January 28, 2016 / 3:07 AM / 2 years ago

Honoring Holocaust heroes, Obama warns against rise of intolerance

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama warned on Wednesday against the rise of religious intolerance in veiled criticism of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during an event to honor men and women who helped save Jews from peril in the Holocaust.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Righteous Among the Nations Award Ceremony, organised for the first time in the U.S. by Yad Vashem, at the Embassy of Israel in Washington January 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Obama made the remarks at the Israeli Embassy, where he attended a ceremony to honor, posthumously, two Americans and two Polish people who protected Jews from the Nazis during World War Two. The event came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

His remarks, the first of a sitting U.S. president at Israel’s embassy, were also a sign of lowering tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration. The event was hosted by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who helped orchestrate Netanyahu’s speech last year to Congress about the then-pending Iran nuclear deal.

The speech irked the White House. Dermer, at the ceremony on Wednesday, thanked Obama for the message of friendship he conveyed by attending.

The president is also clearly irked by Trump’s rhetoric. The billionaire businessman, the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 election, has called for the United States to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country as a national security measure.

“An attack on any faith is an attack on all of our faiths,” Obama said.

“For Americans, in particular, we should understand that it’s an attack on our diversity, on the very idea that people of different backgrounds can live together and thrive together.”

Obama added: “Here, tonight, we must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise.  We cannot deny it.”

“Too often, especially in times of change, especially in times of anxiety and uncertainty, we are too willing to give into a base desire to find someone else - someone different - to blame for our struggles,” he said.

Before Obama spoke, “Righteous Among the Nations” awards were presented to the families of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, teacher Lois Gunden, and a Polish couple, Walery and Maryla Zbijewski, for risking their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust.

The awards were given by Yad Vashem, an organization to commemorate the Holocaust, on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people.

Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney

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