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Israelis want President Obama to talk to them

February 12, 2013|By Batsheva Sobelman
  • President Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Oval Office in 2010. With Obama planning his first trip to Israel this spring, Israelis are vying to get his attention on a variety of topics.
President Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)

JERUSALEM -- As advance teams coordinate between Washington and Jerusalem over the agenda and itinerary of President Barack Obama's visit to Israel next month, politicians and media are full of speculation.

Obama is coming to "save Israel from itself," according to one editorial, whose headline called the visit "better late than never." One column suggested the visit was a "moment of truth" for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Other media reported the purpose of the visit was to guarantee "no surprises," such as an Israeli airstrike on Iran during U.S. efforts to negotiate.

Netanyahu, at the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, himself listed the key agenda points for the visit as Iran, Syria and the peace process.

But the Israeli populace is not content to leave the agenda and talks up to diplomats and politicians. Typically heavily engaged in politics, Israelis have a few ideas of their own about the visit and ask that Obama address them in person.

"Talk to us," is the main message of several media campaigns trying to tug Obama in various, sometimes conflicting directions. 

One Facebook initiative is trying to get Obama to speak at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, where organizers are hoping he will deliver a historic speech before a peace rally.

Among those who have joined this movement is Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who invited Obama to speak at the place that symbolizes Israeli democracy and the "ongoing desire to live a peaceful and normal life." 

In a recent addition to this initiative, organizers have invited the public to upload pictures of their personal messages to Obama. These, they said, will be passed on to the U.S. Embassy and maybe to the president.

Countering the liberal "speech for peace" drive is the conservative campaign titled "speech for life." Also waged on Facebook, this push invites the president to address Israelis from atop a mountainous biblical landmark in the West Bank overlooking the settlements. "Yes we can," reads their Facebook page. "If enough people join, Obama won't listen to the left-wing madness." 

Yet a third party has weighed in, less concerned about what Obama says and where he says it than whom he brings. "President Obama, bring Pollard with you" is a push for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American naval intelligence officer convicted by the U.S. of espionage for Israel in the 1980s. More than 15,000 people have signed an online petition imploring the president to commute Pollard's sentence.

If the left wants Obama to come to Tel Aviv and the right wants Obama to come to Samaria, a biblical name for part of the West Bank, senior lawmakers believe the president should speak to Israelis from the parliament.  

Amid competing public campaigns and a persistent buzz about the president perhaps delivering a speech at one of Israel's universities, media released the itinerary for Obama's visit. It includes a public address in Jerusalem, to be held at the Israel Museum or the International Convention Center.

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