Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, former Director of Central Intelligence and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power address audience
On Thursday, October 31, over 1000 people gathered at New York City’s Grand Hyatt Hotel to attend the much awaited centennial conference of the Anti-Defamation League. The conference that ran through Saturday, November 2, included an impressive array of prominent political and academic personalities including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, former Director of Central Intelligence and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.
“As we mark our 100th anniversary and look back over ADL’s accomplishments through the years, we are all too aware that the anti-Semitism that spurred the creation of the League is still with us today, though in different forms and intensity,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.
A century ago, in 1913, Sigmund Livingston, a visionary attorney from Chicago brought together a group of prominent Jewish leaders to form a mechanism to fight back against the anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry and discrimination then rampant in society. Thus, with a $200 budget and two desks in his Chicago law office, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was born.
Since its modest beginnings in Chicago, the League has grown in size and influence into a national organization with 30 regional offices. It has played a leading role in the fight against anti-Semitism, led the charge for stronger hate crimes legislation, and has brought racists and anti-Semites out of the shadows.
“Sigmund Livingston would be proud of how much we have accomplished, and yet he would likely agree that our work is far from finished, and that anti-Semitism remains a current event as much as it is a part of history,” said Mr. Foxman.
“As ADL moves forward into its second century, we recall the thousands of tough issues on which we’ve taken a stand and spoken out, the programs and actions we’ve created to confront bigotry and hate, the multitude of people whose lives we’ve affected,” said Barbara B. Balser, ADL Centennial Chair. “Yes, ADL has changed the world and will continue to do so. Imagine . . . mutual respect and acceptance for each other . . . these are ADL’s building blocks for a world without hate.”
ADL Honorary Centennial Chairs include: Madeleine K. Albright, Harold Burson, U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, Henry Kissinger, Rep. John Lewis, the Hon. Frederico Peña, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Hon. George P. Shultz, Diane von Furstenberg and Professor Elie Wiesel.
Taking the podium in the afternoon hours on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power promised attendees that she would “oppose every example of anti-Israeli bias in the UN system.”
Appointed to the position by U.S. President Barack Obama in June, she took office three months ago.
“I have made it a priority – in the spirit of the remarkable lineage that I am now part of, the spirit of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the spirit of Richard Holbrooke and the spirit of my recent predecessor Susan Rice, among others — to oppose every example of anti-Israeli bias in the UN system,” Power said.
Her pledge came after some Jewish groups opposed her nomination because of comments she made about Israel, but Jewish allies, including Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and ADL National Director Abe Foxman, with whom she has a close relationship, rigorously defended her.
“I am personally deeply committed and have personally engaged our European colleagues about expanding regional and thematic groupings to end the continuing discrimination against Israel in the UN system; that discrimination is not right and it must end,” Power said. “As President Obama has affirmed in every General Assembly appearance, the United States will combat any effort to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as a full and equal member of the community of nations,” she added
“On my watch, we will push ceaselessly for the further inclusion of Israel in regional groups. We will demand objectivity in resolutions affecting Middle East peace. After all, it is not the UN’s job to pre-judge issues that can only be addressed through direct negotiations between Israel and her Arab neighbors. And there is no basis to exclude Israel from full participation in the United Nations system.”
“In a forum such as the UN’s Human Rights Council, that means insisting that we fight to prevent Israel from being singled out and that we push the Human Rights Council to start doubling down on the globe’s truly egregious violators of human dignity. It also means working with our Israeli colleagues to facilitate and make known the Jewish state’s many contributions to global progress in such areas as agricultural technology, science, the empowerment of women, and the fight against dirty diamonds,” she said.
Power applied her experiences in covering war crimes in Bosnia and genocide in Rwanda to the Jewish experience in the Holocaust, then to ADL’s mission of fighting hate crime.
“Remembrance is part of our agenda, too, which is why I am pleased to announce that the UN has agreed to make available to us a full copy of its War Crimes Commission Archives for transfer to Washington and the Holocaust Museum. This transfer will be of considerable benefit to scholars at a time when Holocaust denial is embraced by many who prefer diversionary fantasies to inconvenient facts,” she said.
In his remarks on Thursday evening, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed concern that several states were refusing to issue Department of Defense ID cards, and the benefits that come with them, to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities in violation of the states’ obligations under federal law.
Secretary Hagel sharply criticized those states that were defying the Pentagon on issuing the ID cards and announced he had directed the chief of the National Guard Bureau to take immediate action and meet with Adjutants General from those states where benefits are being denied to ensure that all comply with the new policy. The Pentagon says 114 Army and Air National Guard sites in nine states are not providing benefits to eligible same-sex couples.
"It is troubling that several states are refusing to issue ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "The country should have only one law when it comes to same-sex partners of our brave men and women in uniform. We welcome Secretary Hagel’s leadership on this issue, and his affirmation that same-sex families are entitled to all the benefits and respect accorded to all service members."
In his address, Secretary Hagel also discussed United States’ commitment to Israel’s security. Calling Israel’s self-defense capabilities and its qualitative military edge “central to both Israel and U.S. security interests,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced tonight that Israel will buy six V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for its air force.
“Israel will get six V-22s out of the next order to go on the assembly line, and they will be compatible with other Israeli defense force capabilities,” Hagel said. “The Israeli and American defense relationship is stronger than ever.”
With Afghanistan -- the second of America’s two longest wars -- winding down, Hagel said, “we continue to face a complicated and volatile world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Middle East, where the United States and our allies are facing an unprecedented set of complex challenges.”
For Israel, the secretary noted, progress with one neighbor tends to bring new threats from other directions. “There are no margins for Israel,” he said.
One challenge that threatens U.S. and Israeli security interests is preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Hagel said.
“Iran is a state sponsor of terror, responsible for spreading hatred and extremism throughout the region,” the secretary said. “But foreign policy is not a zero-sum game. If we can find ways to resolve disputes peacefully, we are wise to explore them.”
Ridding the world of hatred takes more than just work, imagination and songs, Hagel told his audience; it also demands commitment, sacrifice, and courage.
“It demands that we must continue to march our armies of tolerance, equality, and justice around the globe.” Hagel said. “And it demands that we remember the timeless questions of Rabbi Hillel: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?’”
Hagel advocated for exploring more ways to resolve disputes, and tried to soothe audience members concerned that diplomacy would lead nowhere.
“Engagement is not appeasement, nor is it containment,” he said. “We know what those are, we know where they lead, and we will not pursue them. And President Obama has repeatedly made clear that words are not enough. Action must match words.”
The ADL also bestowed honors to former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as he was presented with the ADL William and Naomi Gorowitz Institute Service Award in recognition of his commitment to protecting America’s security.
The award recognizes outstanding achievements in the fight against terrorism, extremism and injustice. Mr. Panetta was honored for his lifetime in public service and his commitment to preserving the nation’s highest security standards.
“Leon Panetta has given much of his life to public service, and has left an indelible mark in the fight against terrorism and extremism,” said Mr. Foxman in presenting the award. "We could think of no better honoree on our Centennial than the man who presided over not only the attack and disruption of Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden but who shepherded through historic changes to civil rights and opportunities here at home. We honor him not only for protecting America’s security but for being a warrior in the fight for American ideals and the American dream.”
The award given to Mr. Panetta was also presented by Alan Gerry, who along with the ADL, created the ADL William and Naomi Gorowitz Institute to honor the memory of his late parents.
“ADL fights for the very purpose of our democracy and that makes you American patriots,” Mr. Panetta said in accepting the award. “Thank you for what you have done for America and for what you have done for the world.”
Prior to his role as secretary of defense and director of central intelligence, Mr. Panetta spent 10 years co-directing the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, which seeks to instill young men and women with the values of public service. He was chosen to be member of Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan congressional committee established to conduct an independent assessment of the Iraq war. Mr. Panetta was the chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and represented California’s 16th Congressional District from 1977 to 1993.
The ADL William and Naomi Gorowitz Institute on Terrorism and Extremism advances the fight against terrorism through education and advocacy by providing timely information, cutting-edge training and educational opportunities to the law enforcement community. The Institute assists law enforcement by providing resources for tracking extremists and terrorists across the United States.
Past recipients of the award have included: former U.S. Homeland Security Directors Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano; former CIA Director George Tenet, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Warning of a possible US strike on Iran, Mr. Panetta told the ADL audience that while the US has “implemented unprecedented sanctions and pressure on Iran, we may very well have to use military force to back up our policy.”
According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, Panetta said the US needs to “maintain a healthy skepticism” when negotiating to suss out Iran’s true level of commitment to negotiations over its nuclear program. “It is the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei who is key, and he is not likely to give up uranium enrichment,” Panetta warned. “We have to remain strong. We have to remain consistent.”
Panetta placed strong emphasis on his belief that the US has “no friend, no better ally in the world than Israel,” but he expressed concern over the “growing sense of isolationism in this country [the US]” over the last 10 years of fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the shifting power dynamics among world leaders, according to The Jerusalem Post.
“The fact remains that we live in a very dangerous world,” he said. “We continue to have threats from North Korea as they test nuclear weapons. We have instability and fragility in the Middle East. All of this happens at a time when we are imperiled by gridlock in Washington.”
Panetta said the national security state is threatened by political activity challenging the establishment. “If you ask me what biggest threat to national security is today, it is fact that our political leaders cannot come together to deal with this nation’s problems. This is time when must maintain military strength and our role in the world as a world leader. We cannot retreat from the responsibilities that US has in theworld today.”