US President Barack’s Obama’s carefully crafted Israel itinerary is aimed at combating those who deny the Holocaust and/or Jewish peoplehood, ambassador to the US Michael Oren said on Sunday.

Oren, who arrived on Sunday to be part of the two-day Obama visit that begins on Wednesday afternoon, told The Jerusalem Post that the Obama team came to the Israelis with the idea of what messages they wanted the visit to convey, and then asked for suggestions about how best to get those messages across.

Obama’s scheduled visit on Thursday to the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum combats the legions of people – including those in the leadership of the Palestinian Authority – who deny the Jews are a people, Oren said.

Many Arab leaders, while acknowledging Judaism as a religion, do not view the Jews as a distinct people or nation deserving of a state.

Oren said the US president’s visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest surviving copies of biblical texts and evidence of the Jews’ ancient connection to the land, is meant to combat that idea. “This shows that there is a Jewish people that is native to the region and whose roots here go back thousands of years,” he said.

Obama is widely expected to stress the Jewish people’s connection to Israel, in part to make up for his Cairo University speech in May 2009 where he failed to mention any Jewish historical attachment to the land, framing the Jews’ return to Israel solely within the context of the Holocaust and tragic Jewish history.

By deciding to lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, who founded Zionism 50 years before the Holocaust, Obama was sending a powerful message to those in the region whose narrative is that there would have been no Israel without the Holocaust, Oren said.

Obama’s visit to Yad Vashem on Friday morning, Oren added, is a strong signal to the Holocaust deniers in the region.

In addition, Oren said the visit – even if some tactical differences may emerge, as they often do among the closest allies – will send a message to the region of “a strength and depth of the US-Israel relationship” that cannot be severed.

Oren downplayed the tactical differences between Washington and Jerusalem, saying that “our positions on the major issues, including the Palestinians,” were closer than they have been in the past.

The ambassador said that while last week’s selection of a new pope knocked the Obama visit off the news cycle in the US for a few days, “it has come back over the weekend with a vengeance. Thursday, Friday and Saturday it was on the news non-stop.”

Oren said that that during this period he was continuously asked two main questions about the Obama trip: whether there would be a breakthrough in the peace process, and about Iran.

Regarding the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, he said that judging from the questions he was asked, “you wouldn’t know there was any other issue other than the peace process and the settlements.”

Oren said his response was that “if the Palestinians want to come back to the negotiations, we are going to be there; not tomorrow, but today.”

And as far as Iran was concerned, Oren said that Obama’s comments to Channel 2 on Thursday that Iran was a year away from a bomb elicited much speculation about whether this signaled a disagreement with Netanyahu, who at the UN last September said the Iranians could cross the red line toward acquiring a nuclear bomb by “the spring.”

“We greatly appreciate the US’s determination in stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” Oren said. “We too share that goal. Our analysts and American analysts are seeing the same facts and deriving many of the same conclusions.”

He stressed that when Netanyahu drew his red line at the United Nations, the question was not when Iran would be able to get the bomb, but rather when the West could no longer prevent it from getting the bomb. “And as Obama acknowledged,” Oren said, “Israel has the right to defend itself against any threat.” •

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