U.S. Sens. Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, joined about 75 Jewish community leaders and organizational representatives for a roundtable discussion on the current crisis in the Middle East, Monday.
“I support Israel in defending its borders,” Bond told the standing-room group in the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building’s board room. “The Hezbollah attack from Lebanon was clearly aimed at destabilizing the region and putting additional pressure on Israel. I think the Israeli response to Hezbollah’s incursion is right on. Israel is totally within its rights to go after its captured soldiers.”
Dr. Heschel Raskas, president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, welcomed Sens. Bond and Hatch, who were introduced by Sam Fox, a local community leader who is the current national president of the National Republican Jewish Coalition. Raskas praised the work of the Jewish Community Relations Council for its “exemplary work in helping our Jewish community respond to this crisis.”
Bond, who is serving his fourth term as U.S. senator from Missouri, is a former two-term governor of the state.
In his remarks, Bond said he was “eager to get the views of the Jewish community on the current crisis in the Middle East. I want to assure you that all Americans are deeply concerned over the crisis. On June 25, despite Israel’s complete evacuation from the Gaza Strip, the terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel and kidnapped a soldier and killed others. Then on July l2, even though Israel had completely withdrawn from Lebanon in 2000 to the satisfaction of the United Nations, Hezbollah attacked Israel, kidnapping two more soldiers. Both Hamas and Hezbollah have fired over l,000 rockets on Israeli towns.
“We all know that Hamas has fired l,000 Qassem rockets from Gaza and Hezbollah has fired Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon. We cannot help but see the evil hands of both Syria and Iran in the current conflict, since those regimes support both terrorist groups, especially Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is practically Syria’s proxy,” Bond said.
Bond praised President George W. Bush for having “not flinched in standing up to the terrorists and their Syrian and Iranian supporters, and for supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.”
In his remarks, Hatch, who is not Jewish, showed the attendees the mezuzzah he wears. “I wear a mezzuzah and have one on my office door to remind me every day what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust and of the importance of supporting our friends in Israel.”
Hatch described the crisis as “extremely serious. These are trying times. I cannot imagine a nuclear Iran with its fanatic president who has said Israel should be wiped off the map. I was one of the few senators back in l98l who supported Israel taking out the Iraqi nuclear plant in Osirik, but the situation in Iran is very different. Iran has its nuclear facilities spread over a wide area and deeply buried under ground.
“No responsible nation can fail to defend Israel in this crisis,” Hatch continued. “Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah for no good reason at all. I have absolute support for what Israel is doing to defend itself and to get back its soldiers. Our government, in contact with others, is doing everything it can to resolve this crisis diplomatically.”
Both Bond and Hatch, who serve on committees with access to sensitive intelligence, declined to comment in detail on behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in the Middle East. Both senators said they believed there was a link between Hezbollah’s timing to its attacks and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and Iran’s refusal to respond to diplomatic suggestions for ending its enrichment of uranium believed to be part of a program to develop nuclear weapons. Raskas expressed appreciation to “both Sen. Bond and Sen. Hatch for their strong support of Israel in this crisis and for hosting this informative roundtable.”