WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama told an audience at the Israeli embassy in Washington on Wednesday that the rise in anti-Semitism is undeniable.
In an emotional speech during a Righteous Among the Nations award ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day – the first time such an event has been held at the Israeli embassy - Obama emphasized the US's obligation to lead the fight against anti-Semitism, saying: "We are all Jews."
Dozens of people were seated in the embassy's Jerusalem hall when the door opened and Obama, with no announcement, entered with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.
The president sat in the first row, next to Jewish movie director and good friend Steven Spielberg. Spielberg later introduced the president, saying he has "a Jewish soul."
Obama moved the crowd during his speech, stating: "We are all Jews… All of us have a responsibility."
"We must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise. We cannot deny it," Obama said. "When we see some Jews leaving major European cities — where their families have lived for generations — because they no longer feel safe; when Jewish centers are targeted from Mumbai to Overland Park, Kansas; when swastikas appear on college campuses — when we see all that and more, we must not be silent.
"As President, I’ve made sure that the United States is leading the global fight against anti-Semitism," Obama continued. "And it’s why, with Israel and countries around the world, we organized the first United Nations General Assembly meeting on anti-Semitism. It’s why we’ve urged other nations to dedicate a special envoy to this threat, as we have."
Obama became visibly emotional when speaking about his great uncle who helped liberate one of Germany's most notorious concentration camps, saying that he grew up "hearing the stories of my great uncle who helped liberate Ohrdruf, part of Buchenwald, and who returned home so shaken by the suffering that he had seen that my grandmother would tell me he did not speak to anyone for six months, just went up in his attic, couldn’t fully absorb the horror that he had witnessed.
Obama also spoke of his own visit to Buchenwald and about the fact that he had taken his two daughters to the Holocaust Museum, "because our children must know this chapter of our history, and that we must never repeat it." He later stressed: "An attack on any faith is an attack on all of our faiths."
The president also took the opportunity to address relations between the US and Israel. "(When) voices around the world veer from criticism of a particular Israeli policy to an unjust denial of Israel’s right to exist, when Israel faces terrorism, we stand up forcefully and proudly in defense of our ally, in defense of our friend, in defense of the Jewish State of Israel.
"America’s commitment to Israel’s security remains, now and forever, unshakeable," Obama continued. "And I’ve said this before — it would be a fundamental moral failing if America broke that bond."
Towards the end of his speech, Obama said: "As the book of Deuteronomy teaches us, 'Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof' – 'Justice, Justice you shall pursue.'"