"Here, tonight, we must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise. We cannot deny it," Obama said. "An attack on any faith is an attack on all of our faiths."
Obama's appearance comes after he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clashed over the U.S.-led nuclear deal with Iran, which the Israeli leader vehemently opposed. Netanyahu angered the White House by denouncing the deal in a speech to the U.S. Congress last spring. Obama, while hailing the accord as a way to stop Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, met with Netanyahu at the White House in November in an effort to smooth over their differences.
"When voices around the world veer from criticism of a particular Israeli policy to an unjust denial of Israel’s right to exist, when Israel faces terrorism, we stand up forcefully and proudly in defense of our ally, in defense of our friend, in defense of the Jewish state of Israel," Obama said. " America’s commitment to Israel’s security remains, now and forever, unshakable. And I've said this before -- it would be a fundamental moral failing if America broke that bond."
Obama was introduced by filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who had worked with Netanyahu to rally opposition to the Iran deal, also spoke. Obama praised the efforts of Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, who -- while being held captive by the Germans -- rallied other U.S. captives to issue the declaration "we are all Jews" after his captors ordered Jewish prisoners to report. The declaration helped save lives of his fellow prisoners.
"I cannot imagine a greater expression of Christianity than to say, I, too, am a Jew," Obama said. "When any Jew anywhere is targeted just for being Jewish, we all have to respond as Roddie Edmonds did."
Also honored were Lois Gunden, an American teacher in France who helped smuggle Jewish children out of an internment camp, and Walery and Maryla Zbijewski, a Polish couple who helped hide Jewish children in Warsaw.