Friday, June 01, 2012

Obama Speaks At White House Reception For Jewish American Heritage Month

President Obama spoke on Wednesday at a reception in the East Room of the White House marking Jewish American Heritage Month. (Full text of remarks.) In his remarks, he reminded his audience of a sometimes forgotten episode in American history:
This year, we celebrate ... Jewish American Heritage Month, and we're 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.  It was wrong.  Even if it was 1862, even if official acts of anti-Semitism were all too common around the world, it was wrong and indicative of an ugly strain of thought.
But what happened next could have only taken place in America. Groups of American Jews protested General Grant’s decision.  A Jewish merchant from Kentucky traveled here, 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.  (Laughter and applause.)
And to General Grant’s credit, he recognized that he had made a serious mistake.  So later in his life, he apologized for this order, and as President, he went out of his way to appoint Jews to public office and to condemn the persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe.