It will take a while to sort through reactions from various perspectives, but it appears the president did one of his Big Speeches in Jerusalem today, and though the specific policy content wasn’t that new, the tone and framing of it hit a big chord with Israeli audiences that don’t normally care much for rhetoric.
The New York Times‘ Rick Gladstone had the straight news take on the speech:
Laying out his case for a future Israel at peace with the Palestinians, President Obama delivered an enthusiastically welcomed speech on Thursday before an audience of youthful Israelis in Jerusalem, assuring them of America’s strong support but asking them to empathize with their Israeli-occupied neighbors and “look at the world through their eyes.”
In a carefully crafted address that was widely regarded as the centerpiece of his first trip to Israel as president, Mr. Obama spoke in lofty terms about Israel’s history and ideals, pointing out again and again how America had stood at its side and saying he remains unquestionably committed to Israel’s security. But the speech also seemed intended as an opportunity for Mr. Obama to appeal to a young generation of Israelis who do not necessarily share the hardened views of many of their elders, who are at best mistrustful of the Palestinians and wary of Mr. Obama himself.
Haaretz‘s Bradley Burston added a lot of color–and excitement–to his analysis of the speech:
For Barack Obama to come to Jerusalem, and speak to Israeli students and talk persuasively of the possibility of a secure and peaceful future, for him to do that and garner a roaring ovation of approval, he would have to have given one hell of a speech.
This was the speech that these young Israelis not only needed but wanted to hear. A speech that radically redefined centrism in Israel, bringing it down to extraordinary common denominators in directions Israelis have learned to think of as diametrically opposed.
He spoke of security and peace as inextricably and necessarily linked, not a narrow choice between options, but a conscious choice for both.
“Radically redefined centrism in Israel.” Wow. Not bad for a speech during a trip widely expected to be at best a “reboot” effort at reengagement with the Middle East, and at worst a waste of everyone’s time.
It will be interesting to see if Israel’s self-proclaimed best friends in American conservative circles choose to inform those excited listeners in Jerusalem that Obama was just doing his rock-star, “The One” routine, or that they should be offended he was basically speaking over the Israeli government’s head to the country’s people. But at first blush, it seems Obama’s well-documented unpopularity in Israel may soon be on the upswing–or at least that Israelis are no longer wishing they were hosting a visit from Mitt Romney.