Wrapping up a three day visit to Israel, U.S. President Barack Obama paid respects to its heroes and to victims of the Holocaust, solemnly reaffirming the Jewish state’s right to exist.
Accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, Mr. Obama laid wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism who died in 1904 before realising his dream of a Jewish homeland; and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.
Friday’s stop at Herzl’s grave, together with Thursday’s visit to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, the ancient Hebrew texts, were symbolic stops for Mr. Obama that acknowledged that the rationale for Israel’s existence rests with its historical ties to the region and with a vision that predated the Holocaust.
Mr. Obama was criticised in Israel for his 2009 Cairo speech in which he gave only the example of the Holocaust as reason for justifying Israel’s existence.
“Here on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear,” Mr. Obama said at Yad Vashem on Friday, in a clear response to that criticism. “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.”
Later in the day, Mr. Obama was travelling to Jordan where he planned to meet with King Abdullah II. Before leaving for Jordan, Mr. Obama had lunch with Mr. Netanyahu and then took his motorcade to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity.