The White House spent much of Wednesday trying to put an end to the controversy surrounding President Obama’s referring to Nazi concentration camps as “Polish death camp” during the Medals of Freedom award ceremony. White House spokesman Jay Carney tried to downplay the controversy, saying that it was "a simple misstatement and we regret it…it was Nazi death camps that the President was referring to."
So President Obama chose to ignore the topic during his Jewish American heritage reception remarks.
Instead, he preferred to speak of a major Jewish protest movement in the face of injustice. "This year, we are also commemorating an important anniversary. One hundred-fifty years ago, General Ulysses Grant issued an order –- known as General Orders Number 11 –- that would have expelled Jews “as a class” from what was then known as the military department of the Tennessee," Obama told the crowd.
"What happened next could have only taken place in America,” Obama continued. “Groups of American Jews protested General Grant’s decision. A Jewish merchant from Kentucky traveled to the White House, and met with President Lincoln in person. After their meeting, President Lincoln revoked the order - one more reason why we like President Lincoln. And to General Grant’s credit, he recognized that he had made a serious mistake."
Obama referred to the documents on display for the occasion - two letters of protest from Jewish organizations to President Lincoln, as well as Lincoln’s reply, and a receipt for the donation that President Grant made to the Adas Israel Synagogue in Washington when he attended a service there in 1876.
"Together, these papers tell a fundamentally American story", Obama said. "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."
Similar to his campaign speeches, Obama spoke of rebuilding an America "where everybody gets a fair shot” and “everybody is playing by the same rules."
His words on "unwavering commitment to the State of Israel and its security and the pursuit of a just and lasting peace" were greeted with applause from an audience which included congressmen, administration officials, Jewish community leaders and activists.
"It’s no secret that we’ve got a lot of work to do. But as your traditions teach us, while we are not obligated to finish the work, neither are we free to desist from that work," Obama concluded.
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