Op-ed: Even those who see Obama as hostile to Israel have to admit he went all the way in his expressions of affection during a ceremony marking the International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC.

US President Barack Obama could have easily picked any stage he desired for his Wednesday speech marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but he chose the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. Some of his advisers thought it wasn’t a good idea to give the honor to his host, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who went behind the president’s back last year and organized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau’s anti-Iran-deal speech in Congress.

Obama decided to take Dermer’s invitation, despite his advisers telling him it could be interpreted as him giving Dermer and Netanyahu a reward for undermining him for a prolonged time while he was attempting to reach a historic agreement between the West and Iran.

Obama, during the speech. "America’s commitment to Israel’s security remains." (Photo: Getty Images)
Obama, during the speech. “America’s commitment to Israel’s security remains.” (Photo: Getty Images)


Dozens of people sat in the embassy’s Jerusalem hall when the middle door opened. Without any introduction, the president entered the room accompanied by Ambassador Dermer. Obama sat in the front row beside film director Steven Spielberg, his good friend. Spielberg was the one who introduced Obama before his speech, and said that Obama had the soul of a Jew.

During the ceremony, in which medals and Righteous Among the Nations titles were given, Obama gave one of his most powerful speeches in opposition to anti-Semitism, managing to appeal to the audience’s emotional side when he said “We are all Jews,” and, “We gather to honor the newest of the Righteous Among the Nations and make real the call to ‘never forget.’” The President also took the opportunity to repeat the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security.

Washington’s right-wing, as well as Jewish organizations affiliated with the right, felt like Obama had abandoned Israel when he quickly signed the deal with Iran. There were even those who blamed him of deeply hating the Jewish state.

That night, at the embassy, even the most skeptical of observers had to admit that Obama went all the way with showing his affection to the State of Israel and the Jews of the world. It was a speech with a resounding message, and highly emotional.

Ambassador Dermer and Vice President Biden. (Photo: Shmulik Almany)
Ambassador Dermer and Vice President Biden. (Photo: Shmulik Almany)


“Here, tonight, we must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise,” said the president, “We cannot deny it. When we see some Jews leaving major European cities — where their families have lived for generations — because they no longer feel safe; when Jewish centers are targeted from Mumbai to Overland Park, Kansas; when swastikas appear on college campuses — when we see all that and more, we must not be silent.”

The president started his speech with two Hebrew words, “erev tov,” (“good evening”) and ended it with three, “Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof” (roughly translated as “thou shall pursue justice”). It was clear he was emotional when speaking of his great uncle who fought with the Allies in Europe, and was among the liberators of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

“And at moments like this, as I listened to the extraordinary stories of the four that we honor, memories come rushing back of the times that I’ve encountered the history and the horror of the Shoah — growing up, hearing the stories of my great uncle who helped liberate Ohrdruf, part of Buchenwald, and who returned home so shaken by the suffering that he had seen that my grandmother would tell me he did not speak to anyone for six months, just went up in his attic, couldn’t fully absorb the horror that he had witnessed,” Obama said.

He continued, “Then having the opportunity to go to Buchenwaldmyself with my dear friend, Elie Wiesel, and seeing the ovens, the Little Camp where he was held as a boy. Standing with survivors in the Old Warsaw Ghetto. And then the extraordinary honor of walking through Yad Vashem with Rabbi Lau and seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the lost, of blessed memory. And then taking my own daughters to visit the Holocaust Museum— because our children must know this chapter of our history, and that we must never repeat it.”

Netanyahu speaking in front of Congress. No mention of the Israeli PM in Obama's speech. (Photo: AFP)
Netanyahu speaking in front of Congress. No mention of the Israeli PM in Obama’s speech. (Photo: AFP)


Obama mentioned two Israeli presidents during the speech: Shimon Peres, whom he sent his well wishes after Peres suffered a heart attack earlier in January, and Reuven Rivlin, who “has spoken eloquently about the need for tolerance and acceptance among all Israelis — Jewish and Arab.” He did not say a word, for good or ill, about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama came there to embrace the Jewish people, as far as he was concerned at that moment – Netanyahu didn’t exist.

The event was dedicated to the Holocaust Remembrance Day, and during it three medals were given to families that were declared by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. But Obama also spoke of Israeli-American relations. “When voices around the world veer from criticism of a particular Israeli policy to an unjust denial of Israel’s right to exist, when Israel faces terrorism, we stand up forcefully and proudly in defense of our ally, in defense of our friend, in defense of the Jewish State of Israel,” Obama said, “America’s commitment to Israel’s security remains, now and forever, unshakeable. And I’ve said this before — it would be a fundamental moral failing if America broke that bond.”

As reported by Ynetnews