President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Obama Slams ‘Deplorable Anti-Semitism’ Abroad

Cuba relations and domestic policy main points of State of the Union address

by
Michael Schulson
January 21, 2015
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

President Obama went before Congress Tuesday night to deliver his second-to-last State of the Union address. In a speech that focused on domestic policy, Obama found time to talk about thawing relations with Cuba (Alan Gross, the Jewish contractor recently released from Cuban prison, was one of than president’s guests), to urge Congress not to pass further sanctions on Iran, and to condemn the attacks in Paris. When Obama mentioned Charlie Hebdo, some members of Congress waved yellow pencils in the air in a show of solidarity.

Obama also addressed the global rise in anti-Semitism, in the context of a larger argument about expressing American values abroad: “As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained,” he said. “It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims, the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace.”

There’s a tendency to treat the State of the Union as a kind of catalog—what did the president say? What major domestic event, critical global phenomenon, or pressing pet issue did he manage to omit? The game can be exhausting. Nevertheless, omissions can be telling. Obama said that “we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists,” but he didn’t mention Boko Haram at all, the extremist group that’s been rampaging across parts of Africa. He didn’t mention the potential genocide developing in Myanmar, either. Clearly, the choice to speak out for human dignity will be focused on the Middle East and Europe. And, closer to home, Obama mentioned immigration only twice during the hour-long speech.

Michael Schulson is a freelance writer in Durham, North Carolina. He writes about religion, science, and culture.

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