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Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a bipartisan Congressional Delegation to Poland and Israel to commemorate 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. The bipartisan delegation held a press conference today. Below is a full transcript:
Speaker Pelosi. Good morning, everyone. Last year, Members of Congress were invited by President Rivlin of Israel to join for the International Leaders’ Forum. Last week, I had the privilege of being with the distinguished bipartisan delegation to Auschwitz-Birkenau before proceeding to Israel to observe 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. That was the purpose of the observance in Israel: the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The delegation included many Chairs, and it was a very powerful delegation. Chair Nita Lowey of Appropriations Committee; Eliot – Chair Eliot Engel of Foreign Affairs; Chair Ted Deutch, Ethics Committee Chair and Middle East Subcommittee Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee; Congresswoman – Congressman Joe Wilson, Armed Services Committee, of South Carolina; Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Military Construction Subcommittee of Appropriations; Congressman Brad Schneider of the Ways and Means Committee. Both Congressman Brad Schneider and Congressman Ted Deutch are members of the Board of Trustees of the Holocaust Memorial.
So, as I say, we were invited to Israel, we decided that we would stop at Auschwitz on the way. At Auschwitz, we walked on a ground scarred by almost indescribable evil, where more than one million innocents were murdered, right there, much more than one million. We then – we were at Birkenau, as well, and saw the evidence of that horrific violation of civilized human behavior, the extermination of people. We then traveled to Yad Vashem, where we mourned the loss of millions, including 1.5 million children – 1.5 little children – killed in the most evil of atrocities.
Throughout our time in Israel, we were blessed to hear the testimony of survivors. While we met with survivors before we left, we met with survivors in Poland, in Krakow, after visiting Auschwitz, and we met with survivors, a number of survivors in Israel. Their message was this: never forget.
As Elie Wiesel said, ‘If we forget the dead, we will be killed – they will be killed a second time. If we forget, we are guilty – we are accomplices. The rejection of memory would doom us to repeat past disasters, past wars.’
The theme of the observance at Yad Vashem was ‘Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Anti-Semitism.’ We must always remember the horrors of the Holocaust, particularly now, as the forces of evil that led to it are re-awakening. And we must always fight anti-Semitism.
Yesterday, the House proudly passed the Never Again Education Act – Never Again Education Act. We must educate the world about what can happen when hate goes unchallenged and when oppression is met with indifference.
In the days and months to come, we must continue to take further action to ensure that the – that the lives of those lost in the Shoah continue to be a source of moral action to all. Commit it to memory – the Holocaust is committed to memory. Never again will we see the likes of it.
Now, I am very pleased to yield to the distinguished Chair of the Appropriations Committee, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, of the great state of New York.
Speaker Pelosi. As you can see, we’re very blessed with this great delegation. I’m particularly honored that it was nonpartisan. Thank you Joe Wilson for joining us and his wife Roxanne. That was lovely. And also, so many other leaders – other leaders in the House of Representatives.
I just wanted to read you just the – what the purpose – this is the invitation from President Rivlin of Israel. He said, ‘World leaders, who regularly convene to discuss economic, political and environmental issues, are now called upon to discuss a core moral issue of humanity. We have the ability to translate our best intentions into a tangible commitment to the memory of the Holocaust, as we are facing the challenge of the Holocaust remembrance without Holocaust survivors.’ So many of them have died, but the whole purpose was remembering the Holocaust, fighting anti-Semitism. That was our purpose.
And I want to thank Congresswoman Lowey, as Chair of the Appropriations Committee, for being a source of resources to help maintain and restore Auschwitz and Birkenau there. They may need more. She, with her leadership, we did that. That was fifteen million dollars then, and we had the Never Again Education Act yesterday, and then the resources that were placed to protect the places where she put – sorry, I got a cold on the plane.
My colleagues would be pleased to answer any questions you have.
Questions? Yes sir.
Q: My question would be for I think Chairman Engel or Speaker, or any of you who want to weigh in, but the President, today, unveiled today a peace plan –
Speaker Pelosi. Excuse me one second. We’d be happy to answer questions on that. Any questions on our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau or Yad Vashem? We’ll come back to you.
Q: I have a question about that. It’s related in a different way, regarding the Israel portion of your trip. Did you see anything? Did you encounter anything that made you think differently about the process for advancing Mid-East peace?
Speaker Pelosi. Any questions on our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau – Yad Vashem? It was a working visit. While there were many heads of state, we heard from them long – not saying long – intense program about what happened, the commitment of heads of state to make sure it didn’t happen again, prayers from survivors, beautiful presentations about all of it. So, again we had a purpose in going – and a purpose – and are prepared to fill that purpose as we come home to remember the Holocaust and to fight anti-Semitism. Did any of my colleagues want to say anything more about the visit? Okay. You go.
Q: I just wanted to know whether you feel like there’s any optimism to hold from the President’s Peace Plan that he announced today and whether any of you had any discussions directly with the White House on the plan?
Chairman Engel. Well, one of the expressions I like to use is the ‘devil is in the detail.’ We’ve seen the proposal. I haven’t looked at it extensively. There’s some good room for hope there. I support – I don’t want to put words in anybody’s mouth – but, I think we all support a two-state solution. A Jewish, democratic state of Israel and a Palestinian de-militarized state, living side-by-side in peace, but again I have to read the whole plan. What I’ve seen initially gives me some home, and I hope that it follows through and that we can try to bring an end to this horrific Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all. But, again, it’s the details that we – I have yet to see.
Speaker Pelosi. The second part of your question – first point, very important, and sticking with that, but asking about any communication with the White House, our distinguished Chair of the Middle East Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ted Deutch had that communication today. Ted.
Chairman Deutch. Thanks, Speaker. I attended a meeting today at the White House before the plan was released with Jared Kushner and some other House Members.
I’ve said throughout that the seriousness of this plan would be judged by whether it preserves the possibility of a two-state solution, whether it acknowledges that peace can only be achieved by direct negotiations between the parties and whether it contemplates those additional negotiations and whether it acknowledges both Israel’s security needs and Palestinian aspirations.
And based on the relatively brief conversation that we had this morning and some of the details that were laid out by the President, it seems like this is an effort that requires greater analysis and that I look forward to digging into. It is, as has been said, 80 pages, and we’ve not seen those yet. But certainly it seems to preserve that possibility of a two-state solution. The President spoke openly about the Palestinian state. He also spoke at length about meeting Israel’s security needs and from there, I believe and I hope the conversation can continue. And I hope that it does in fact lead to a negotiation between the two parties.
Speaker Pelosi. Your question, I want to follow up with your question to my colleague – this gentleman – Joe – this question related to ‘Did we see anything?’ Respond any way you wish.
Congressman Wilson. Well, actually, it was really encouraging. Our country was so well-represented with Speaker Pelosi, but Vice President Mike Pence gave a very stirring address, which – actually, a prelude to the plan that was released today. So, I hope people look back at the Vice President’s remarks, again, it was just inspiring how well-represented our country was at the forum in Jerusalem.
Chairwoman Lowey. I just want to add one other thing that’s relevant to the peace process, but also relevant to our trip. We have been funding groups in the West Bank and in Israel, where Israelis and Palestinians are working together, providing social services, providing training. And we had the opportunity to meet with about a dozen of those groups. And, to me, it’s really important to me – although it is, perhaps, not a major agenda as part of the peace plan – it’s really important when you see these groups – some of them are young people, some of them are middle-aged, some have been working on these issues of peace for their whole lives and they constructively work together, meet together. And one of them, which is an environmental group in the south of Israel, we’ve had the opportunity to fund for several years, so I look at everything that is significant in bringing people together. Sometimes they’re large peace plans, sometimes they’re groups that work together and learn to respect each other.
But, as someone who has been working on these issues for a very long time, I am always an optimist, and let’s be optimistic and hope it can lead to real peace where each individual has an opportunity to live their lives with dignity.
Speaker Pelosi. As I yield to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, are there any other questions in this regard or shall we stay with these two questions about Middle East peace?
Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz. Thank you, Madam Speaker. I’ll just add and reiterate that we do need to see the details, and the 80-page plan is certainly different than this summary that has begun to be circulated.
But one thing I think is important to underscore is no potential peace plan can move in any direction other than two states for to peoples living side by side in peace with security for Israel and the aspirations of the Palestinians being achieved. A peace plan cannot be imposed.
While whatever this framework does look like, it absolutely needs to be followed up by direct, bilateral negotiations between the two parties, because it really isn’t possible to achieve two states for two peoples, and that goal that we have been involved as a facilitator in the United States for so many years, without making sure that we return to direct, bilateral negotiations. That is the direction that we need to make sure this continues to go in.
Speaker Pelosi. This – do we have the two pages? These are the two pages that we received, and they do wet our appetite to see the full 80 pages. But it is – and there are some areas of common ground here that those of us have spoken out for a negotiated settlement, a two-state solution. I emphasize the word solution. But I associate myself with everything that has been said by my colleagues.
In December – this is the year of the 75th anniversaries, and in December, Madam Chair Wasserman Schultz, Mr. Chairman Deutch and a very big bipartisan delegation from the House, a big bipartisan delegation from the Senate, went to Belgium and Luxembourg for the 75th anniversary for the victory at the Battle of the Bulge. This was a decisive victory in World War II. And heads of state came, and it was historic in terms of celebrating that decisive battle that ended World War II. At the Battle of the Bulge, 19,000 Americans died. Why do I bring that up now? Because when we heard from the heads of state and this and that it was very dramatic, but our purpose was to go there and thank our veterans, just as our purpose in going to Israel was to honor the survivors. But this person who spoke for the veterans – the veteran who spoke for the Americans there, in his nineties, went to the podium, spoke about the band of brothers and the horrors of war and the advantage of multilateralism – beautiful speech. And at the end of the speech he said, ‘I don’t know if I should say this, but I will. I urge all of you to pray for peace.’ So, if there is a possibility of peace, we want to give it a chance.
So, let’s see what the rest of the 80 pages say. I hope the public statements that are being made now are consistent with what is in print. That’s what we’re eager to see. I hope that there will be respect to the Palestinians as they participate in the negotiations, and on the first read of these two pages, there appears to be a basis for negotiations.
So, let us be optimistic and hopeful and let us pray for peace.
Thank you all very much.
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