Tel Aviv — Barack Obama has become the fifth American president to visit Israel during his term in office.
Air Force One touched down bang on time at Ben Gurion Airport, met by trumpet blasts, an Israeli military guard of honor, and welcome speeches by his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
His red carpet ran alongside a reception line consisting of the ministers of the new government, and various faith leaders, including the country’s two chief rabbis, Druze, Muslim and Christian leaders. They waited patiently in the sweltering heat, some of them visibly uncomfortable, for their turn to meet the President.
Despite the scorching sun, there was no tent or shade. Obama and Netanyahu sat roasting in direct sunshine during the ceremony.
Obama stopped and spoke to each person in the line, greeting them relaxed, shaking their hand and exchanging a few words. This was his first encounter with several of the key ministers, including right-winger Naftali Bennett, the new Minister of Industry Trade and Labor, and the head of the centrist Yesh Atid Yair Lapid, who is Finance Minister.
Israel made a point with the choice of music played for Obama to approach the reception line.
It was Jerusalem of Gold, the song by Naomi Shemer, which emphasizes the Jewish connection to the holy city and which she updated after the Six Day War to celebrate the unification of Jerusalem. It was a musical statement of Israel’s desire to see Obama acknowledging the Jews’ historic connection for Israel (something that critics say he hasn’t done well enough to date) as well as the country’s need as a post-Holocaust haven. It also hinted at Israeli’s insistence that Jerusalem must stay united under its sovereignty.
After the musical Jerusalem theme, Peres also spoke of Jerusalem, saying: “In a few minutes you will be on your way to Jerusalem. Our ancient capital. The cradle of all believers, of all prayers. You will see the hills and mountains where our prophets preached. Where the soul of the Jewish People was born. Where the State of Israel was created.”
Obama ticked the Biblical-heritage box by referring to the Biblical Jewish connection to Israel, saying that here, “sons of Abraham” and “daughters of Sarah” are fulfilling a “dream.” But it may not have been the clear Jewish theme that Jerusalem was hoping for — the phrasing “sons of Abraham” and “daughters of Sarah” includes Muslims and Christians, who consider themselves Abrahamic descendents.
Obama used similarly inclusive phrasing when talking of the “past present and future in this tiny land that has left such a great imprint on the course of civilization.”
He wowed the audience by saying in Hebrew tov lihiyot shuv ba’aretz, which means it’s good to be back here in Israel.
He said that America stands by Israel as a fellow country built by pioneers with an ideal. He also noted that the two strong allies have shared security interests.