Barack Obama received the Ambassador for Humanity award at the USC Shoah [Holocaust] Foundation gala Wednesday evening in Los Angeles, receiving accolades from Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg and reflecting on the memory of the Holocaust, while projecting a sense of helplessness in the face of new atrocities.
Spielberg invoked the example of Oskar Schindler, the hero of his movie Schindler’s List, in praising President Obama as someone who “has not stood by…he has said that as long as America can do something, whether military, economic, or moral example or even grass-roots inspiration, we will do what we can.”
Spielberg then mentioned Obama’s creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) as a sign of Obama’s willingness to do something about genocide, along with his appointment of the first-ever special envoy for Holocaust survivor services. The APB, originally headed by current UN Ambassador Samantha Power, has yet to prevent any atrocities, particularly in Syria, where the death toll continues to mount past 100,000 civilians.
Obama entered to a standing ovation, then gave what the Hollywood Reporter glowingly described as “arguably one of the most powerful speeches of his presidency on Israel and genocide.” Speaking of Schindler’s List, for example, Obama said, “That film gave us a stake in that history and a stake in insuring autocracies like that don’t happen again.”
Obama’s overall tone, however, was somewhat defeatist–projecting what Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post called “a sense of powerlessness in confronting the world’s evils.”
While Obama addressed current challenges in Syria, Nigeria, and elsewhere, speaking of his concern for events in those areas, he studiously avoiding the question of his own rather ineffectual record on genocide, or the mounting threats to Israel, which is targeted by those who deny the Holocaust as a matter of policy.
He told the audience: “”I have this remarkable title right now–President of the United States–and yet everyday …I wake up, and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria….There are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids.”
Obama also spoke of children who are “learning to hate early,” eschewing any mention of the Palestinians’ inculcation of their children to hate Israeli Jews with murderous aplomb.
Joel B. Pollak contributed to this report.