Love for the magical Mr. Obama
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Love for the magical Mr. Obama

Local media gushes over the US president’s speech to Israeli students, especially his use of Hebrew phrases of comfort

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

US President Barack Obama waves to the crowd after addressing Israeli students at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, Thursday, March 21, 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US President Barack Obama waves to the crowd after addressing Israeli students at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, Thursday, March 21, 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US President Barack Obama delivered a stirring speech at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem on Thursday; it was up to the Israeli press to pick it apart, and discern what he meant by it, on Friday. The thing they loved most: the Hebrew.

Maariv devotes a walloping 11 pages to its coverage of Obama’s activities around Israel and the Palestinian territories, but leads off with a full translation of the president’s address. One analysis piece in the paper says the atmosphere among the students in the crowd was like that of a rock concert. One member of the crowd who was interviewed had voted for Mitt Romney in the last US elections, but was nonetheless excited to attend.

“Because it’s the president of the United States,” he said flatly, clarifying that it’s star status, no matter what your political ideology is,” the daily writes.

Columnist Shalom Yerushalmi writes that the crux of Obama’s speech was that Israel is “strong enough to make peace with the Palestinians, and to give them an independent state, and thus you will also not lose your state’s Jewish and democratic identity.” He made it about the Palestinian issue, first and foremost, but were it up to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who “wanted Iran to stand at the center of things” in the speech, Obama wouldn’t have made the Palestinian issue so essential, Yerushalmi writes.

“The prime minister would have been happy to lock up the Palestinian file in a drawer and throw the key into the sea off Gaza. Obama saw what was the important and burning matter to him. After the carrot comes the stick,” he says.

Israel Hayom plays up the big quote in Hebrew from the speech — “Atem lo levad” — “You’re not alone,” which it displays prominently on the paper’s front page. Boaz Bismuth picks the speech apart, saying the first half was the “Likud Obama” and the second half was the “Meretz Obama.” The first part of the speech appealed to those concerned with Israeli security; the second appealed to those concerned about a Palestinian future, but both parts included the president’s magical delivery, he says.

“Obama came to Israel to try to enchant, and he succeeded at it,” Bismuth writes in his Page 3 column. “He chose to speak directly to the young, in order for them to help the new secretary of state, John Kerry, in his negotiation work and the coming battle.”

“Obama, the good friend of Bibi, spoke clearly about two states for two peoples, when one of them… is Jewish. The time has also come for the [Palestinian] Authority to internalize” the message, he writes. The real issue, according to Bismuth, is whether Obama will deliver like former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, or whether his speech was just good oratory.

The paper’s coverage of “Obamageddon” in Israel takes up the first 15 pages of Israel Hayom’s Friday edition.

Yedioth Ahronoth also puts the “You’re not alone” quote on the front page, splashed over a picture of Obama receiving the Presidential Medal of Distinction from his counterpart, Shimon Peres. On the inside pages, next to the photos of Obama and Peres smiling and raising their glasses at the state dinner held in the visiting leader’s honor, the key words in Yedioth’s analyses of the speech were “love” and “magic.”

Nahum Barnea writes that Obama didn’t come to bring a peace plan, but rather “to calm, to convince, to conquer.” He sums up the president’s speech this way: “The cost involved in establishing a Palestinian state is dwarfed by the benefits that will crop up with the end of the occupation.” Barnea says the speech had a good combination of “a broad historical canvas, a traditional worldview, experiences from the field, information, emotion, warmth, specific criticism.”

“The praises were a lover’s praises; the injuries were a lover’s injuries,” he gushes.

Hanoch Daum writes about “the moment that enchanted me” during Obama’s speech, and Sima Kadmon says that “Israel is in love.”

“On the president’s second day in Israel, it’s definitely possible to determine that Israel is enamored,” Kadmon writes. “The sensation was that if they had ballots at the convention center, Obama would have been elected prime minister of Israel.”

Haaretz leads with what the daily saw as the crux of the speech: “Demand peace from your leaders,” reads the headline. The paper’s editorial urges readers to pay attention to Obama, who pushed for security “through a fair and just peace, based on two states for two peoples,” and international diplomacy to thwart an Iranian nuke rather than unilateral Israeli military action.

“Obama’s objective on his trip to Israel was achieved: He conquered the hearts of Israelis and gave them a sense of security, in the hope that now they will assume the responsibility and push their leaders towards a peace agreement with the Palestinians,” it writes. “Let’s hope that Obama’s vision will fall on attentive ears.”

Nehemia Shtrasler is less enamored of Obama than are the others. He writes that the president’s real objective in visiting Israel and pushing for peace was to “bring quiet, promote trade, and, most important: allow the free and cheap flow of oil to the United States.”

He says that the majority of the conversations between the two heads of state were about Iran and Syria and that Obama seeks to empower Israel in order to protect American interests in the Middle East. “What the two said to each other on the peace process with the Palestinians was only poetic license. Obama will not stop Israel’s continued wallowing in the swamp of occupation on its way to a binational state, which will be the end of the Zionist dream.”

“If we don’t see a significant peace process here in the coming years, what will be left is just internal affairs. And the new government was established exactly for that: to deal with the economic-social-civil sphere,” he warns.

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