As you know, President Obama gave a speech about the Holocaust at the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Wednesday night, the first time a president has made a speech in that venue. The president gave his speech in the very place where Israeli officials plotted against him and his most important foreign policy achievement, the Iran deal, just a few months ago.
Last night in New York, Chemi Shalev, US editor of Haaretz, who attended the event, said that Obama’s speech had “the most philosemitic, pro-Jewish” character as well as being supportive of Israel, and that the president brought down the house. Shalev spoke at a New Israel Fund event:
When he came in, there were about 300 people there… the response was quite tepid. Ambassador Dermer, for instance, got much warmer applause than Obama did. But when Obama left, after he made this speech, these same people who had barely gotten up to clap– it’s a scene I’ve never seen before. They were all in suits and they were shouting out, Thank you, thank you, thank you. It was really heartfelt, it was an outpouring of noise toward him, which I don’t think is going to change much in the perception that a lot of Israelis and Jews unfortunately have of Obama but for anybody who was there this whole claim that he somehow is working against Israeli interests or that he doesn’t have warm feelings for Jews, it just sounded so ridiculous. If you were there, you would know how ridiculous and how malicious it is. And how probably politically motivated.
Here is the president’s speech on CSPAN. You can see something of the joyful response at 1:22:00.
The speech’s key moment was when the president saluted the late American army sergeant Roddie Edmonds, who was in a Nazi prison camp at the end of the war in 1945 when he answered a Nazi’s challenge to tell him who the Jewish American soldiers were by saying, “We are all Jews.” Obama addressed Edmonds’s son:
Your father was right — we are all Jews. Because anti-Semitism is a distillation, an expression of an evil that runs through so much of human history, and if we do not answer that, we do not answer any other form of evil. When any Jew anywhere is targeted just for being Jewish, we all have to respond as Roddie Edmonds did — “We are all Jews.”
The president then went on to affirm his support for “the Jewish State of Israel… forever.”
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. America’s commitment to Israel’s security remains, now and forever, unshakeable.
He closed his speech, “God bless the state of Israel.”
Again to emphasize the powers that Obama acknowledged in his speech, note that the CSPAN tape begins with Nina Totenberg, judicial correspondent for National Public Radio, utterly aligning herself with the Israeli embassy on behalf of the Jewish people.
It’s a great honor for me to be here this evening with all of you… When Yad Vashem was established, the Jewish people did not forget the non-Jews who stood by their side in the darkest period of history… The state of Israel made a point of remembering the rescuers. Thus the law establishing Yad Vashem added yet another mission to pay tribute to the non-Jews who risked their lives… Since 1963 a public commission headed by an Israeli Supreme Court justice… has been responsible for making the decision as to who will be recognized as righteous among the Nations. This title is the highest honor that the state of Israel bestows on non-Jews in the name of the Jewish people. Our ceremony here today is unprecedented… I’m honored to invite to the stage our host his excellency Ron Dermer…
Then Dermer, who lobbied against the president’s Iran deal, including by intriguing with Republican members of Congress to have Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address both houses of Congress last March in opposition to the president, takes the podium and welcomes Obama.
At the end of the speech, Totenberg says, “We invite you to join us in the tent for the buffet afterwards.”
Thanks to Scott Roth.