Will Barack Obama's Speech Inspire a Generation of Israelis To Seek Peace?

Center May Run With Issue, But Bibi's Not Likely To Budge

Barack Obama put the issue of peace talks with the Palestinians squarely back on the Israeli agenda. Will the momentum keep moving or fizzle against the opposition of the right wing?
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Barack Obama put the issue of peace talks with the Palestinians squarely back on the Israeli agenda. Will the momentum keep moving or fizzle against the opposition of the right wing?

By Nathan Jeffay

Published March 25, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
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Will the young Israelis that President Obama aimed his Jerusalem speech at become the “Obama generation,” in the same way that the youngsters who mourned Yitzhak Rabin after his 1995 assasination, became known forever as the “candle generation”?

President Barack Obama’s March 21 address was an impassioned appeal to Israelis, especially the young, over the heads of their leaders, to insist on pushing for peace with the Palestinians. Declaring in Hebrew “you are not alone,” he hoped to inspire a generation to look beyond its own sense of victimization and give it the confidence to insist on its government making peace with the Palestinians.

After an election season in Israel characterized by a conspicuous absence of the Palestinian issue from the discourse, Obama succeeded in forcing it back on the public agenda. His speech supplanted even Passover preparations as a favorite conversation topic among Israelis in the hours and days that followed.

Many Israelis were enthralled by President Obama’s soaring oratory. Can it translate into political action?
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Many Israelis were enthralled by President Obama’s soaring oratory. Can it translate into political action?

“It’s good that he spoke to the young and I think that from the people in Israel peace will come and not from the Prime Minister, and I think we need to continue in the direction that he outlined,” said Liran Tetro, a 30-year-old from Or Akiva, the morning after the speech. “He doesn’t need to ignore Bibi, but more to inspire and wake up the people, which is what he did.”

Tal Harris, 29, who works on college campuses trying to drum up support for a two-state solution, said that the speech is exactly what he has needed for years.

“What’s been missing for the last four years is trust between Israelis and the American president,” commented Harris, executive director in Israel for the OneVoice movement. “Even though he paid for a lot of our security it was cold money, in a way. But now he has made a connection with the public.”

Indeed, early polling seem to suggest that a change has taken place. A Channel 2 poll, found that 39% of Israelis said their opinion of him had improved as a result of his visit, and he had only gone down in the estimation of 2%. The poll failed to record people’s actual opinion of him, only looking at how views had changed.


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