Minority Leader of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) addressed the crowd on the last day of the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. In her speech, she covered a lot of ground, from her family’s longtime commitment to Israel — referring to her father as a “Shabbat goy” — to her support, and that of many of her colleagues, for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She mentioned anti-Semitism and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the Iranian challenge and her abiding respect for the late President Shimon Peres. She also described the creation of the state of Israel as “the greatest political achievement of the 20th century.”
The transcript of Rep. Pelosi’s speech, as provided on the AIPAC Policy Conference website, appears below.
Tuesday March 28, 2017
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
Please welcome House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Good morning, everyone. It is such an honor to be here with your President Lillian Pinkus. Thank you, Lillian for your leadership of AIPAC. Women have done so much in leadership in AIPAC, former President Amy Friedkin. Thank you for your friendship and for your leadership and your continued leadership on so many issues. Cissie Swig from California — anybody here from California? I thought so. I learned a lot about AIPAC from its start from Cissie Swig and also from Naomi Lauter. Anybody here from San Francisco?
Every year the AIPAC Policy Conference shows the strength and the vitality of the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel. This year 18,000 strong activists and community leaders of diverse experience, young and old, Jewish and otherwise, Democratic and Republican, many voices speaking to one mission.
Let us all recognize the future leaders of our nation. I understand about 4,000 students are here. Let’s acknowledge the students that are here. I want to especially, once again, acknowledge the delegation from my home State of California don’t be shy and my native State of Maryland. Anybody here from Maryland? As I bring up the State of Maryland, I want to say something about how I was introduced to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Before I was even born, my father was in the Congress of the United States, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. He was a—okay, let’s hear it for dad — he was, as a little teenager, a Shabbat goy. So he spoke Yiddish. So as he grew up in that — and he was an orator, he was a great speaker and all the rest and he had a love for the idea of a Jewish state in what was then called Palestine. So when he was older and he went to Congress, this was one of his big issues.
He worshiped at the shrine of Franklin Roosevelt. He was a New Deal Democrat. He worshiped at the shrine of Franklin Roosevelt, but he disagreed with him on two very strong points. One was on the treatment of Jewish people in Europe that he wanted to call more attention to, and the second one was the establishment of a Jewish state in what was then known as Palestine.
He was part of something called the Bergson Group. Now, some of you know this, some of you Marylanders, since — and we’ve shared this thought at other times — but I just want you to know that this support for U.S.-Israel relationship is kind of in the DNA of our family even before the establishment of the State of Israel. He went on to become the mayor of Baltimore and support all of that.
My brother would become the mayor of Baltimore and he supported the State of Israel and U.S.-Israel relationship as well and has a, they say, stadium. I don’t know if that means playing field, whatever, in Haifa named for him, Thomas D’Alesandro III. But one of the things that I think is so remarkable as I look back at my father, part of this Bergson Group that went around, they had pageants and parades and rallies. Here he was, this orator, speaking in Yiddish about the cause.
When he was on the floor of Congress in June 22, 1942, he rose to speak about the State of Israel and he said, “Mr. Speaker, as a member of the committee for a Jewish Army, I speak to you on behalf of 200,000 fighting men who, by divine destiny” — then he goes on to say that they are fighting for the establishment of the State of Israel.
So this was really a big deal for all of us. So while I do not have — cannot boast of — Jewish grandparents, as other speakers have and will and how fortunate they are, I do have my father’s devotion and my brother’s devotion to the cause, which is part of our family tradition, and I do have to boast of my Jewish grandchildren.
I think I have the most of anyone in Congress, I’m not quite sure, but they’re adorable, you might expect me to say. The U.S.-Israel partnership — let’s hear it for my grandchildren. The U.S.-Israel partnership is special, because our partnership is rooted deep in our shared vision and values. Both of our nations are invigorated by entrepreneurship, by immigration and by ideas. We treasure that. Both of our nations have entrepreneurship at our core.
We treasure it in America, our founders advocated it and we are constantly dazzled by the Israeli entrepreneurship that has made the deserts blossom. When Prime Minister Netanyahu last visited the Capitol a few weeks ago, he spoke with rightful pride that Israel stands at the forefront of innovation. In particular, he mentioned driverless cars technology, Israel in the lead. Both of our nations, in addition, are ceaselessly invigorated by our immigrants, the constant renewal of newcomers who bring their hopes and their aspirations to our shores.
And most of all, our connection is unique, because both of our nations are more than soil and people. At their soul, our nations are ideas and ideals. The United States of America, an idea now centuries old, the modern State of Israel, young in age, but the dream of millennia. By democracy, our history and our future we are bound together forever.
It is my firm belief that the establishment of the State of Israel — and you’ve heard me say this at other AIPAC meetings — the 20th Century had some horrible -isms, terrible things were done to people, but it is my firm belief that the establishment of the State of Israel is the greatest political achievement of the 20th Century, this great beacon. Today we are called upon to sustain and advance this achievement in the 21st Century and to fulfill the vision of a just and lasting peace.
In recent years, our nations have witnessed new threats, new barbarism and sophistication from those who mean to do us harm. We must be relentless in our fight against terrorists in the United States, in Israel, wherever the threat exists. Remember, the goal of terrorists is to terrorize, to instill fear. We must not let that fear destroy our nation’s character. As we protect the American people, we must also protect and defend our Constitution. That is our oath of office.
We come together in the aftermath of an election that has left our country divided, but our democracy is strong and God is always with us. Our faith tells us that we have not done enough to rid our nation of the poisonous attitudes we are witnessing now, a presidential campaign where hate speech went unchallenged, an atmosphere that had emboldened anti-Semites to desecrate Jewish cemeteries, hate crimes continuing to increase, white supremacists and the alt-right feel empowered and connected to the White House.
That is unacceptable. With many voices and one mission, elected leaders and community activists must condemn anti-Semitism and other bigotry in all forms. Because hatred against Jews and other minorities in the United States and around the world, there’s a campaign to delegitimize Israel and that all flows from the same cancerous ideologies. One of the people who always inspired our strength in this fight against hate was the great Shimon Peres.
Peres was one of the world’s greatest statesman for all time a soldier and a peacemaker, a founding father of Israel who inspired the world. I had the privilege of being invited to go to his funeral as part of President Obama’s delegation. There are few honors one could receive than to be included and going to Shimon Peres’ funeral. If there ever was a man with clear eyes about the risk of a dangerous neighborhood and what the people of Israel have endured, it was he.
I remember the challenge of the words he spoke in the Capitol at the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony in 2014. He said, “Finding a way forward is hard, but we must not lose hope.” And he continued, “There is no better solution than two states for two peoples a Jewish state, Israel and an Arab state, Palestine.” He said, “If we are to preserve the beautiful dream of Israel for a new century and beyond, we must continue our pursuit of this goal.”
I say this is the way to continue Israel’s proud character, Jewish, democratic and secure. And to that end I know that I was invited — when I received the invitation to be here today, I took great personal pride in receiving it and great pleasure in accepting the invitation, but I know I wasn’t invited just because I was a supporter of Israel as a member of Congress, I was invited, because I was the House Democratic leader.
And in that regard, I want to read you a letter from my colleagues in the House signed by around 191 House members, a couple Republicans, 189 Democrats. I might read it off my phone, which I think might be clear, but let me begin here. “As strong supporters of Israel, we write to urge you to reaffirm the” — oh, it’s to dear Mr. President, did I tell you that? “Dear Mr. President, as strong supporters of Israel, we write to urge you to reaffirm the United States’ longstanding bipartisan commitment to supporting a just and lasting two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“For decades, American presidents and Israeli prime ministers of all political parties have publicly supported and worked toward attaining a peace agreement that recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a democratic Jewish state and establishes a demilitarized Palestinian state coexisting side by side in peace and security. Today we remain convinced that a two-state solution is the only outcome that would quell ongoing incidence of violence, maintain Israel as a secure Jewish and democratic state and provide a just and stable future for the Palestinians.
“It is our belief that a one-state outcome risks destroying Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, denies the Palestinians’ fulfillment of their legitimate aspirations and would leave both Israelis and Palestinians embroiled in an endless and intractable conflict for generations to come. Leadership from the United States is crucial at this juncture. We must ensure that a comprehensive agreement between the two parties is not imposed and oppose unilateral actions by either of the two parties that would push the prospects for peace further out of reach.
“To that end, we stand ready to help facilitate an environment that fosters the resumption of direct peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in order to achieve a viable, lasting and mutually agreed upon two-state solution. Sincerely.”
It was organized by David Price and Jerry Connolly signed by 191 members of Congress, 189 Democrats. I wanted to read you the letter directly, because I wanted you to hear it as written, not out of context, and I wanted to read it to you in the spirit of strong support for a Jewish secure and democratic Israel — an Israel that recognizes the dignity and the security of both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
That is the Israel we know and love. As friends, allies and advocates for Israel, that is the future we must continue to champion. And what people sometimes say to me, the United States is so overwhelmingly partial to Israel in this discussion. I say, yes, of course, we have been friends for a long time, we have shared values, and we are friends. So we don’t want to interfere in the negotiation, impose anything, but we do share the values of a secure democratic Jewish Israel.
That is why I hope we can come together on efforts to oppose boycott, divestment and sanctions. We must. That is why we must come together on efforts to counter the Iranian ballistic missile threat, building on the Obama Administration’s leadership and imposing unilateral sanctions more than a year ago. And I want to commend the Obama Administration for its support of sharing intelligence and making sure, in a stronger way than ever before, that Israel has a qualitative advantage in its military capabilities.
We must stand united in opposition to Iran’s support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other regional proxies’ aggressions. Today I want to say thank you to all of you, not only for your commitment to the U.S.-Israel partnership, but for championing the foreign aid dollars that alleviate poverty, eradicate disease and promote peace. AIPAC has been a champion in doing that.
Last week I had generals visit me in my office, generals, in advocating against the 30 percent cut to our diplomatic budget in the president’s budget blueprint. They said, and we know, we owe it to our men and women in uniform to avoid conflict. We know that it’s important for us to build bridges of confidence with countries. We know it is important that issues like PEPFAR — that’s the spread of an AIDS drug that President Bush took such pride in.
We worked with him in issues like that build confidence in our relationships in countries, make friends. We owe it, again, to our men and women in uniforms to avoid conflict, but when we have to go, we need to have friends to do so. As General Mattis testified recently, he said, if you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition. That’s just not what we should be doing as we allocate our resources.
Foreign aid for Israel is sacred, we know that. That is sacred. But the president’s budget cuts would devastate U.S.’s leadership in the region and around the world. Today your voices and wisdom are more important than ever and I know that you will be storming the Hill shortly after these sessions. Together we will ensure that the unbreakable friendship between the United States and Israel is forever — a friendship dedicated to peace, to justice, to a future of success for all.
On behalf of my colleagues in the House, I say thank you, AIPAC, for inviting me to join you, but more importantly, for advancing the cause of a thriving U.S.-Israel relationship. Together our work will continue, our alliance will grow deeper, the friendship between the United States and Israel will stand strong now and forever.
May God bless Israel; may God bless the United States of America; may God bless you all. Thank you so much. Thank you.