Holocaust remembrance speeches: How Obama and Netanyahu’s worldviews differ


President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday evening at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He exchanged warm greetings with Ambassador Ron Dermer, who noted that the speech was unprecedented. (Folks present said the last time a president visited the embassy was in 1995, when Bill Clinton signed the condolence book after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination — but there was no speech.)

The greetings seemed genuinely warm. The embassy speech is the culmination of a series of events: last November’s Washington, D.C., summit between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, more recent meetings between Netanyahu and top Obama aides, a revolving door of senior U.S. officials visiting Israel and accelerated talk of a generous new U.S. defense assistance package to Israel. The cumulative effect is to make it clear that the leaders are moving beyond last year’s loud arguments over the Iran nuclear deal and bitterness resulting from the collapse in 2014 of U.S.-convened Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But here’s the thing: Even in comity, profound differences are evident in how each administration views the world. Consider the messages Obama and Dermer conveyed in their respective speeches Wednesday. Obama appealed for universal tolerance; Dermer heralded the triumph of Jewish self-defense.

Here’s Obama, and note the subtle nod, highlighted here, to the ethnic and religious divisions sowed by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump:

Even as the Holocaust is unique, a crime without parallel in history, the seeds of hate that gave rise to the Shoah — the ignorance that conspires with arrogance, the indifference that betrays compassion — those seeds have always been with us. They have found root across cultures, and across faiths, and across generations. The ambassador mentioned the story of Cain and Abel. It’s deep within us. Too often, especially in times of change, especially in times of anxiety and uncertainty, we are too willing to give into a base desire to find someone else — someone different — to blame for our struggles …

And so we’re called to live in a way that shows that we’ve actually learned from our past. And that means rejecting indifference. It means cultivating a habit of empathy, and recognizing ourselves in one another; to make common cause with the outsider, the minority, whether that minority is Christian or Jew, whether it is Hindu or Muslim, or a nonbeliever; whether that minority is native born or immigrant; whether they’re Israeli or Palestinian. It means taking a stand against bigotry in all its forms, and rejecting our darkest impulses and guarding against tribalism as the only value in our communities and in our politics.

Now hear out Dermer, who spoke before Obama, but who appeared to anticipate the president’s take on the Holocaust, and who then articulated his own view:

Seventy-one years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we still try to make some sense of the Holocaust. We still try to learn some lesson that will shine light in the darkness. For some, the Holocaust represents the nadir of man’s inhumanity to man — and its primary lesson is to be ever vigilant against racism, xenophobia and intolerance. For others, the Holocaust shows what can happen when extremist ideologies come to power — and its primary lesson is to always safeguard the cornerstones of a free society that protect the rights of all.

For me, the Holocaust was the attempt to wipe out the Jewish people — and its primary lesson is for the Jewish people to never be powerless against our enemies. That is why like many Jews, I take great comfort in the rebirth of a sovereign Jewish state in our ancestral homeland, in the Jewish people once again having a voice, a refuge, and most importantly, the power to defend ourselves.

Then there is the way each man perceives the Righteous among the Nations, four of whom were honored during the ceremony. Obama casts righteous gentiles who saved JEws from the Holocaust as embracing a universal humanity; Dermer lauds them for their particular devotion to Jews.

Obama:

And may we all strive to live up to their noble example, to be the Lamed Vovniks of our generation, to do our part to sustain each other and to embrace the humanity that we share, and in so doing, save our world. May the memory of the lost be a blessing. And as nations and individuals, may we always strive be among the Righteous.

Dermer:

You know, the Jewish people are an ancient people with a very long memory. We forget neither our most wicked enemies nor our most righteous friends. Tonight, the names of your four esteemed relatives join the names of Oscar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg and other Righteous Among the Nations to become a permanent part of our nation’s heritage, to be remembered by our people for generations and generations to come.

So, is the U.S.-Israel relationship doomed? Not at all. In fact, eight years into the Obama-Netanyahu era, what both sides might finally be recognizing is that the other is different, and you know what, it’s all good: Israel is not a little America, America is not Israel writ large. Each has its own political and social ethos.

The triumph of the evening may be that Dermer was able to identify how Obama — the “for some” and the “for others” in his remarks — understands the Holocaust, and yet not dismiss his view. Dermer’s particularist understanding of the Holocaust as necessitating Jewish self-defense does not diminish Obama’s call for universal tolerance. The two views can coexist.

Huckabee tweets that Obama is marching Israelis ‘to the door of the oven’


Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee cited threats from Israel’s enemies in his continued assault on the Iran nuclear deal.

A series of Twitter posts on Sunday night followed a day after Huckabee said that President Barack Obama will march Israelis “to the door of the oven.”

Bolstering his argument of the potential harm the agreement signed by Iran and world powers earlier this month would do to Israel, Huckabee tweeted quotes from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, among others.“It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region,” read one of the posts attributed to Khamenei.

A quote attributed to Nasrallah read: “If they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

Huckabee also said in a tweet, “Tell Congress to do their constitutional duty & reject the Obama-Kerry #IranDeal.”

In an interview Saturday with Breitbart News, Huckabee evoked Holocaust images of the ovens used to dispose of the bodies of Jews gassed in Nazi concentration camps.

“This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history,” the former Arkansas governor said. “It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Obama criticized Huckabee’s comments on Monday while on a visit to Ethiopia, saying they are “part of just a general pattern that we’ve seen would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad.” The president added that Huckabee was making an “effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines,” referring to another Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, called Huckabee’s comments “completely out of line and unacceptable.”

“To hear Mr. Huckabee invoke the Holocaust when America is Israel’s greatest ally and when Israel is a strong nation capable of defending itself is disheartening,” Greenblatt said. “The great tragedy of the Holocaust saw the Jews of Europe without allies and without power at the worst possible moment.”

The Democratic National Committee took issue with what it called Huckabee’s “cavalier” analogy to the Holocaust, saying such rhetoric “has no place in American politics.” Its chair, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, in a statement issued Sunday called on Huckabee to apologize to the Jewish community and the American people.

Obama to speak at Holocaust Museum


President Obama will commemorate the Holocaust at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Obama will speak at the museum on April 23, less than a week after the official Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“He will give remarks commemorating the Holocaust and discuss how the United States is honoring the pledge of ‘Never again’ by developing a comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to mass atrocities,” said a White House statement issued Tuesday.

Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, will be marked this year on Thursday. Tim Geithner, the secretary of the treasury, will represent the Obama administration at the Capitol’s commemoration.

Briefs: Obama condemns pastor’s politics, Merkel addresses Knesset


Obama: Pastor’s Views on Israel ‘Distorted’

Barack Obama, the Illinois senator vying for the Democratic presidential candidacy, addressed growing controversy over strong criticisms of U.S. foreign policy by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who recently retired as the pastor of his Chicago church. Wright has blamed U.S. foreign policy and support for Israel for the anti-Americanism that culminated in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial,” Obama said Tuesday in a speech in Philadelphia aimed at quelling the debate over his relationship with Wright. “They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country — a view that sees white racism as endemic and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”

Obama nonetheless stood by his closeness to Wright, urging Americans to understand the wholeness of the relationship.

“The truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man,” he said. “The man I met more than 20 years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another, to care for the sick and lift up the poor.”

Merkel Makes Historic Knesset Address

Germany’s chancellor in a historic address to the Knesset said Israel and Germany will always be linked by the Holocaust.

“The Shoah fills us Germans with shame,” Angela Merkel said Tuesday in German. “I bow to the victims. I bow to the survivors and to all those who helped them survive.”

Merkel, who thanked the Knesset for allowing her to speak in her native tongue, is the first head of a German government to speak before the Israeli parliament. She spoke of Iran’s nascent nuclear program, saying it is a danger to regional security.

“It’s not the world that must prove to Iran that Iran is building the nuclear bomb,” she said. “Iran must convince the world it does not want the nuclear bomb.”

Merkel said the Iranian president’s threats to Israel are a cause for concern. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu told Merkel before she began, “Some MKs are not here today; their pain is understandable.” Several lawmakers, including Shelly Yachimovich of the Labor Party and Aryeh Eldad of the National Union-National Religious Party, said they would boycott the address.

Merkel began her Knesset visit by having lunch with Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, at which she said Germany would work to return two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah.

Argentine Jews Remember Bombing

Argentine Jews marked the 16th anniversary of the Israeli Embassy bombing in Buenos Aires. Twenty-nine people were killed on March 17, 1992, in an attack that has been blamed on Hezbollah, a terrorist group supported by Iran, and supposedly masterminded by Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated 40 days ago.

During Sunday’s ceremony at the Plaza Embajada de Israel, where the former embassy was located, Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter demanded worldwide action against Tehran’s terrorist politics. Argentina’s Justice Minister Anibal Fernandez called the investigation “shameless.”

No one has been tried in court for the attack.

In a news conference before the tribute, Dichter pointed out the dangerous presence of a Hezbollah organization near Argentina’s border with Brazil and Paraguay. Argentine Jewish leaders expressed their displeasure about the lack of resolution in the case.

Wiesel Declines Israel’s 60th Honor

Elie Wiesel will not participate in the ceremony to open Israel’s 60th Independence Day. The Nobel Prize-winner and author of more than 40 books on the topic of the Holocaust declined the invitation to light a torch in the official ceremony at the Western Wall because he has already committed himself to three appearances that day, according to a Ha’aretz report.

Chasidic Actor Quits Portman Movie

A Chasidic actor cast as Natalie Portman’s husband quit the movie after his community objected. Abe Karpen, a cabinet salesman from Brooklyn, N.Y., filmed a scene last week with Portman for “New York I Love You,” which features 12 short love stories, according to the Associated Press. A rabbi raised objections and Karpen quit.

Facebook Lists West Bank Towns as Israel

A group of Israelis persuaded Facebook to list their West Bank hometowns as Israel rather than “Palestine.” Residents of Ariel, Maale Adumim and other large West Bank settlements, angered when Facebook switched their country of residence to “Palestine,” lodged protests with the social networking Web site. They noted that they are citizens of Israel and no Palestinian state exists.

Facebook informed Reuters this week that it would allow users who live in major settlements to list their countries as Israel.

In response, a group of pro-Palestinian Facebook users threatened to cancel their accounts if the “Palestine” rubric is removed.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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