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At Religious Freedom Summit, Johnson, Others Condemn Antisemitism

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), Speaker of the House, condemned antisemitism and pledged protection for Israel and Jews everywhere.

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Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), Speaker of the House of Representatives

As the State Department weighs its options on the possible U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state after the war in Gaza, Speaker Mike Johnson and several other prominent human rights advocates called for a greater commitment to protect the Israeli and Jewish people from antisemitism and violence both here in the U.S. and abroad.

Johnson on Wednesday addressed the annual International Religious Freedom Summit, a bipartisan gathering of coalition leaders, nonprofits, and human rights activists supporting the right of all individuals worldwide to worship in the faith of their choice or not to worship at all.

“Sadly, the same antisemitism that led to the Holocaust is now being spread through new tools and once again rearing its ugly head,” the Louisiana Republican told the audience. “Since Hamas slaughtered thousands of Israeli citizens on October 7, we’ve seen a frightening and seemingly coordinated rise of antisemitism, including here on our own shores, and it’s been alarming.”

All those who value religious pluralism, he said, need to demonstrate their solidarity with the Jewish people.

“Now is the time, just a few days after Holocaust Remembrance Day, to stand without our Jewish brothers and sisters and recommit to the promise we made decades again – never again,” he said.

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Johnson made the remarks amid reports that the Biden administration is trying to create a pathway for the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a post-war strategy and is considering linking possible normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia as a first step to reaching that goal. Last fall, Saudi Arabia was moving closer to joining the Abraham Accords but had halted talks because Israel was refusing to make any gesture to the Palestinians. In the fall of 2020, The Trump administration announced that the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Israel had agreed to normalize relations.

Moments before Johnson spoke, Sam Brownback, a former senator and governor of Kansas who served as the ambassador-at-large for religious freedom in the Trump administration, introduced Johnson.

Brownback, who co-chairs the summit, reminded the crowd that Johnson spent several decades as a lawyer for the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a public interest law firm specializing in religious liberty cases and one of the summit’s sponsors.

“This is truly one of the most diverse and important meetings that happens in Washington, and I mean that sincerely,” Johnson said. “I devoted most of my adult life and my career to the defense of religious freedom. I believe it’s that important.”

The U.S. founders enshrined religious liberty as “our first freedom” in the Bill of Rights, he said.

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“These ideas come from the self-evident truth that men and women are created by God and that it is God, not the government, who gives us our rights,” he said. “

Johnson also called out several totalitarian regimes, including China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and North Korea, for egregious religious freedom violations, urging the State Department to take a tougher stance.

“If you’re going to restrict and torture people for their religion and beliefs, then you’re going to be a tyrannical regime,” he said.

On the flip side, economic prosperity grows when people are allowed to follow their own faiths, he said.

“Freedom flourishes where freedom is allowed,” he said. “And at this moment, the U.S. has an opportunity and an obligation to prevent genocide and punish those who commit it.”

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The speaker specifically urged the Biden administration to enforce U.S. sanctions provisions aimed at protecting Uyghur Muslims in China, millions of whom are detained in forced labor camps where they face sterilization, re-education, and torture. He also condemned China’s persecution of Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and underground Christian churches.

“We all know that Uyghur women are subjected to heinous violence,” he said. “I won’t bear to repeat it this morning.”

“As China makes its forced labor efforts harder to detect, we call on the Biden administration to fully enforce the letter and the spirit of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act,” he said.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, thanked Johnson for his remarks about countering antisemitism and spoke about how her Jewish heritage and values had led her to a life of public service.

“That’s why it’s so horrifying to see the resurgence of antisemitism around the world, and particularly here in the U.S.,” she told the summit Wednesday. “At this critical time, our world is in need of healing, but that should galvanize all of us to redouble our efforts to unite and advance the cause of international religious freedom and acceptance of others.”

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Katrina Lantos Swett, co-chair of the summit, condemned the Hamas terrorist attacks, describing the fallout as a “battle for civilization.” Lantos Swett is the daughter of the late Rep. Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to have served in Congress and long-serving champion of human rights. She now serves as president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

“There is no doubt about the fact that after October 7, the ground has shifted, and the mask was pulled off. We know there can be no equivocation, no contextualization, no effort to minimize its impact,” she said.

One day earlier, former Vice President Mike Pence pressed for a tougher U.S. stance on China, touting the Trump administration’s confrontations with Beijing, which he said resulted in increasing tariffs by $60 billion.

“I really do believe that the nature of our economic relationship ought to be tied to advancing the interests of our country with nations that share our core values,” he said.

Pence condemned Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s crackdown on Catholic priests and suggested that the U.S. should punish the regime by altering a U.S. trade agreement that benefits Nicaragua.

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“I believe the time has come for the United States to make it clear to Nicaragua that we will not tolerate action against, suppression of, church leaders and religious leaders in Nicaragua without consequence,” he said. Bishop Rolando Alvarez, who was sentenced in February 2023 to 26 years in prison for refusing to stop speaking out against the repressive government, was exiled and deported in early January. Eighteen other Catholic clergymen also were deported.

Earlier this week, Pence’s nonprofit advocacy group sent a memo to Congress pressing lawmakers to hold the Biden administration accountable for “actively hindering” Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

“Israel is fighting to ensure its existence,” the group wrote. “Meanwhile, the Biden administration is actively undermining Israel.”

“The war should end when her military goals are achieved, and not a moment sooner,” Pence said in a statement included in the memo.

During his remarks at the summit, Pence spoke more broadly about the Hamas attacks without mentioning Israel specifically.

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“I honestly believe that the great struggle that we have today is between freedom and tyranny, and at the heart of freedom is that freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion,” he said.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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White House/national political correspondent at | + posts

Susan Crabtree is a political correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Shepreviously served as a senior writer for theWashingtonFree Beacon, and spent five years asa White House Correspondent for theWashington Examiner.

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