Sunday March 4, 2018
Lillian Pinkus: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome AIPAC President Mort Fridman. (Applause, music.)
Mort Fridman: Good morning. Thank you. And thank you, Lillian for those kind words. Lillian, you've always led with courage and commitment. AIPAC is stronger because of you. Thank you Lillian.
I'm inspired by the examples Lillian and Bobby and the entire board of directors have set. To all of them and to the wonderful AIPAC staff led by Howard Kohr and Richard Fishman, thank you for all you do.
This past year the AIPAC family lost an incredible leader, a past president and one of our most tenacious activists ever. Lonny Kaplan devoted his life to building the bond between the United States and Israel. Outside of his family, this cause was the most important endeavor in his world; and at a time when the pro-Israel movement needed to grow, it was Lonny's vision that made it possible. One of Lonny's deepest beliefs was the need to identify and cultivate the next generation of pro-Israel leadership. I'm proud to say this morning that his legacy will endure forever.
In honor of Lonny's vision, we are endowing the Lonny Kaplan Lay Leadership Institute.
This program will insure the resources necessary to train a select group of AIPAC's next generation of leadership. It will give future champions the chance to take part in educational seminars here and in Israel and it will deepen their understanding of our work and their personal connection to Israel. Gail, thank you for your commitment; and to you, and Shana and Josh, and your entire family, Lonny's example will continue to motivate all who are blessed to know him and further encourage all of us to safeguard the U.S.-Israel relationship for generations to come.
To my wife, Esther and to our children, Ari and Shoshana, Daniel and Talia, Michael and Elisheva, thank you. Thank you for your love, thank you for your support.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention our three grandchildren, Eliana, Ruth and Joey who I'm hoping are livestreaming this from their nurseries.
To my mom, Lillian, who is here with us, thank you for being the rock of our family.
My father, Reuvin, of blessed memory, lived to see my involvement with AIPAC and I take special satisfaction in knowing how proud he was of this organization's ability to empower our community, to strengthen the United States of America and to secure the future safety of the one and only Jewish state.
In the same way that I'm indebted to my friends, mentors and family for the foundation they've given me, I'm indebted to all of you for what you have built. And a special shout-out to the thousands of high school and college leaders who are here with us. You continue to fortify our movement and I'm so proud to be part of a community that includes you in it.
Today, I assume the presidency of an organization that is strong, motivated and determined to move forward and an organization that recognizes the need for more of us to be part of this work. You know, when I meet people who have never heard of AIPAC, I tell them what everyone here already knows, I tell them that we succeed, because we come together to shape policy, not to reinforce our nation's partisanship.
I tell them that we forge and maintain community in a time of disunity that simply and proudly, we are what is good about America.
It is precisely because of what is happening in America today that we need to continue to look to each other to help fortify this movement. Look, I don't want to minimize the challenges our country faces or what Americans are feeling. People are angry and hurting and frustrated and fed up. There's an impulse to walk away from politics, to retreat to partisan corners or to demonize the other side. Many of us have no doubt felt this way, but we cannot let those impulses win the day.
Politics is our vehicle. We must constantly remind ourselves about the need for political involvement; because no matter what, Congress will remain the place where critical decisions affecting America and Israel's security are made. We need to double-down on our bipartisan methodology – and without compromising one iota of our commitment to other issues that matter to us deeply. We must create the space to come together for the U.S.-Israel relationship.This is hard, I know, but very few things that matter in life are easy. So I want to request something of you. Take a look at the people around you, the person in the chair in front of you might be from the other party and the person in the chair behind you might not share your view about what's happening in the world; and frankly, there's a chance we might all disagree about many things. But look, we all braved this weekend's storm and took time away from work and school and our many involvements to be here. And we all want to make a difference to help keep America and Israel safe.
Here's the thing. Your political opposite can have conversations on Tuesday and throughout the year with other members of Congress that you don't meet with. You need their activism as much as they need yours.
Now, today isn't just about staring down the challenges of this moment, we must focus on the horizon, both the storm clouds and the opportunities. It's true that every country faces challenges, but think about it; what is unique about Israel is that the country faces so many dangers and all at once: Hamas terror tunnels to the south, up to 150,000 Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel from the north; and now Iran with a poisonous perch on Israel's border with Syria.
Add to that the growing instability throughout the region, the ongoing threat of terrorism, and the constant pressure on Israel from voices in the international arena. It means that Israel needs us. It means that Israel needs the United States.
And so to our friends in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, we thank you for your commitment and for your ongoing work to strengthen and deepen the ties between these two great democracies.
Thank you for working so hard to insure that Israel is never a casualty of partisan division, but rather the ally and friend that all Americans count on and treasure.
To President Trump and his administration, I want to say thank you for your commitment to strengthening the bonds between these two great nations.
And to my good friend, Jason Greenblatt, the president's Middle East envoy, thank you for working with the elected government of Israel and all her neighbors in the pursuit of a lasting peace agreement.
If we are going to be successful in our efforts to help keep Israel safe and secure, if we are going to continue to be effective in strengthening the bilateral relationship between these two great democracies, then we need more activists involved in this work. Simply stated, we need to grow – not for the sake of growing, but to stay ahead of trends we believe could negatively impact our mission.
For example, Congressional turnover and the skyrocketing costs of Congressional campaigns. Turnover on Capitol Hill is happening at an unprecedented rate. Listen to these numbers: In the last 10 years, out of 535 elected officials in the House and Senate, 471 of them are brand-new to office; and before a single ballot is cast in November, we already know that there will be at least 59 new members.
Where there is turnover, we need to build relationships. Where we see a loss of experience and knowledge, we need to be there to provide context, commentary and support. And as the costs of campaigns increases, the number of us involved in pro-Israel politics has to keep pace with the growing demand for limited resources.
In the last election, $4 billion went to Congressional races alone. We simply cannot be effective without more of us participating. You know, I'm incredibly proud that AIPAC remains a place where Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews unite in common cause.
But if we are to be successful long into the future, then we must reach out and embrace and involve many more Jewish Americans in our work. We, in this room, represent only a tiny fraction of our community. And while our AIPAC family looks more and more like the great mosaic that is America, we have much more to do to expand the number of AIPAC activists in the non-Jewish world.
And that is a very big world. To AIPAC members from the Christian, African-American, Hispanic-American and veterans communities, each of you carry with you a unique perspective and strength that are critical to our work together. We need your help to increase the number of activists in our movement and we need your help to insure that a strong Israel remains a core value that all Americans embrace.
To my friends in the Progressive community, I want you to know that we are partners in this project. The Progressive narrative for Israel is just as compelling and critical as the conservative one.
But there are very real forces trying to pull you out of this hall and out of this movement and we cannot let that happen. We will not let that happen.
We value your voice and our work together needs to grow. To each one of you, however you describe yourself, at AIPAC, your history, your stories, your passion and perspectives are needed to ensure an enduring U.S.-Israel bond now and for generations to come.
Like everyone here, my past continues to inform my actions and my decision to be part of this work. On November 2, 1943, my father's father, Mordecai Zvi Fridman was transported from the Riga Ghetto to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was murdered by the Nazis. Today, I carry his name. I carry his name into a new chapter in a life I'm blessed to live. I carry his name as I stand before you this morning. I carry his name as I meet with senators and the vice president of the United States and the prime minister of the Jewish state.
And on Tuesday, I carry his name up to Capitol Hill.
For each of us, our work is personal. It is about our story and the story we wish to write for generations who will one day carry our legacy, carry our names. We who have gone from the descendants of refugees, survivors, immigrants, slaves… to citizen lobbyists in the span of just one or two generations, we have the ability to change lives, to save lives with our work.
Opportunities to shape our world to make this life better for those we love. These possibilities exist everywhere – literally everywhere – and I believe you and I can continue to be the agents of change our world so badly needs, but only – only – when we approach each challenge and celebrate every success in the way that truly matters, together.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.