President commemorates Jewish American heritage
May 30, 2012 2 Comments
By Jennifer Packer, Political Analyst
Washington, May 30 — President Obama paid tribute Wednesday to the accomplishments of American Jews and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Israel.
“We have to stand alongside our friends who share our commitment to freedom and democracy and universal rights. And that includes, of course, our unwavering commitment to the state of Israel and its security and the pursuit of a just and lasting peace,” Obama said during a White House reception commemorating Jewish American Heritage Month. “It’s no secret that we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Obama also told a story of early anti-Semitism in the United States under General Ulysses Grant who issued an order that would have expelled Jews “as a class” from his war zone, the military department of Tennessee, in December 1862.
“It was wrong,” he said. “Even if it was 1862, even if official acts of anti-Semitism were all too common around the world, it was wrong and indicative of an ugly strain of thought.”
Jewish Americans lobbied President Lincoln to oppose Grant’s “General Order.” Lincoln revoked the order and Grant later, as president, apologized.
“Like so many groups, Jews have had to fight for their piece of the American dream. But this country holds a special promise: that if we stand up for the traditions we believe in and in the values we share, then our wrongs can be made right; our union can be made more perfect and our world can be repaired,” Obama said.
Among the 400 people in attendance were Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, members of Congress and the U.S. administration and Jewish leaders from across the country.
Attendees were serenaded by the musical group Rak Shalom, Hebrew for “Only Peace” and mingled in the East Room until Obama made his appearance.
The president kept his remarks brief, concluding, “Today we don’t just celebrate all that American Jews have done for our country; we also look toward the future, and as we do, I know that those of you in this room, and folks all across this country will continue to perfect our union and for that I am extraordinarily grateful.”
May was Jewish American Heritage Month, first designated as such in 2006 by then-President George W. Bush following years of efforts by the Jewish community and, ultimately, resolutions introduced by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and former Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. The resolutions were approved unanimously in the U.S. House and Senate. The month recognizes the 350-plus years of contributions and history of Jews in America.