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Obama snubs Auschwitz memorial event
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By Andrea Peyser
February 2, 2015

Obama snubs Auschwitz memorial event

As world leaders gathered last week in Poland to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp, the leader of the free world was AWOL.

President Obama and a cast of American dignitaries traveled to Saudi Arabia Tuesday to pay respects to the late Saudi King Abdullah.

But it was First Lady Michelle Obama who attracted both scorn and applause when she visited a land whose regime routinely violates the rights of women and other humans.

With her jaw clenched, she obeyed Saudi custom and walked a few paces behind her husband, as the president greeted new Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. This proved to aghast Americans that, under pressure, Michelle Obama is capable of playing a second-class citizen.

But while her legs were covered in black slacks, her arms were concealed by a defiant, bright blue-black-and-white print top. As if that were not nervy enough, she did not don the kind of headscarf with which Saudi women must cover their heads in public or risk arrest.

Women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden from driving cars, and many veil their faces. But the first lady’s exposed hair caused social media in and around Saudi Arabia to erupt with outrage, particularly after she shook the king’s hand, an opposite-sex touch that could result in a Saudi woman’s punishment.

Sure, foreign women have visited Saudi Arabia with their heads bare and have touched skin with Saudi leaders, accepted exceptions to the covered-woman, no-touching rules that govern unrelated men and women in the backward kingdom. But Michelle Obama’s obvious chafing at the system attracted attention. So did the president’s awkward dance just hours before the trip.

Speaking in India, he stressed the importance of women’s rights. He did not mention the blatant violation of human rights in the case of a Saudi blogger who was convicted of insulting Islam and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.

“Sometimes, we need to balance our need to speak to them about human-rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counterterrorism or dealing with regional stability,’’ Obama said on CNN, confirming that protecting this country’s alliance with Saudi Arabia trumps the rights that Americans hold dear.

The jaunt to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, came in sharp contrast to the mournful ceremony in Poland attended by international bigwigs, European royalty and various heads of state. But not Russian President Vladmir Putin, whose relationship with many member states of the European Union is at rock bottom.

Obama’s press secretary publicly apologized after the president skipped a rally in Paris held last month in solidarity with those massacred by Islamic militants at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and at a French kosher market. But after Obama repeated the snub at Auschwitz — he sent to the camp a delegation led by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew — no one from the White House expressed
regret for the Auschwitz diss.

The ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation is expected to be the final major Holocaust event to be attended by any number of survivors, 300 of whom made the trip to Auschwitz. About 1.1 million people died there, most of them Jews. But a majority of people who lived through the attempted genocide are today in their 90s or older and not expected to live to the next major gathering.

“It’s very sad and disturbing that the president of the United States was not in Auschwitz when many world leaders were there,’’ Richard Allen, the founder of ­JCCWatch.org, told me.

The website calls to task Jewish organizations that support policies hostile to Israel, such as the BDS movement, which calls for a boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish state.

“He’s busy with golf, but he’s not busy with Auschwitz or busy with Paris, but it is in character,’’ said Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a money manager and aide to former US Sen. Alphonse D’Amato and New York Gov. George Pataki, both Republicans, and to the late Democratic New York City Mayor Ed Koch.

Obama’s snub comes as his relationship with Israel, this country’s most important ally in the Middle East, is in tatters. The Democratic president is said to be furious that Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress in March without seeking Obama’s approval.

Netanyahu is expected to talk about the threat to Israel from Iran’s nuclear-weapons program — which Obama believes can be neutralized through diplomacy.

With anti-Semitic attacks on the rise worldwide, particularly in Europe and the Middle East, Obama has demonstrated time and again that he does not have Jews’ backs. He ignored Jews who suffered and died in the Holocaust. He turned his back on people, including Jews, murdered in Paris. And now, as Israel faces a nuclear threat to its existence, he is again turning away.

It’s not too late for Obama to change his tune. But the odds of that happening, I believe, are as unlikely as Iranian Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei converting to the Jewish faith.

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