Barack Obama Visits Holocaust Memorial and Yitzhak Rabin's Grave

Emotional Coda to Historic Presidential Trip to Jewish State

Solemn Moment: President Obama lays a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
getty images
Solemn Moment: President Obama lays a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

By Reuters

Published March 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

President Barack Obama visited Israel’s most powerful national symbols on Friday, paying homage at the Holocaust memorial and the graves of the founder of modern Zionism and assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The image of Obama crouching in reflection after laying a wreath in the Yad Vashem memorial to the six million Jews killed by Nazis added another emotional layer to a three-day trip full of symbolic gestures and appeals for peace.

Wearing a Jewish skullcap, Obama rekindled an eternal flame next to a stone slab above ashes recovered from extermination camps after World War Two.

“We have a choice to acquiesce to evil or make real our solemn vow - never again,” Obama said.

Earlier, in accordance with Jewish tradition, he placed stones on the graves of Theodor Herzl, the Zionist visionary who died more than four decades before the 1948 founding of Israel, and Rabin, who was shot dead in 1995 by a Jewish gunman opposed to his peace moves with the Palestinians.

Officials said the visit to Yad Vashem and the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem was aimed at correcting an impression the president had given in a speech in Cairo in 2009, where he appeared to argue that the legitimacy of the Jewish state stemmed from the Holocaust.

At Yad Vashem, Obama made clear he recognised that Jewish roots to the Holy Land were centuries-old.

“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,” he said.

Obama was due to fly later in the day to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah, a U.S. ally, about an array of problems, including the civil war in neighbouring Syria and stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace moves.

SETTLEMENT BLOCK

Obama has tried to win over a sceptical Israeli public, assuring them of full U.S. support at a time of growing tensions with Iran over its nuclear ambitions and anxiety over the war in Syria.

But in a speech on Wednesday, he has also urged Israelis to push their political leaders to take risks and secure peace with the Palestinians, calling on his audience of university students to put themselves in the shoes of their occupied neighbours.

Winning applause in Jerusalem, the president received a cooler reception on Thursday during talks in the West Bank with Palestinians, who are disappointed Washington is not applying more pressure on Israel to halt settlement activity.

Obama has reiterated to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that settlement building in the West Bank, land the Palestinians want as part of a future state, was detrimental to peace efforts.

But he retreated from the overt calls during his first term for a halt to the building and he has offered no new peace initiative during his trip, saying he had just come to listen.

After a final round of talks with Netanyahu on Friday, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas again when he visits to the West Bank city of Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born.

The tour is seen as a message of solidarity to dwindling Christian communities in a turbulent region.

ARAB SPRING

Obama will then head to Amman where he hopes to reassure Abdullah of Washington’s support at a time when it is flooded with refugees from Syria and battling economic difficulties and tensions from the “Arab Spring”, aides say.

Obama and Abdullah will discuss the spillover of the Syrian conflict to Jordan, where an influx of more than 350,000 refugees has strained resources.

Obama backs the Syrian opposition’s effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but has limited its support to non-lethal aid to anti-government rebels despite growing calls from European and Gulf Arab allies to take a stronger tack.

The king has taken a mostly cautious line on Syria, calling for Assad to go, but advocating a political solution and not arming the Syrian leader’s foes. Jordanian authorities worry that any emergence of Islamist rule in a post-Assad Syria could embolden Islamists who are the main opposition group in Jordan.

Also on the agenda will be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jordan is one of only two Arab states - Egypt is the other - to have signed peace treaties with Israel and is seen as a potential player in any future U.S.-led peace push. It also has a majority Palestinian population.

The state of Jordan’s troubled economy, which receives nearly $360 million in U.S. economic assistance, will also be on the agenda.

Obama will encourage Abdullah to press ahead with a programme of economic and political reform. Jordan has been the scene of mostly peaceful street protests, rather than the uprisings that have shaken other Arab countries, and the king has responded with cautious steps toward democracy


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.