JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel does not owe its existence to the Holocaust, but its existence prevents another one from happening, President Obama said on the third and final day of his visit to Israel.
“Here we hope,” Obama said Friday at Yad Vashem’s Hall of the Children after touring the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem.
“Because after you walk through these halls, after you pass through the darkness, there is light — a glorious view of the Jerusalem forest, with the sun shining over the historic homeland of the Jewish people; a fulfillment of the prophecy: ‘you shall live again…upon your own soil,'” he said. “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, in a 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, decried the proliferation of Holocaust denial in some Muslim sectors. His phrasing in that speech was criticized by some Jews and Israelis as predicating Israel’s existence on the Holocaust. Obama’s aides denied that was his intention. One of the aims of Obama’s current trip, his first to Israel as president, has been to counter that impression.
Before visiting the museum, Obama laid wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist. At the grave, Obama met Rabin’s daughter, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, and two of the grandchildren of Rabin, whom Obama called “a remarkable man.” In keeping with Jewish tradition, Obama also placed on the grave a pebble, which Obama had brought from the foot of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington.
Obama’s schedule Friday included another meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and a departure to Jordan, where he had a meeting scheduled with King Abdullah II.