Obama's come-uppance from Elie Wiesel during self-serving visit to Holocaust Museum
During the last three years, President Obama did not visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. But today, he did; and promptly gave a self-serving campaign speech for Jewish votes.
"I will always be there for Israel," he told the audience at a Holocaust Memorial Remembrance Day event. Invoking "Never Again" several times, he recalled how he also stood with survivors in the Warsaw Ghetto, then added:
"So when efforts are made to equate Zionism to racism, we reject them. When international fora single out Israel with unfair resolutions, we vote against them. When attempts are made to delegitimize the State of Israel, we oppose them. When faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon."
Obama also had harsh words for Syria's President Assad and his ongoing atrocities, but generally seemed self-satisfied with his administration's record on both Iran and Syria. Ditto for seeking to prevent atrocities in Sudan, Ivory Coast, Central Africa and Libya. And he also claimed credit for "doing more to protect women and girls from the horror of wartime sexual violence."
Then, to top it off, he announced a new initiative: creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board to oversee all administration efforts to avert genocidal atrocities. With Obama, when in difficulty, create another government agency.
The president had with him as escort and introducer Elie Wiesel and lavishly praised the Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor for his unrelenting campaign to keep the memory of the Holocaust front and center.
But Wiesel did not reciprocate. Instead, determined to tell truth to power, he admonished Obama for not doing nearly enough to confront Assad's atrocities in Syria and Iranian President Ahmadinejad's development of nuclear weapons and threats to wipe Israel off the map.
In introducing Obama, Wiesel asked why "world leaders," presumably including Obama, have not "learned anything" from the Holocaust.
"How is it that Assad is still in power?" Wiesel asked. "How is it that the Holocaust's No. 1 denier is still a president? He who threatens to use nuclear weapons - to use nuclear weapons - to destroy the Jewish state. We must know that when evil has power, it is almost too late."
Directly addressing Obama, Wiesel declared: "Mr. President, we are here in this place of memory. Israel cannot not remember. And because it remembers, it must be strong, just to defend its own survival and its own destiny."
Clearly, Wiesel was not exactly encouraged by Obama's remarks.
Since the Holocaust Museum is a national undertaking, it is fitting for a U.S. president to pay an occasional visit and call its lessons to public attention. But by waiting until 2012, an election year, and in the substance of his speech, Obama turned his visit into a political event, just as the presidential-election campaigns move into high gear. It leaves a stain on the museum and the Holocaust to exploit it for political purposes
The timing of Obama's appearance and the political aspect of his visit recall another controversial moment in the museum's history, In 1998, Walter Reich, then the museum director, was forced to resign by the museum's governing board and the Clinton White House for refusing to give a VIP tour of the museum to Yasser Arafat.
Here's what commentator Marvin Kalb said at the time: "In Washington these days, conscience and principle are in short supply. At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, particularly, these ideals should be honored and exalted. But last Wednesday, Walter Reich, director of the museum, was fired because he had the temerity to object to a museum visit by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
"Reich believed that the Holocaust, both the memory and the museum, should not be 'politicized' by letting an administration searching desperately for a breakthrough in stalled Middle East talks use it as diplomatic tapestry."
In 1998, Reich rose to the occasion. Today, Elie Wiesel -- in softer but still telling ways - was his worthy successor.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers