WASHINGTON, April 27, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AJC presented its Congressional Leadership Award to Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) for his indefatigable efforts to combat worldwide anti-Semitism, rescue Soviet Jewry during the 1980s, and defend human rights.
"For 30 years, Chris Smith has been our friend, ally and a tireless advocate for human rights," said Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC Director of International Jewish Affairs, who presented the award tonight at the opening session of the AJC Global Forum.
Smith, serving his 16th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, currently is Chair of the House Subcommittee on Human Rights and Chair of the Helsinki Commission.
"I am especially grateful to receive the AJC Congressional Leadership Award from an organization that has made a huge, positive difference in the world," said Rep. Smith.
"Whether it be strengthening support for Israel or Jews worldwide, or confronting the Iranian threat, of pushing reconciliation in Sudan, or opposing the hypocrisy of Syria's all-too-serious bid to join the already discredited UN Human Rights Council, the American Jewish Committee has a record of unparalleled competence and accomplishment," Smith said.
Immediately following Smith's first visit to the Soviet Union, in 1982 during his first term in the House, he returned to Washington emboldened to lead efforts on Capitol Hill to press for the freedom of Soviet Jews.
His commitment to aiding Jewish communities worldwide continued after the collapse of the Soviet Union and mass emigration of Jews to Israel. In 1996, as Chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Human Rights, Smith organized and chaired a hearing on the "Worldwide Persecution of Jews."
As co-chair of the Helsinki Commission, a congressional body, Smith helped organize a hearing in 2002 on Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe.
"Smith's initiative 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, meeting in Berlin, a second conference—this time with a declaration of fifty-five countries, acknowledging the problem and committing themselves to address it," said Rabbi Baker, who also serves as the OSCE Chair's Personal Representative for Combating Anti-Semitism.
In another global initiative, Smith joined with his parliamentary colleagues from Canada, Germany, Israel and the United Kingdom to found the Inter-Parliamentary Committee to Combat Anti-Semitism, which held its first annual conference in 2009, and includes more than 250 parliamentarians from 46 countries.
"Solidarity fatigue and indifference enables the purveyors of anti-Semitic hate," Rep. Smith said earlier this year in Prague at an OSCE conference on anti-Semitism in public discourse. "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."
Throughout his years of service on Capitol Hill, especially on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Smith also has been a steadfast advocate for strong, cooperative U.S.-Israel relations and efforts to ensure a secure Israel living in peace with its neighbors.
AJC's Congressional Leadership Award is presented to members of the U.S. Congress, from both sides of aisle, who have exhibited a profound commitment to AJC values in supporting Israel, fostering democracy and combating anti-Semitism. The 2010 award was presented to Senator Robert Menendez (R-NJ) in recognition of his unwavering support of Israel and leadership on preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons.
SOURCE American Jewish Committee