By Paul Miller/JNS.org
Mark S. Kirk has been described by some as Israel’s best friend in Washington. A crowd of nearly 250 recently gathered at the Northbrook Hilton outside of Chicago to show their gratitude to the former Republican senator at an event sponsored by the political action committee To Protect Our Heritage.
First elected to Congress in 2000, he served Illinois’s 10th Congressional District before winning an open U.S. Senate seat in 2010. Throughout his time in both the House and Senate, Kirk was a staunch defender and advocate for the Jewish state. He has served in the U.S. Naval Reserves.
A vocal opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, Kirk never minced words over President Barack Obama’s harsh treatment of Israel and desire for detente with Iran. Kirk co-authored legislation to promote human rights and democracy in Iran as well as to strengthen and expand sanctions.
The Aug. 27 event featured two prominent guests attesting to Kirk’s achievements and leadership in Washington on behalf of Israel.
Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post, was the evening’s featured speaker. He opened his remarks by telling the senator, “I voted for you as many times as I could, in accordance to the law here in Chicago.” He added, “I wrote your name in for president of the United States. I was the guy who did that.”
Hoffman’s comments took a more serious tone when he voiced concern over America’s current divisiveness.
“When I grew up here in Chicago, I don’t remember people as they are in America today. I don’t believe people knew what ‘red state’ and ‘blue state’ was back then. Now, everybody knows; and everybody dislikes the people from the other states,” he said.
Hoffman continued, “I wish America would be more united again, and I’ve gotten to see enough that if there is one issue that still unites Americans, it’s Israel.”
Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told the audience, “I can think of no one more deserving of such an occasion than Mark. I’m lucky enough to call him a colleague—a personal friend whose advice and wisdom I continue to cherish. The bond that we have is one of brothers in arms. We are both military men who have fought in some of the world’s darkest corners. Mark understands what it is to risk everything for the sake of your country and for the sake of freedom.”
Referring to Kirk’s level of understanding of the conflict and the threats arrayed again the U.S. and Israel, Ya’alon remarked, “He gets it.”
Noting Kirk’s “genuine love for Israel,” Ya’alon reminded the crowd that the retired intelligence officer has done things for the Jewish state that still cannot be discussed publicly.
Rising from his wheelchair, Kirk, 57, grabbed his cane and walked to the podium. It was hard to discern that he had suffered a stroke five years ago.
Kirk made the crowd laugh and cheer as he recounted how he had checked into the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago under the name “Moshe Ya’alon.”
While the evening was more personal than political, Kirk took the opportunity to plug Jeremy Wynes, a GOP candidate for Congress in Kirk’s old district.
“The thing you need to know is that Jeremy was against the Iran agreement. His opponent, Congressman Schneider, was for the Iran agreement. And that’s all you need to know!” Kirk exclaimed.
In what can be described as the surprise of the evening, Kirk revealed his future plans, announcing that at the request of former Sen. Joe Lieberman, he will be joining United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-partisan, non-profit, pro-Israel advocacy organization.
In the immediate future, Kirk will be traveling with Ya’alon to New York to lobby the U.N. General Assembly against Iran. He also has penned an op-ed on the North Korea-Iran alliance that is slated to be published in the Chicago Tribune.
“A point that cannot be said often enough by our current administration—and a point I make in this op-ed in the Tribune—is that the missile program of North Korea and the nuclear program of Iran are the same program,” said Kirk. “When you send money to Iran, you’re basically sending money to North Korea’s biggest partner in the nuke and missile business. You cannot do that.”
The evening closed with remarks by Rabbi Victor Weissberg, co-founder of To Protect Our Heritage, who expressed his “love, respect and gratitude” to Kirk, worthy of “a 21-gun salute to honor you for your courage, your honesty, your dignity and your diligence.”
As attendee Sharyn Trachtenberg told the Haym Salomon Center, “[Kirk] has done wonderful things for Israel and to hear him speak, you can feel the love. It was beautiful.”
Paul Miller is president of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. He was granted exclusive media access to this event.