The Charm Offensive — Did it Work?
Jews from all over the world have been celebrating Passover this week, asking the Four Questions, and wondering how “this night is different from all other nights.”
With the hopeful Passover greeting of “Next Year in Jerusalem”, many Jews have been contemplating how the recent visit to Israel by U.S. President Barack Obama will affect the U.S.-Israel relationship in years to come. How will future times be different than past times because the American President was in Jerusalem this year?
|Obama did his
homework in figuring
out what Israeli
Obama spent 50 hours in a whirlwind visit to the Promised Land. He was the fifth U.S. president to visit Israel since the birth of the state in 1948. Obama brought 600 staff members with him; took over every one of the 233 rooms at the prestigious King David Hotel; and booked a total of 1,100 hotel rooms in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv… more than any other U.S. President who has come to the Holy Land.
The White House Press Corps chartered their own flight to Israel and set up an elaborate media center at Jerusalem’s Inbal hotel. Israel’s Government Press Office (the GPO) also offered foreign and local journalists a communications workplace at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.
Each day, thousands of Israeli officers, from every unit within Israel’s police force, were assigned to Obama’s security detail. The U.S. President was flown into Israel on Air Force One; taken to Jerusalem in a U.S. marine corps helicopter; and was protected by American Secret Service agents driving U.S. imported S.U.V.’s as part of Obama’s motorcade. And, who paid for all these government expenses… most likely, U.S. tax payers.
Right before Obama’s arrival, his armored limo, “The Beast” was, mistakenly, filled up with unleaded gas instead of diesel. It broke down and was quickly replaced with another armored limo. During Obama’s stay, streets were closed to the public, causing traffic jams and havoc for shoppers who were trying to shop in Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover holiday.
Although Obama did visit Ramallah and meet with the Palestinians, one of his main purposes for visiting the Middle East was to speak directly to Israelis, hoping to change public opinion. Obama did his homework in figuring out what Israel’s citizens wanted to hear. He knew that what he had left out of his infamous Cairo speech in 2009 was the Jewish People’s historical attachment to their ancient homeland. In Jerusalem, he toured the Shrine of the Book museum to observe the Dead Sea Scrolls, acknowledging Israel’s biblical roots to the land, as well. At one point during his Israel visit, he spoke prophetically, stating, “You shall live again upon your own soil” (see Ezekiel 37:14; Jeremiah 42:12).
In his speeches Obama spoke not just about the importance of Israel’s security needs, but also about Israel’s sovereignty… something that Israelis were eagerly waiting to hear from him for years.
Visiting Yad Vashem, Obama showed compassion for the plight of the Jewish People during the Holocaust, and he demonstrated a genuine understanding of Jewish suffering in the face of Holocaust deniers. The ceremony at Yad Vashem was broadcast, worldwide.
It was obvious that Obama had learned the significance of repeating the words, “Israel has a right to defend herself”, and he acknowledged this need when speaking of the threat of Iran, supporting Israel’s need to keep the military option on the table.
Obama left no stone unturned, gesturing warmly throughout his visit towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Calling each other by their first names, the two world leaders showed public displays of affection in what appeared to be a growing friendship.
In just 50 hours, with a few welcome words in Hebrew, and speaking from prepared texts written by good White House speech writers, Obama reached out to a needy Israeli public; a public that was hungry to capture the heart of American support for Israel. Obama’s words wooed many of the citizens of the Jewish State. Overall, his charm offensive worked… at least for the time being. But, not everyone was convinced of his sincerity.
|…not everyone was
convinced of his
This reporter talked to Israelis on the street during Obama’s last day in the Land. Here’s what they had to say:
David: “I think Obama is doing a great job. He supports Israel and will continue to support Israel. I think that the fact that Obama came here is really important because it means that he really cares about the Middle East.”
Roni: “I feel warm inside. I feel we have recognition from the States; from Obama. All the world can see it.”
Joe: “Obama is a smooth operator. He didn’t say anything different than all the other governments of the U.S. have said in the last 50 years. If you can see behind the smoke screen of being nice and smiling and being nonchalant and very relaxed, then nothing is changed in my opinion.”
Nili: “I think he is a wonderful man and I very much appreciate him. I think he supports Israel so much and was shining in this visit. My opinion is better than it was in the past. But, in the past, it was also very good.”
Yiran: “Since he came to Israel, the opinion of Israeli citizens has improved. We think he is nicer. We think, maybe now, he can help us with Iran. Before, I didn’t really like him because he didn’t do anything for Israel. Definitely, I see change.”
Ze’ev: “I am very happy that he came and that he tried to be nice to the people in Israel; and, to be a friend of ours. It changed my feelings. Before, I felt he wasn’t a good friend. And, now it is better. We need to see what will be the changes in the real deeds; not just in the speaking.”
Rutie: “Before, I thought that he’s not a friend of Israel. Now, it is very interesting in the way he has been talking so nicely about the Jewish people and Israel and saying so many nice things. But, I am just waiting to see what’s going to happen in the following weeks. I can’t imagine that what he is saying is where his heart really is. We’ll see what comes out of it.
Dalit: “It’s confusing a little bit. Actually, we didn’t like Obama in the past because he didn’t visit us in his first term. We thought he was against us. We know the U.S. supports us; they give us money. But, I didn’t like him. Now, he tried to be better. He spoke Hebrew. He was well-prepared for his visit. He seemed more relaxed. As far as the Iranian issue here, it is still open. I don’t think he is with us.
Rachel: “Before, I didn’t have a very good opinion of him. But, now, I think he has gotten stronger for Israel. So, that’s good, although, I have a hard time believing that anything will change from what it is right now.”
As you can see from these interviews, this reporter got mixed reviews from the Israeli public. Yet, overall, there was a positive response towards Obama’s visit. Most Israelis had a “wait and see attitude,” as they rushed to do their last minute shopping for the Passover celebration.
In the U.S. this week, only a few days after his return from Israel, Obama sat down with his family and staff for the traditional Passover Seder at the White House. His guests viewed the elements of the Seder on a special plate given as a gift to Michelle Obama by Sarah Netanyahu, the wife of Israel’s Prime Minister.
Most likely, Obama reflected on his visit to Israel when speaking to his White House friends. They may have encouraged him with media reports indicating a happy Israeli public who were greatly encouraged that the most powerful leader of the Free World had come to visit them; to reach out and touch Israeli society with such warmth, kindness and understanding.
Though Obama didn’t come to visit Israel during his first term as U.S. President; though it was obvious that his relationship with Netanyahu got off to a wrong start; though he has consistently seemed more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli; and, though his approach to the Iranian threat of nuclear capability worries Israelis; his visit to the Land seemed to signal a change, at least in terms of his public persona.
As the Passover holiday ends, Israeli citizens will be contemplating Obama’s smiles and speeches, wondering if his new public statements will lead to genuine reform in his relationship with the Jewish State. In the weeks and months to come, most Israelis will be looking to see whether Obama’s actions speak louder than his words.
“Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:8