Congressional Leadership Award Presentation to Rep. Chris Smith
Presentation Remarks by Rabbi Andrew Baker
April 27, 2011
Chris Smith’s youthful energy belies the fact that he is a veteran Member of Congress now serving his 16th Term. As a tireless advocate for human rights, he has been a friend and ally of AJC and our Jacob Blaustein Institute throughout these decades.
In 1982 Chris made his first visit to the Soviet Union. He witnessed the state-sponsored anti-Semitism that kept some Jews imprisoned and prevented others from emigrating. On his return he helped lead efforts to press for freedom for Soviet Jewry.
During his time in Congress, Chris has been a stalwart supporter of Israel. In 2006 when Israel was forced to battle Hezbollah on its northern border, Chris Smith authored legislation to transfer surplus US weaponry and to extend billions in loan guarantees to the Jewish State.
As Louis Marshall understood a century ago, our true allies in would be found in Congress.
When the Wall fell we celebrated. But hatred of Jews did not disappear. The old populist anti-Semitic tropes—blood libels and conspiracy theories—returned.
Fifteen years ago Chris chaired the Human Rights Subcommittee and convened a hearing on the “Worldwide Persecution of Jews.”
This is what Chris had to say:
The situation of Jews in the former Soviet Union is particularly important, not only because the struggle for the freedom of Soviet Jewry was among the finest hours of the American people, but also because the story could still have a bad ending. There has been a tendency in recent years…to feel that we can now relax. Unfortunately, the free world has a long history of relaxing too soon.
In this last decade we witnessed a resurgence of anti-Semitism—beginning at the UN Conference on Racism in Durban, continuing with attacks on Jewish targets in Europe, and an anti-Israel animus that is itself a new form of anti-Semitism.
As Co-Chair of the Helsinki Commission, Chris organized a hearing on Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe. It led to the first official conference on anti-Semitism ever mounted by an international governmental organization, the OSCE, in Vienna in 2003, and a year later a second conference in Berlin—this time with a declaration of fifty-five countries, acknowledging the problem and proposing steps to address it.
The battle against anti-Semitism is longer and harder than many people imagined it would be. Last month, the OSCE again took up the subject at a conference on anti-Semitism in public discourse in Prague. Chris was there with these words:
Solidarity fatigue and indifference enable the purveyors of anti-Semitic hate. Each of us must recommit and redouble our efforts particularly in monitoring, reporting, and vigorous prosecution of anti-Semitic crime and enhanced protection of Jews and Jewish institutions. And we must seek ways to expand ownership of this issue by encouraging more people to get involved.
Those of us who live in Washington know this can be a very partisan town, but we are fortunate that we can find true allies on both sides of the aisle.
The change in the House has brought Chris Smith forward once again—as Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and Chair of the Helsinki Commission. This is reassuring leadership in still difficult times, leadership in the continuing struggle against anti-Semitism.
It is my distinct honor now to present Rep. Chris Smith with AJC’s Congressional Leadership Award.