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Remarks at Anti-Defamation League

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Tuesday, May 9, 2000 (As delivered)

Thank you very much. Thank you, my friends. Thank you, Howard. Thank you very much.

That was really nice. And I thank you, Howard, for the warm introduction and also for the tireless work that you do on behalf of the ADL.

And to let me also be quick to add, that I know that I speak for all of us here today when I say that my hearts are with Abe Foxman (ph) and his wife, Golda. I wish Abe -- now I don't know if I'm pronouncing this right. You help me.

Refua shalama (ph). Is that right?


A full and speedy recovery.

It's great to hear these inspiring stories and indeed we have been allies and partners.

One of the ways you can find that out is by cataloguing the mutual enemies that we have. Some of the same groups and people have condemned the ADL and me in the same breath and the same sentence, which is one of the greatest honors I can possibly thank God.



And I am really grateful for it.

And, as some of you know, when I came home from Vietnam, almost 30 years ago, Tipper and I started our family in Nashville. Actually, next week we will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.


I'm very excited about that.

And we have four children and as of last summer, our oldest daughter and her husband made us grandparents for the first time, which is also very exciting. As many of you know, we had our grandson for the weekend and it was a great experience.


I learned even more fully the meaning of the advice that I have been given on grandparenting, and that is, that the best technique, evidently, is just to give that grandchild whatever he wants...


... and then if that causes any problems, give him back to his parents.

We gave him back to his parents on Sunday evening -- actually Monday morning.

But we started our family in Nashville, and, as many of you know, Nashville is the world capital of country music and the capital of songwriting of all kinds. And it's not just the music of the South, it is the music of America. And to prove it to you, let me just share with you the latest hit list from one of the many proliferating subgenres in country music, the latest top songs on the Jewish country and western song title list.

Number four this week is: ``I Was One Of The Chosen People Until She Chose Somebody Else.''


Number three this week is: ``The Second Time She Said Shalom, I Knew She Meant Goodbye.''


And number two on the list this week is: ``I've Got My Foot On The Glass, Now Where Are You?''


And number one, this week: ``Mamas Don't Let Your Ungrateful Sons Grow Up To Be Cowboys...


... When They Could Very Easily Just Have Taken Over The Family Business That My Own Grandfather Broke His Back To Start, And My Father Slaved Over For Years, Which Apparently Doesn't Mean Anything Now That You're Turning Your Back On Such A Gift.''


I really am happy to be back with the ADL. I feel right at home here.

Since your founding in 1913, you have been an angel on America's shoulder, summing us to our highest ideas. From your work to unmask klansmen in the 1940s to your fight against McCarthyism in the 1950s -- and incidentally, when my father went to the United States Senate, he had one request, Do not assign me to any committee that has Joe McCarthy on it -- to your efforts to monitor hate on the Internet today, in all these activities and over all these years, you have kept a watchful eye on extremism in every form.

My close friend, Ken Jerrin (ph), who was a regional head, I guess, in the Philadelphia area, has -- we've talked many times about the goals of the organization.

And I know also that you have never stopped working for a real and lasting peace in the Middle East; a purpose to work with you and you have made great strides and for which we hold great hopes.

For nearly nine decades now, the ADL has, therefore, worked to build new bridges of understanding and trust.

Today, I want to talk about how we can rededicate ourselves to that fundamental purpose here at home and around the world. Together we have an obligation, heavier now than at any time in the past, to create a future where liberty is genuinely indivisible, where we stand against every form of bigotry and hate, where we acknowledge and respect our differences so that we can finally transcend them.

I believe that we have the capacity for both good and evil. I believe that we have the God-given capacity to overcome evil with good. But I believe that one of the temptations that human flesh is err to is the temptation to act out of the fear of difference.

I believe that prejudice and bigotry are, in the analysis of Reinhold Neiber (ph) years ago, not just logical mistakes correctable by enlightenment. It's not just an error in thinking that can be dispelled by appeals to rationality.

I think it is. I think that bigotry is a mistake of logic. I think it is an error in thinking. But I think it is more than that.

I believe that our inherit capacity to be vulnerable to the temptation to do violence out of the fear of difference is one that we have to constantly be aware of and affirmatively deal with. Because what erupts in these episodes that take our breath away, is so frequently out of all proportion to the seeming trigger for the eruption of hatred and violence, a clue that it is coming from another more existential cause, and that the bigotry is really a trigger, a release valve that brings forth a very basic source of violence and evil.

And if that is the case then the appeals to logic are necessary, but insufficient. The kind of diligence that you bring to this task is essential.

I've spoken out of my own faith tradition in these last few thoughts, and in the part of that tradition that I share with many of you, I understand that last weeks Torah portion was from the Book of Leviticus, chapters that fall right in the center of the five books of Moses.

And I know that the ideas they express are found, not just at the physical center of the Torah, but also at the heart of its meaning. In that portion we are taught to do no injustice in judgment, and further to love your neighbor as yourself.

These teachings form the foundation of our shared tradition. They are at its heart; a responsibility to look out for one another, a commitment to equality and justice, an obligation to uphold tolerance and respect in all our endeavors. These are the values that are lifted up in our common definition of what it means to be an American.

Together we have achieved great things in America in the past seven and a half years, and I speak not just of the Clinton-Gore administration but, of course, primarily the American people. We are prosperous and at peace. America is safer than it has been in more than a generation. We are closing the gap between the rich and poor for the first time in two decades.

But you and I know we have to work much harder to close the gaps in the American spirit. It was just weeks ago, right before Yom Hashowa (ph), that the Bethel congregation had its windows shattered by gunfire, and the community of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, had its heart shattered by the murders of a Jewish woman, an African-American man, an Indian man and two Asian men.

In Illinois, last July, we saw a man, claiming to be an agent of God, take lives in the name of white supremacy.

In California, just a few weeks later, we saw a gunman target a Jewish day school and kill a Filipino postman, Joseph Ileto.

In Texas, we saw James Byrd dragged to his death, from behind a pickup truck, simply because of the color of his skin.

In Wyoming, we saw Matthew Shepard crucified on a split-rail fence, because of his sexual orientation.

Statistically speaking, a crime of hate will take place somewhere in America within the time that we are together in this room. A hate crime scars this country, every hour and 10 minutes of every day, 365 days a year. They target homes and houses of worship. They exempt no race, religion or region.

Some argue that hate crimes are no different from other crimes, yet all of the evidence is to the contrary.

Hate crimes are much more likely to involve assault; they are much more likely to be perpetrated against a complete stranger, because their very purpose is to marginalize, dehumanize and intimidate a whole group of people.

Yet with each one of these brutal acts of bigotry, we hurt the heart of America, of the faith that we are one people with common values and a higher vision.

Hate crimes are acts of violence, not just against the person, not just against individuals, but against our ideals. It is long past time for a national law to punish hate crimes and prevent them, once and for all.

I call for the passage of national hate crimes legislation...


... in this session of Congress. It is time.


There is still time for Congress to take action this year and the lobbying that you do on this issue can make the critical difference. We have to send an unmistakable message: If you commit a hate-crime, we will find you, we will punish you, that punishment will be swift, certain and severe. So let us stand together and work together and tell Congress to make the Hate Crimes Prevention Act the law of our land.

We have a great national responsibility to demand tolerance and nondiscrimination in our laws, but we also share a more personal responsibility, to nurture respect and tolerance in our own lives and in our own souls.

I believe in the words of Abe Foxman (ph) when he said, ``We have learned to walk on the moon, but we have not yet learned to walk together in harmony on the earth. We have eradicated small pox, but we have not eradicated the more persistent, pervasive, pernicious virus of bigotry. We have enacted laws prohibiting all forms of prejudice and discrimination but we cannot seem to implement their spirit.'' He added, and this has an ironically prophetic tone today, ``We have succeeded in healing the human heart by unblocking it, by bypassing it, even transplanting it, but we have failed to erase hate from it.''

We have to teach our children why ugly words and awful violence, why desecrated synagogues and bombed buildings wound us all, something that I know that your World Of Difference campaign is doing for millions already. And we have to understand why this issue speaks, not just to our values here at home, but also to our ideals around the world.

I believe in my heart that America has a destiny in world history. I believe that we have two sacred missions, one of which is often held up, the other of which is sometimes overlooked.

The first, well known to all Americans, is that our country strives to embody the principle that freedom -- religious, economic, political freedom unlocks the highest fraction of the human potential. It is the way we are intended to live our lives. It is our natural condition, and anything that interferes with it, is our natural enemy.

But I think that there is a second sacred mission that we sometimes don't describe in the same way, because of the pain in our own history, with slavery and the Civil War; with the legacy of discrimination against Native Americans, against Hispanics, against immigrants, against Jews, against Catholics, and that is that we have a mission to prove -- in fact, to be proof of the principle that men and women of different ethnic, religious, racial backgrounds and other distinctions cannot only get along together, but can genuinely ennoble one another and enrich our common purpose, by establishing absolute mutual respect for difference, appreciation for difference, understanding of difference; understanding of the unique suffering that has come about because of difference; understanding of the unique contributions that have come about because of difference.

And then on the basis of that broadly established mutual respect for difference, we transcend that difference to embrace the highest common denominator of the human respect.

All around the world there are people in places known and unknown, places like Chechnya and Northern Ireland and Negorno Keravack (ph), and places whose names have yet to enter our common lexicon, where differences that are sometimes seemingly slight, as the difference between Hutus and Tutsis, or Bosniacs (sic) and Serbs and Croatians.

Freud once spoke about the narcissism of slight difference. Just as Einstein taught that the most destructive power known on Earth is within the smallest space we know, the inside of the atom, the smallest differences sometimes unleash the most horrific violence.

And where that happens throughout our world, quietly and sometimes openly, they dare to dream that they could establish in their lands what they believe we have here in ours.

And just as we hold the standard of liberty high, we must also hold the standard of tolerance and diversity and respect for difference, e pluribus unum, as high as we possibly can, so that peoples who need hope for the human future can see that banner and in their hearts march toward it.

From the Middle East to Northern Ireland. from the worn-torn Balkans to East Timor, people across the world see in our country a reflection of their own great potential. Some dare not dream, because it aches their hearts. But even they know, or at least can dimly sense, the potential that they have, and they always will, as long as we give all our citizens, whatever their background, an opportunity to achieve their own greatness.

First and fundamentally, America must honor and uphold our values here at home. When the Confederate flag flies over a state capitol, it should concern us all. This is not complicated.


Speak out about it, it is wrong to remain silent about it.


We also have to uphold our values around the world. The ADL has always understood why domestic issues, like hate crimes legislation, and global causes, such as Middle East peace, are fundamentally linked.

How can we lead the nations of the earth toward peace and freedom and tolerance if we are not true to ourselves? And if we do not defend those principles in our own land and in our own lives, then how can we make our own ideas real if we do not work for them around the world?

We all applaud the verdict of the court in Britain against a falsifier of history, who claimed that the gas chambers of Auschwitz were fakes built as a tourist attraction, and then tried to put history itself on trial and give comfort to those who cloak themselves in hatred and denial. Thank God for the wisdom and the law on the side of the court which struck down that obscene set of claims by that awful falsifier.

We are strongly committed to the future of Israel, because that promised land is deeply connected to the American promise of freedom and self-determination. Even as we meet, the people of Israel begin their independence day celebrations. We join with them on this special day and we will always stand with them. I am for an unshakeable bond to strengthen the U.S.-Israel friendship and I always will be. I think it is important for what we stand for.


And we must be concerned when Iranian Jews are detained in Shiraz without a fair trial. The Iranian authorities assured the international community that due process would be served, but by denying access to international observers and the press, the government of Iran has cast grave doubts on the legitimacy of the proceedings and on the recent statements of the accused.

The United States will judge Iran by its actions, not by its assurances.

I want to make it clear that we will watch this case as a gauge for the pace and extent of Iran's reintegration into the international community.


Any system of justice afraid of public scrutiny is an engine of injustice.

The ADL knows the challenges are unceasing, because you have fought in the forefront of these causes for almost a century now. Your forceful advocacy is as critical today as it has ever been. We need it, because we need tougher laws against hate crimes here at home and because we need principle engagement abroad.

We also need to heed the words of Mahatma Ghandi when he said, We must become the change we wish to see in the world.

Elie Wiesel tells the story of the man who said, Look, I know how to bring about a change that will benefit the whole world. But the whole world is a huge place, so I will begin with my country. I don't know my whole country, though, so I'll begin with my town. My town has so many streets, I'll begin on my own street. There are so many houses on my street, I'll begin in mine. There are so many people in my house, I'll begin with myself. And so, says Wiesel, you begin with yourself.

The United States of America is grateful that the ADL has been a torch bearer of liberty and tolerance across all these years. We are grateful for your witness and your work on so many of the most fundamental issues.

In the words of Abe Foxman (ph), Let's not throw up our hands, let's roll up our sleeves.

And you tell him that if he misses other meetings, we'll quote him even more.


And together I know that we can change hearts, we can change minds, and we can build that more perfect union that our founders envisioned to be a model for all human kind.

Thank you and God bless you. Thank you very much.



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