Holocaust remembrance speeches: How Obama and Netanyahu’s worldviews differ
Even in comity, profound differences are evident in how each administration views the world.
President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday evening at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, 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 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, DC, summit between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, more recent meetings between Netanyahu and top Obama aides, a revolving door of senior US officials visiting Israel and accelerated talk of a generous new US 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 US-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 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
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