LOS ANGELES — Saluting a Holocaust history foundation founded by Steven Spielberg, US President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the purpose of memory was not simply to preserve the past but to protect the future.
Before a crowd of about 1,300, Obama offered a staunch defense of Israel and a harsh criticism of anti-Semitism.
“It’s up to us to speak out against rhetoric that threatens the existence of a Jewish homeland and to sustain America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” Obama said.
He spoke at the 20th anniversary of Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation, which is dedicated to gathering video testimony from survivors and other Holocaust witnesses. Obama received the foundation’s Ambassador for Humanity Award at a gala event that featured a performance by Bruce Springsteen.
The president said that world needed to not turn away from crimes happening today, including devastation in Syria, murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, and tribal conflicts elsewhere in the world.
“That includes confronting a rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world. We’ve seen attacks on Jews in the streets of major Western cities, public places marred by swastikas. From some foreign governments we hear the worst kinds of anti-Semitic scapegoating,” he said. “And tragically, we saw a shooting here at home, in Overland Park in Kansas.”
Obama said the continuing horrors underscored that decades after the Holocaust, “we have not yet extinguished man’s darkest impulses.”
At the event, Springsteen performed two of his classics, “The Promised Land” and “Dancing in the Dark,” while Obama listened from a table he shared with Spielberg, host Conan O’Brien, Barbra Streisand and Liam Neeson, who played Oskar Schindler in Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning Holocaust film, “Schindler’s List.”
Obama’s visit to Los Angeles was rewarded with a full Hollywood embrace. Earlier he attended a fundraiser hosted by Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. Guests at that event included Streisand and her husband, actor James Brolin, and studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Obama was on a three-day visit to California, most of it devoted to fundraising for the Democratic Party.