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Anti-Semitism and racism have no place in the modern world, US President Barack Obama said Friday, as he toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Centre in Jerusalem, on the last day of his trip to Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.
Accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Yad Vashem head Avner Shalev, and former chief rabbi Yisrael Lau, who survived the World War II Holocaust as a young child, Obama re-lit the flame in the Centre's Hall of Remembrance.
“We could come here 1 000 times, and each time your heart will break,” he said in brief remarks.
“Here we see the depravity to which man can sink. The barbarism that unfolds when we begin to see our fellow human beings as somehow less than us. We see how evil can for a .... time triumph when good people do nothing.”
The President noted that the Israel did not exist because of the Holocaust, “but in the survival of a strong Jewish state of Israel the Holocaust will never happen again.”
These remarks are seen as an attempt to counter the impression left by his remarks in his famous 2009 speech in Cairo aimed at the Arab world, which angered many in Israel by giving the impression that Israel's legitimacy stemmed from the Holocaust.
Another symbolic acceptance of Israel's legitimacy came prior to the Yad Vashem visit, when the president laid a wreath at the grave of Theodore Herzl, the Hungarian-born journalist who founded the modern Zionist movement.
Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren told the Ha'aretz daily that by laying the wreath at Herzl's grave, “President Obama was reaffirming Zionism and the idea of a Jewish state.”
Herzl died in 1904, and his bones were interred in Israel, on a Jerusalem mountain named after him, in 1949.
Obama also laid a wreath at the grave of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in November 1995 by a Jewish fanatic opposed to peace moves with the Palestinians.
As he had with Herzl, he also - in accordance with Jewish tradition -placed a small stone on the grave. According to influential US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who is traveling with the president, the stone came from the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington.
Obama was set to hold another meeting with Netanyahu - his third since he arrived Wednesday - before traveling to Bethlehem, to visit the Church of the Nativity, which tradition holds is the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Obama's first visit as president to Israel and the Palestinian territories is set to end at around 1330 GMT, when Air Force One takes off from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, en route to Amman, Jordan. - Sapa-dpa