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Obama’s selective view of the struggle for human dignity

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Obama and Wiesel at Holocaust Memorial Museum with museum director Sara Bloomfield photo by Pete Souza
Obama and Elie Wiesel at Holocaust Memorial Museum yesterday with museum director Sara Bloomfield (photo by Pete Souza)

In his speech at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., flanked by such Zionist luminaries as Elie Wiesel and Michael Oren, Obama referred to “those sacred grounds at Yad Vashem,” the vast Holocaust memorial complex in Jerusalem. But considering the horrors of the Holocaust didn’t occur anywhere near the grounds of Yad Vashem, one has to wonder what makes those grounds so hallowed.  After all, Auschwitz is over 1,500 miles away from Jerusalem; Treblinka is nearly 1,600 miles away; Dachau is almost 1,700 miles away; Buchenwald is over 1,800 miles away.  Do all Holocaust Museums stand on “sacred ground” just because of the subject matter they commemorate?  If so, wasn’t Obama himself standing on sacred ground at 100 15th Street SW in the District of Columbia?  Will the ground upon which the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of (In)Tolerance is being built be sacred because of the museum, or because of the ancient Muslim cemetery it has uprooted and destroyed?

Perhaps the grounds of Yad Vashem are sacred, though.  Only a short distance away, within eyesight, is where Deir Yassin used to be before Zionist militias wiped it and its inhabitants off the face of the Earth.

Obama spoke of atrocities committed upon countless innocents, “just for being different, just for being Jewish” and warned against “the bigotry that says another person is less than my equal, less than human.”  One wonders what he would say if confronted with the fact that the indigenous people of Palestine are deliberately, systematically and institutionally discriminated against, imprisoned without charge or trial, occupied and colonized, bombed and burned, shot at and under siege because they are not  Jewish and because they refuse to forget who they are and where they come from, they refuse to acquiesce to the six and a half decades of ethnic cleansing, aided and abetted, funded, immunized and ignored by the nation Barack Obama now represents.

Obama said today that “‘Never again’ is a challenge to defend the fundamental right of free people and free nations to exist in peace and security — and that includes the State of Israel.”  He mentioned Israel by name six additional times in his speech.  Never once did the words Palestine or Palestinians cross his lips.  He then proceeded to conflate Zionism with Judaism, present international law as anti-Semitic, and pulled a Netanyahu by warning of the looming specter of a caricatured Iran, one that exists only in the warped minds of fear merchants and warmongers. 

Said Obama, “When faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Obama spoke of civilians “subjected to unspeakable violence, simply for demanding their universal rights,” he spoke of “all the tanks and all the snipers, all the torture and brutality unleashed against them,” and vowed to “sustain a legal effort to document atrocities so killers face justice, and a humanitarian effort to get relief and medicine” to those desperately in need.  Obama praised those who “still brave the streets,” who “still demand to be heard” and “still seek their dignity.”  He praised the “people [who] have not given up.”

He was referring to Syria, of course, and not to Bil’in, Ni’lin, or Budrus. He didn’t mean tanks in Gaza or the torture and abuse of Palestinians–even children in Israeli jails.  When he spoke of “unspeakable violence,” the “humanitarian effort” and the “legal effort to document atrocities so killers face justice,” Obama obviously didn’t mean the devastation of Gaza by the Israeli military, the ongoing humanitarian crisis there or the recommendations of the Goldstone Report.

Obama patted himself on the back for “sign[ing] an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence.”  Of course, these sanctions were not extended to U.S. chums Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, or South Korea – all places were internet censorship is rampant and pervasive.

Obama concluded by stating, “To stare into the abyss, to face the darkness and insist there is a future — to not give up, to say yes to life, to believe in the possibility of justice” and declared, “If you can continue to strive and speak, then we can speak and strive for a future where there’s a place for dignity for every human being.”

He was speaking, rightfully, to the survivors of the Holocaust.  But he was also, unwittingly and unwillingly, speaking for those who continue to struggle for equal rights, for universal rights, for dignity, freedom, sovereignty and self-determination, for justice long deferred in their own historic and ancestral homeland.  He was speaking for Palestine.  But don’t tell Elie Wiesel.

Nima Shirazi has been actively following Holocaust remembrance as a means of supporting Israel.

Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is co-editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazine Muftah. His political analysis can be found on his blog,, where this post first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.

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26 Responses

  1. Woody Tanaka on April 24, 2012, 12:09 pm

    “In his speech at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.,”

    Don’t get me started on the fact that we have this place on the mall but not one for the crimes which actually occured in the USA: slavery and the genocide of the Native Americans. I have no issue with this museum, per se, but it never should have been built before the other two.

    As for Obama: forget him. Even if my vote is the one which decides the election, I’ll vote for someone else before this guy. Fool me once, etc…

    • Woody Tanaka on April 24, 2012, 1:48 pm

      In retrospect, I think that this line might be misunderstood: “I have no issue with this museum, per se, but it never should have been built before the other two.” By this I do not mean that they should not have built it. I mean that there should have already been the other two in place at the time this was built.

      I apologize that my wording could have sent the wrong idea.

      • Daniel Rich on April 24, 2012, 8:25 pm

        @ Woody Tanaka,

        I thought that having a dead guy on a cross was enough of a guilt trip…? What’s next, Verdun’s trenches in Vegas?

  2. Dan Crowther on April 24, 2012, 12:19 pm

    Just thought I’d throw this out there: There is no American Slavery Museum in Washington. Sort of like Germany having an American Slavery Museum, but no Holocaust Museum.

    • Woody Tanaka on April 24, 2012, 6:54 pm

      Exactly right, Dan.

      • Frankie P on April 24, 2012, 11:09 pm

        Yes, I’ve been considering an approach to the government of the People’s Republic of China, suggesting that they build an American Slavery Museum and Native American “Trail of Tears” Museum in Beijing. I’m sure the good citizens of the United States will be happy to see a foreign power remembering the wrongs their country has perpetrated against its own people, and they were people, regardless of the fact that the white citizens did not see them as such at the time.


  3. Chu on April 24, 2012, 12:24 pm

    I like the comparatives made here. The hypocrisy is in full display here. This is the same man that was on a plane to Egypt after his election to make his historic speech titled, A New Beginning.

    What irks me is how he can be so malleable for a venue. He want’s to be the man who give the big speeches, but his actions within closed events and his lack of political will are what makes us all wonder who this man really is. Knowing how to placate well has never been an ideal trait of leadership.

    • Theo on April 25, 2012, 7:59 am

      Those speeches are written by professional writers and usually are empty phrases and words. I would like to hear Obama only once to speak free of a teleprompter and without preparation.
      I don´t trust him either, however who is worse, Romney or Obama? Whoever wins, the same policy will be countinued as the powers in Washington lie in the shadows, however they make all decisions and plans. Presidents only front the action. Did you see any meaningful difference between the Bush and the Obama presidency?

      • Chu on April 26, 2012, 12:49 pm

        Who is worse? They are both sides of the establishment cranking out speeches that placate their donors.

        If I had to gamble, I would say Romney.
        We’ve already been witness to the current limitations
        of the incumbent.

      • Citizen on April 26, 2012, 2:30 pm

        It may be a toss-up.
        Neither will change the status quo; neither is a leader. I go with Ron Paul.

  4. lysias on April 24, 2012, 2:25 pm

    Marcy Wheeler has a piece on these developments at her Website, emptywheel: Defying the Rules of Gravity, Obama Directs Sanctions Solely against Israel’s Enemies.

    By the way, I just checked the White House Web site. Today, Apr. 24, is Armenian Remembrance Day (in honor of the Armenian genocide), for which Obama issued statements one, two, and three years ago. So far today, there has been no statement this year.

    • annie on April 24, 2012, 2:58 pm

      thanks for the link lysias, will check it out.


      Obama patted himself on the back for “sign[ing] an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence.”

      yeah, it seems very weird to be announcing this here. just commented on it over at bruce’s excellent article.

      i definitely sense a theme at work here. heading over to marcy’s.

    • Rusty Pipes on April 24, 2012, 5:13 pm

      Thanks for the link, lysias. Good to see that even though I/P is not at the center of Wheeler’s research, she doesn’t shy away from pointing out the connections. I appreciated this:

      But Obama, too, focuses primarily on Syria.

      In this speech, the sole reason to ensure internet freedom, according to Obama, is to bring about regime change in Syria

      And when innocents suffer, it tears at our conscience. Elie alluded to what we feel as we see the Syrian people subjected to unspeakable violence, simply for demanding their universal rights. And we have to do everything we can. And as we do, we have to remember that despite all the tanks and all the snipers, all the torture and brutality unleashed against them, the Syrian people still brave the streets. They still demand to be heard. They still seek their dignity. The Syrian people have not given up, which is why we cannot give up.

      Two things were lacking from this presentation.

      There was no mention–not a peep–of the equally urgent repression targeted at Shias, notably those America’s ally Bahrain is brutally repressing. With the Formula 1 fiasco, Bahrain is actually the subject of more intense news coverage right now. But not, apparently, the subject of protections against atrocities.

      Also lacking from Obama’s speech was any application of the rules of GRAHVITY to the United States itself. When Wiesel invoked the innocent children who were victims of the Holocaust, did he also ask about the children killed in America’s drone strikes? Did Obama promise not to spy on Americans who participate in Occupy Wall Street, Muslims who practice their faith, or journalists and whistleblowers seeking to hold the government accountable?

      We used to believe in human rights that–like gravity–applied equally to all people. But Obama is rolling out something new, GRAHVITY, targeted solely at those who threaten Saudi hegemony, Israel’s dominance of the Middle East, and with both of those, America’s empire. It is a sick perversion of universal rights wielded selectively as a weapon, not a protection.

    • Citizen on April 24, 2012, 5:17 pm

      I didn’t see it on the WH site either, but he did it, just didn’t mention genocide or never again, etc:

      CF: “… as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.” — Barak Obama, 2006

      • Rusty Pipes on April 24, 2012, 6:26 pm

        Good catch. Armenian Weekly does notice that he omits mentioning “genocide:”

        Below is the statement issued by President Obama on April 24, in which he continues to avoid referring to the destruction of the Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 as “genocide,” employing the Armenian term “Meds Yeghern” instead.

        Today, we commemorate the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. In doing so, we honor the memory of the 1.5 million Armenians who were brutally massacred or marched to their deaths in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.

        But then, the word “genocide” was coined to describe the atrocity that was inflicted on the Armenians by Turkey. And our government is relying heavily on Turkey right now to be a team player for putting the squeeze on Syria — as our state department tries to blur the distinction between providing “humanitarian” and “non-lethal” aid to Syrian “protesters.” At the same time, Obama advocates penalizing high-tech companies that provide Assad regime with the same technology for spying on Syrian citizens that homeland security is using to spy on American citizens.

      • lysias on April 24, 2012, 7:33 pm

        Statement (it is, perhaps significantly, not termed a “proclamation”) has appeared on the WH Website: Statement by the President on Armenian Remembrance Day.

  5. Citizen on April 24, 2012, 5:22 pm

    I didn’t see it on the WH site either, but he did it, just didn’t mention genocide or never again, etc:

    CF: “… as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.” — Barak Obama, 2006

    • Woody Tanaka on April 24, 2012, 6:55 pm

      “just didn’t mention genocide or never again,”

      Of course he didn’t. The Armenians don’t give enough money to Mr. Hopey Changey’s re-election campaign.

  6. DICKERSON3870 on April 24, 2012, 6:25 pm

    RE: “Obama referred to “those sacred grounds at Yad Vashem,” the vast Holocaust memorial complex in Jerusalem. But considering the horrors of the Holocaust didn’t occur anywhere near the grounds of Yad Vashem, one has to wonder what makes those grounds so hallowed.” ~ Nima Shirazi

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [Shrine]:

    [excerpts] A shrine . . . is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated.[2] A shrine at which votive offerings are made is called an altar. Shrines are found in many of the world’s religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca, Chinese folk religion and Shinto, as well as in secular and non-religious settings such as a war memorial.[3] Shrines can be found in various settings, such as churches, temples, cemeteries, or in the home, although portable shrines are also found in some cultures.[4] . . .

    SOURCE –

    P.S. I am also reminded of Stuart Smalley’s fondness for saying: “Get up off your ‘pity pot’!”
    SEE: Avraham Burg: Israel’s new prophet ~ By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, 1 November 2008
    Avraham Burg was a pillar of the Israeli establishment but his new book is causing a sensation. It argues that Israel is an “abused child” which has become a “violent parent”. And his solutions are radical, as he explains to Donald Macintyre.

    (excerpt). . .But his book “The Holocaust is Over: We Must Rise from its Ashes” – published this week in Britain – caused a much bigger sensation when it came out last year in Israel, at once becoming a best-seller and provoking a furious reaction not only from the right but from many of Burg’s former colleagues on the political centre-left. In the book – a compelling mix of polemic, personal memoir, homage to his parents and meditation on Judaism – Burg argues that Israel has been too long imprisoned by its obsessive and cheapening use – or abuse – of the Holocaust as “a theological pillar of Jewish identity”. He argues that the living role played by the Holocaust – Burg uses the regular Hebrew word Shoah or “catastrophe” for the extermination of six million Jews in the Second World War – in everyday Israeli discourse, has left Israel with a persistent self-image of a “nation of victims”, in stark variance with its actual present-day power. Instead, the book argues, Israel needs finally to abandon the “Judaism of the ghetto” for a humanistic, “universal Judaism”.
    The implication of Burg’s analysis, one that perhaps only an Israeli would have dared promote, is that the fostered memory of the Holocaust hovers destructively over every aspect of Israeli political life – including its relations with the Palestinians since the 1967 Six Day War and the subsequent occupation. “We have pulled the Shoah out of its historical context,” he writes, “and turned it into a plea and generator for every deed. All is compared to the Shoah, dwarfed by the Shoah and therefore all is allowed – be it fences , sieges … curfews, food and water deprivation or unexplained killings. All is permitted because we have been through the Shoah and you will not tell us how to behave.”
    For Burg, whose own father Yosef was a German Jew, and for many years leader of Israel’s National Religious Party, the “real watershed moment” in this deforming process was the trial and subsequent execution in 1962 of Adolf Eichmann, which Yosef Burg vainly opposed from inside the Cabinet. Instead of Eichmann’s death symbolising, as it was meant to do, “the end of the Shoah and the beginning of the post-Shoah period,” he says, in reality “the opposite happened… The Shoah discourse had begun.” I put it to Burg that for many Israeli holocaust survivors who during the late Forties and Fifties had had to brave the indifference, sometimes even contempt, of those of their fellow citizens who had already left Europe by the time the Shoah began – a painful phenomenon vividly covered in the book itself – the Eichmann trial was actually a liberation, a positive rather than negative, after which Israelis who had not lived through the Holocaust at last began to understand the pain of those who had.
    Burg’s answer is that recognition and sympathy for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust are indeed essential components of “any kind of progress from the departure point of trauma to the final destination of trust”. On the other hand “what I criticise in the Eichmann trial and the entire Shoah industry is the contempt, the cheapening attititude of the public system; everything is Shoah. It legitimises everything, it explains everything, it is used by everybody.” Here he cites two everyday examples. . .


  7. Citizen on April 24, 2012, 6:26 pm

    Nima has some follow-up updates on her article here & it includes various Jewish leaders making the argument that human rights take second place if honoring those rights allows too many non-Jews, especially Arabs, to live in Israel.

  8. NimaShirazi on April 24, 2012, 7:34 pm


  9. Daniel Rich on April 24, 2012, 8:22 pm

    I have the same feeling when I wade through Kansas’ Killing Fields or look at the shoes of the Son of Sam and Ted Bundy.

  10. anonymouscomments on April 25, 2012, 12:39 am

    This is my FB message regarding Obama’s utterly shameless (and *dangerous*) lies here. You MWers already know this, but nonetheless….

    Said Obama, “When faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

    How many serious LIES can he squeeze in one statement, on such a serious issue?

    1) Iran does not threaten global security, and have not initiated a war in their modern existence [while we pushed Iraq to attack them (and even gave Iraq chemical weapons to use on them), overthrew their democratically elected leader with the CIA and installed and armed the Shah for decades, and aid terror groups which commit acts of terror in Iran]. For comparison, does an illegal war on Iraq based on lies ring a bell (~1 million dead)? The apartheid occupation and colonization of millions living in the West Bank mean anything?

    2) Iran does not deny the Holocaust, and have openly made statements noting the horror of the Holocaust and affirming its existence. Ahmadinejad does host people who question aspects of the Holocaust and some who deny it- get over it. He only goes so far as to say that it should be open to research and revisionism, quite repulsive, but these are the odd populist rantings of a fairly impotent President.

    3) Iran DOES NOT threaten to destroy Israel. Iran has never threatened to strike Israel, and only has stated it will retaliate IF attacked. There is one out of context, incorrect translation, where Ahmadinejad quoted an Imam indicating that the Zionist regime ruling over Jerusalem will in time fall/cease to exist. The context of the quoted speech was referring to other (similarly) oppressive regimes which also have met a similar fate- the USSR, Saddam’s regime, and the Shah. Iran was not indicating they would take any active role in a fall of the regime. In fact, Israel seems intent on destroying itself, and we know the ancient history of the two previous, fairly short lived, Jewish states of Israel.
    On the other hand, many Israeli and US officials, including those at the highest levels, HAVE threatened to attack Iran and have sought to change the regime…. shameless.

    3) Obama clearly implies Iran is trying to get a nuclear weapon. There is no evidence of this, and much to the contrary. Their nuclear program is legal and monitored, under the terms of the NPT, of which they are a signatory. Also, two NIEs (2007, 2011) indicate that it is the US intelligence consensus opinion, that Iran is NOT developing a nuclear weapon. No solid evidence has been brought forth to contradict this, not for lack of trying.

    OK I’m fully done with Obama. Either he continues to make obvious lies because he is in a political bubble largely of right wing Zionist persuasion (and thus incomprehensibly incompetent), or he willfully makes obvious lies to please such people. Either way, eff him… the lying liar, discrediting an already distrusted US, possibly taking us into the final war which would break the US.

  11. hammersmith on April 25, 2012, 10:16 pm

    The American narrative is so full of contradictions and hypocrisy that it must inevitably collapse in on itself eventually…and its empire with it.

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