow and national mourning in both the United States and Israel. We lost some courageous explorers earlier today.

Seven daring dreamers knew the full measure of danger they risked, and they shouldered those risks and pushed through the last boundary.

They offered this service in the pursuit of freedom.

This afternoon, I traveled to the Kennedy Space Center to offer prayers and extend condolences to the families of the astronauts and to the NASA community.

At this moment, America and Israel grieve together. I can think of no two nations that are so connected by so many timeless truths. We are kindred nations and tonight we are siblings in mourning.

Let us recall Nehemiah's prayer repeating G-d's instructions to Moses:

"If you return to me and obey my commands then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name."

In these moments of loss, we confront the ancient questions that torment the human mind: Persevere, or relent? Survive, or surrender?

Of all the peoples of the Earth, the House of Israel has answered these questions most defiantly.

You have persevered. You have survived. And you have prospered.

This is so because each of you have chosen to view the calamities of history not as ultimate defeats.

Six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Almost all of European Jewry destroyed. Yet, the creation of the State of Israel was the answer of the Jewish people.

As you know, an Israeli astronaut, Colonel Ilan Ramon, was aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. He carried a drawing made by a Jewish child who died at Auschwitz.

That child, Peter Ginz, depicted the Earth as viewed from mountains on the Moon. Colonel Ramon himself said, "I feel that my journey fulfills the dream of Peter Ginz 58 years on."

This is the great power of the G-d of Abraham that has blessed the Jewish people. It is what carries you from destruction to ever-greater glory.

I believe that the American people possess this same spirit.

President Theodore Roosevelt said, "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

As the most fitting tribute to the astronauts who perished, let us recommit ourselves to the defining dream that dominated their lives: a bold vision for America and Israel in space.

I want to thank you again for having me here this evening. As sadness and loss surrounds all of us, it is good to be with men and women I call my friends.

Together, we have arrived at a defining hour in the history of free nations. And it is true that we live in an uncertain time.

Yet, I have never been more certain of the greatness of our nation.

I come before you this evening with a message: freedom is on the march, and tyranny is in retreat.

Of course, our enemies have not surrendered. We are still at war, and total victory remains a distant objective, but we have great reasons for optimism.

President Bush, a man of remarkable courage has rallied the nation. Our mission is clear. Our leader is strong. And our commitment is unwavering.

The moral and military might of the United States has been enlisted in the pursuit of a principled foreign policy. It is a policy of timeless truths, and not passing conveniences. It is a policy that serves all nations, and not just one people.

America has embarked on a war of liberation. And while that war will be fought in different ways in different places, the objective is unchanging: spreading self-government, human rights, and the rule of law throughout the world.

All of you are part of this struggle that now must be our consuming focus. And as members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, you are making a special contribution that merits special recognition.

I want to commend you for your commitment to the ideals and the work of this extraordinary organization.

The Republican Jewish Coalition is built on the enduring virtues of faith and service. You are striving to uphold and defend great principles, and I urge you to continue on the course you have set.

In particular, I want to congratulate you on the coalition-building initiatives you have launched across the country. That grassroots work actually reaching out to people in their own communities represents the foundation of effective advocacy.

Through such efforts, the Republican Jewish Coalition is making certain that our message is reaching a record number of Jewish Americans.

As you know, this success is the product of a compelling vision for our country and for the world. And that vision is freedom, democracy, and human rights for all people everywhere.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, President Bush made a convincing argument for a values-based foreign policy. In his remarks, the President said:

"Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is G-d's gift to humanity."

This is the reason we fight. This is the reason President Bush is insisting that Saddam Hussein either disarm voluntarily, or be disarmed by force.

This is the reason Americans are willing to sacrifice so much to defend freedom.

I do not have to explain to this audience that Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to threaten the United States and the world with weapons of mass destruction.

But all of us you and me and every individual who shares our convictions need to explain the case for standing by all democracies under siege. And we need to direct that explanation to our fellow Americans and, most forcefully, to the other nations of the world.

American support for our democratic friends is not arbitrary. Rather, it is driven by an unwavering allegiance to the qualities and characteristics that define civilization.

This remarkable process has resulted in a diverse coalition of U.S. allies, all of whom share not a common religion, or language, or color, but a common commitment to timeless ideals.

It is the message of the Exodus and Sinai shouted throughout the world.

As a result, the brotherhood of free nations includes wonderfully different members: Japan and Turkey; Italy and Taiwan; Poland and India.

And of course, this brotherhood includes the State of Israel. It is easy to forget the magnitude of Israel's success.

Israel is an oasis of liberty and humanity surrounded by a desert of hostility and aggression. And as all of you know, this liberty and humanity have produced great things.

In 2000, Israel's Gross Domestic Product was $17,700 per person. In Lebanon it was $5,000, in Syria $1,000, in Jordan $1,500, in Egypt $1,420, and in the West Bank controlled by Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat, it was $1,500. Within Israel, people are educated longer and more successfully. Israel has produced almost universal literacy. With the exception of Jordan, only between half and three-quarters of the people in neighboring countries can read. Infant mortality rates in Israel are between five and eight times lower than in neighboring countries. People in Israel also tend to live at least ten years longer than those living in the undemocratic regimes that surround it.

Is this correlation between self-government and prosperity nothing more than an uncanny coincidence? Of course it isn't. And U.S. support for nations that practice democracy, respect human rights, and uphold the rule of law is no coincidence either.

So, the question is not, "How can America be so loyal to the Jewish State?" No, the real question is, "How could we be anything other than loyal to the Jewish State?"

Just consider for a moment that Israel has a fair, free national election, and no one thinks anything of it. Yet, we can only dream about such an election occurring anywhere else in the region.

Every once in a while, someone says to me, "You're an evangelical Christian from Sugar Land, Texas. You don't know a Matzah ball from a baseball. So, why do you care so much about defending Israel?"

And here's the answer: it's the right thing to do.

Of course, I hope that the Jewish community will recognize, in increasing numbers, the commitment of our Party to the security and prosperity of Israel.

But in the end, that's not what's really important.

The United States has an obligation to help good and free people defend themselves against evil killers. Meeting that obligation is what's important.

And I can tell you that the President of the United States feels exactly the same way. You hear it in his voice, you see it in his eyes, and you know it by his actions.

Unfortunately, some of the nations of Europe have taken a very different and disturbing view. As I remarked when I spoke to you last year in Washington, I am repulsed by the manner in which those countries have abdicated their responsibilities. Germany and France, in particular, appear entirely unwilling to stand against aggression and international violence. They would have us believe that Yasser Arafat's henchmen and the State of Israel's soldiers are moral equals. They would have us accept that Saddam Hussein only needs more time to disarm. Such thinking can only be described as terribly misguided. And such thinking has serious consequences.

Despite our President's best efforts to avoid conflict, I fear that only war will lead to the end of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and to the beginning of a free Iraq. And action against Saddam Hussein is likely to be accompanied by a wave of terror against Israel. And the aftermath of the conflict is likely to be accompanied by a new round of European discussions about how Israel needs to make concessions for peace.

During this period, the U.S.-Israel alliance will be tested. And we need to be certain that the Europeans and others understand that America will never abandon our ally and friend. Fortunately, we have a President who will leave no doubt.

On June 18, 1940, Winston Churchill rose before the House of Commons and said the following:

"Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science."

My friends, the fanatics know that to defeat Israel would be to strike a crippling blow against the whole free world. In this way, the Israel of our day and the Great Britain of 1940 are remarkably similar.

In the weeks and months ahead, let us rededicate ourselves to our common mission, the defense of freedom.

And let us pray, as Abraham Lincoln did, that we receive that Divine Assistance without which we cannot hope to succeed, but with which success is certain.

I would like to end this evening by reciting with you the last portion of the Kaddish in remembrance of Colonel Ramon:

Oseh shalom beem'roh'mahv, hoo ya'aseh shalom, aleynu v'al kohl yisrael v'eemru: Amen

"He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace, upon us and upon all Israel." Now respond: Amen.