Barack Obama's speech in front of a sympathetic young left-wing audience in Israel demanding that Israel's leaders take risks for peace with the Palestinians, and to end the Israeli "occupation," received gushing reviews for its "historic" nature from New York Times journalists. Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren joined host Marcus Mabry and deputy foreign editor Michael Slackman on Thursday's Timescast. Joining by phone from Jerusalem, Rudoren could hardly contain her excitement.
Rudoren: "Well, this was an audience of people who were predisposed to like the speech and like Obama, and they wanted to come, and it was a largely left-wing audience, and they [ate?] the speech up. They loved it. He spoke Hebrew, he made jokes, he handled a heckler well. And he just played the strings of, sort of, the Israeli public very effectively, talking about their ancient roots in land, and then he delivered what was a very tough message, which he said very strongly, Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state if it continues the occupation of the Palestinian territory...."
Mabry mentioned Obama's failure to condemn Israeli settlements as illegal, as he has in the past.
Rudoren: "...he did talk, as you said, about settler violence. A very big issue for Palestinians. And he talked also about Palestinians should be able to farm their own land, Palestinians should be able to travel freely, students should be able to travel freely to study. These are things that the Palestinians talk about day after day as injustices under Israeli occupation, and he said them here in Jerusalem."
Rudoren's colleague Michael Slackman declared it "historic" and voiced his strong approval of Obama's message.
Slackman: Well, I think that the message that the president delivered in what was clearly a historic speech that's gonna be picked over for a long time by pundits, was to first build confidence within the Israeli government, no question, excuse me, the Israeli public, no question. He said, very clearly, we have your back. And then as Jodi laid out quite well, he delivered a very tough message. But he did something that actually he's done in this country, which he's tried to reach out to the people, in this case he's gone around the political class...."
Surprised by the "rousing applause" Obama received for his two-state solution comments, host Mabry asked Rudoren who was in the audience.
Rudoren: "Well, there were hundreds of university students who competed in raffles at each of their universities to get here....many, many, many of them were big strong Obama supporters, big strong supporters of a two-state solution. There were also others in the crowd. I noticed some rabbis, I noticed some settler leaders were invited, some members of the Knesset were here, some peace activists were here, so it was a mix. But I do think it was a generally very, very friendly audience, who also was sort of excited and inspired by being at what Michael correctly described as a historic speech, that also roused them up."
Later Slackman asked Rudoren how the speech was received outside the hall, wondering if Israeli's would appreciate Obama taking the Palestinian perspective so strongly.
Rudoren: "I think the president's aides were pretty smart, both in the structure of the speech itself and the structure of his visit. Because all day yesterday there were fewer words but some of them were in Hebrew and some of them were jokes...a lot of commentary on television and newspapers on how, you know, how charming he was, one newspaper said 'He Had Us at Shalom.' And it was a lot of warmth and love yesterday and also some important stuff about connecting Israel to its ancient history and quoting from the Talmud and stuff like that....but I think he did a good job of building that credibility and that love before delivering the tough stuff."
Rudoren and Isabel Kershner's report in Friday's paper, "Attempt to Win Hearts Is Tempered by a Challenge to Wary Israelis," also began with gushing before admitting challenges ahead for Obama's pro-Palestinian vision for Israel.
With Hebrew phrases, testaments to Israel’s ancient roots, expressions of deep admiration and displays of empathy, President Obama has captured the hearts of many here over the past two days, appearing to erase years of skepticism and wariness overnight.
But a much more complicated sell was the tough message he delivered in a bold speech on Thursday afternoon, saying that Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state was threatened by settlement building and other activities in the Palestinian territories, and calling young people to pressure politicians to advance the peace process. As the words began to sink in, some Israelis wondered if they would be followed by more pressure from Washington.