Watching Obama at Rabin Square

It wasn’t the throng of hundreds of thousands that organizers had hoped for, but the rush-hour crowd did manage to bring some of the spirit of the speech to the square.

March 22, 2013 03:14
2 minute read.
PEOPLE WATCH US President Barack Obama Jerusalem speech at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv

People wastch Obama at Rabin Square 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Around 100 Israelis on Thursday watched President Barack Obama’s speech in Jerusalem, on a big screen set up in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

Click here for full JPost coverage of Obama's visit to Israel

It wasn’t the throng of hundreds of thousands that organizers had hoped for when they set up a wishful-thinking Facebook group over a month ago, but the rush-hour crowd did manage to bring some of the spirit of the speech to the square, long one of the most famous spots in Israel for rallies and demonstrations.

Obama was met with applause when he mentioned the peace process and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, as well as when he spoke against the “occupation.”

This was, it should be noted, a hometown crowd for Obama – several youngsters in Meretz T-shirts, Tel Aviv types with their bikes, a couple with beers and a hipster mustache or two, as well as a group of Peace Now activists. Most of those in attendance appeared to be a choir waiting to be preached to, by an American president they likely have admired for some time.

Peace Now general secretary Yariv Oppenheimer, whose organization set up the “Obama: Come to the square” Facebook page in an attempt to convince him to give an address at Rabin Square, said on Thursday that the US leader gave “a very important speech with a very clear and important message.”

Oppenheimer, whose group canceled the event when it learned last week that the speech would be at 5 p.m. on a Thursday, possibly the worst part of Israel’s rush hour, and then reversed course, said he feared the speeches wouldn’t result in serious action on the ground, but that he hoped they result in a new-found push from the Israeli public in favor of the peace process.

Sitting on an electric bike wiping tears from his face after the speech, Giora Keren, 62, said he was a bit overcome with emotion, and that he hoped “the speech would make Israelis come around to the peace process, and hopefully we’ll see a new protest movement based on this.”

Keren, a Meretz voter, said he lived nearby and happened to be riding by when he decided to come watch the speech. He said that he had feared that there would be opposition to Obama’s visit, something that he hadn’t seen so far.

When asked what he hoped Obama’s visit will accomplish, he said, “Maybe it will wake up the Israelis, it’s been too long, we need peace, enough.”

Grandfather Israel Shafat, a kippa-wearing Meretz voter, said he was impressed by the speech, but added, “He’s a great rhetorician, but it’s not so important what he said but what he’ll do. Hopefully he can push the people [of Israel] to push the government back on the peace process.”

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