Historic visit comes to close, Obama departs Israel

Ceremony nixed due to sandstorm; president visits Yad Vashem, says due to Israel's existence, Holocaust will never happen again.

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March 24, 2013 04:11
Obama lays wreath at Herzl's grave

Obama lays wreath at Herzl's grave 390. (photo credit: Screenshot Channel 10)

 
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Speaking at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Friday, US President Obama said that the Holocaust was not the rationale for Israel’s existence as a country.

“Here on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear, the State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust, but with the survival of a strong Jewish State of Israel such a Holocaust will never happen again,” Obama said, flanked by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, former chief rabbi and Buchenwald survivor Yisrael Meir Lau and Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev.

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The president’s comments on his visit’s final day marked a change in rhetoric from his 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world. Then, Obama said that “the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied,” referencing the European genocide. At the time, he came under criticism from many Israelis who believed that by leaving out the Jewish people’s historic presence in the land, the president saw the Holocaust as the rationale for Israel’s existence.

In Friday’s remarks, however, the president called the Land of Israel the “historic homeland of the Jewish people.”

Israel, he said, was “a fulfillment of the prophecy: ‘You shall live again, upon your own soil.’” Before his speech, Obama lit a memorial flame and laid a wreath upon a stone crypt containing the ashes of Holocaust victims in Yad Vashem’s Hall of Remembrance. Cantor Asher Hainowitz concluded the ceremony with the singing of the prayer El Maleh Rachamim in memory of the martyrs of the Holocaust.

When signing the Yad Vashem guest book immediately before speaking, the president wrote that while the Holocaust was “an evil unprecedented in the annals of history,” visiting Yad Vashem allowed one to recognize “the triumph of the Jewish people and the human spirit” as well.

“We always have choices,” Obama then said. “To succumb to our worst instincts, or to summon the better angels of our nature, to be indifferent to suffering wherever it may be, whoever it may be visited upon, or to display empathy that is at the core of our humanity, we have a choice to acquiesce to evil or to make real our solemn vow never again.”



The US president said it was an obligation “not simply to bear witness, but to act,” which he defined as “confronting bigotry and hatred in all its forms, racism, especially anti-Semitism.”

There was no place for anti- Semitism “in the classrooms of children,” or “in the corridors of power,” he said, citing the “link between the two.”

Young people were not born to hate, Obama said, but rather were taught to hate.

Shalev and Lau presented him with a “token of remembrance,” a replica of “sheet music with an original composition, written in 1941, for the Passover liturgical poem Had Gadya” by Holocaust victim and Amsterdam Chief Cantor Israel Eljasz Maroko.

With some members of his audience in tears, the president, who had toured the Holocaust memorial’s hall of names and the museum of Holocaust art earlier that morning, said that “nothing equals the wrenching power of this sacred place where the totality of the Shoah is told.

We could come here a thousand times and each time our hearts would break. For here we see the depravity to which man can sink, the barbarism that unfolds when we begin to see our fellow human beings as somehow less than us, less worthy of dignity, and of life.”

“We see how evil can for a moment in time triumph; when good people do nothing, how silence abetted a crime unique in human history.”

Following Obama’s visit to Yad Vashem, Netanyahu said, “During the Holocaust the Jewish people were helpless and its rescuers came too late.

Today, the Jewish people have a state and an army and it can defend itself by itself against any foe.”Speaking at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Friday, US President Obama said that the Holocaust was not the rationale for Israel’s existence as a country.

“Here on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear, the State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust, but with the survival of a strong Jewish State of Israel such a Holocaust will never happen again,” Obama said, flanked by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, former chief rabbi and Buchenwald survivor Yisrael Meir Lau and Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev.

The president’s comments on his visit’s final day marked a change in rhetoric from his 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world. Then, Obama said that “the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied,” referencing the European genocide. At the time, he came under criticism from many Israelis who believed that by leaving out the Jewish people’s historic presence in the land, the president saw the Holocaust as the rationale for Israel’s existence.

In Friday’s remarks, however, the president called the Land of Israel the “historic homeland of the Jewish people.”

Israel, he said, was “a fulfillment of the prophecy: ‘You shall live again, upon your own soil.’” Before his speech, Obama lit a memorial flame and laid a wreath upon a stone crypt containing the ashes of Holocaust victims in Yad Vashem’s Hall of Remembrance. Cantor Asher Hainowitz concluded the ceremony with the singing of the prayer El Maleh Rachamim in memory of the martyrs of the Holocaust.

When signing the Yad Vashem guest book immediately before speaking, the president wrote that while the Holocaust was “an evil unprecedented in the annals of history,” visiting Yad Vashem allowed one to recognize “the triumph of the Jewish people and the human spirit” as well.

“We always have choices,” Obama then said. “To succumb to our worst instincts, or to summon the better angels of our nature, to be indifferent to suffering wherever it may be, whoever it may be visited upon, or to display empathy that is at the core of our humanity, we have a choice to acquiesce to evil or to make real our solemn vow never again.”

The US president said it was an obligation “not simply to bear witness, but to act,” which he defined as “confronting bigotry and hatred in all its forms, racism, especially anti-Semitism.”

There was no place for anti- Semitism “in the classrooms of children,” or “in the corridors of power,” he said, citing the “link between the two.”

Young people were not born to hate, Obama said, but rather were taught to hate.

Shalev and Lau presented him with a “token of remembrance,” a replica of “sheet music with an original composition, written in 1941, for the Passover liturgical poem Had Gadya” by Holocaust victim and Amsterdam Chief Cantor Israel Eljasz Maroko.

With some members of his audience in tears, the president, who had toured the Holocaust memorial’s hall of names and the museum of Holocaust art earlier that morning, said that “nothing equals the wrenching power of this sacred place where the totality of the Shoah is told.

We could come here a thousand times and each time our hearts would break. For here we see the depravity to which man can sink, the barbarism that unfolds when we begin to see our fellow human beings as somehow less than us, less worthy of dignity, and of life.”

“We see how evil can for a moment in time triumph; when good people do nothing, how silence abetted a crime unique in human history.”

Following Obama’s visit to Yad Vashem, Netanyahu said, “During the Holocaust the Jewish people were helpless and its rescuers came too late.

Today, the Jewish people have a state and an army and it can defend itself by itself against any foe.”

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