Optimism, cynicism and indifference

Locals react to US President Barack Obama's anticipated historic visit.

US flags prepared ahead of Obama visit 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US flags prepared ahead of Obama visit 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A cross-section of Jerusalem residents had divergent perspectives about US President Barack Obama’s historic and much anticipated first visit to Israel as president this week.
“I think it’s a good thing he’s coming because he’s so involved in the situation [in the Middle East], so he should speak his mind and see what’s really going on here,” said Taya Gizuntrman, a student of dental medicine. “Me and my friends recognize the importance of his support for Israel, and while I think he should be more pro-Israel, I’m still excited that he’s coming. I think it’s positive – even if traffic will be a mess while he’s here.”
Edwina Kruckeberg, a retired nurse from San Francisco, who made aliya two months ago, barely concealed her contempt for Obama.
“I think he’s a Muslim and that he really caters to the Arabs,” she said. “He appears to be good, but he’s not good. His actions are bad because he doesn’t like Israel or Israeli people.
He’s more concerned about Arab sentiment. He’s going to pretend that he cares, but he has no intention of being supportive of Israel.”
Gal, a Jerusalem native, who declined to give his full name, said he was suspicious of the president’s visit.
“The question is ‘why is he coming here?’” he asked. “I don’t know why [he’s coming] because we’ve had almost zero contact with him. I think he’s done nothing good for Israel.”
While Gal said he hopes that the relationship will improve, he remains skeptical.
“He didn’t do anything good during his last term and my feeling is that he has caused great harm to Israel. Look, there is a scale here in the Middle East and the feeling is that he has pushed the Arab side of it up and the Israeli side down.”
Moshe Stein, a retired employee of the Internal Revenue Service, who made aliya in December from Queens, New York, took a more nuanced approach to Obama’s visit.
“Yes, there is obviously cooperation [between Israel and the US] as we saw with Iron Dome, but I’ve been disappointed about certain statements [Obama has] made in speeches about Israel.”
Specifically, Stein said he took issue with Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo, during which he attempted to reach out to the Muslim world.
“My recollection is that he spoke about Israel in terms of ‘after the Holocaust,’ but said nothing of the historical connection Jews have to this land,” he said. “I just don’t think he’s fully aware of the depth of this relationship, or that he accepts it. But I hope that will change.”
Stein added that Obama’s reluctance to visit Israel during his first term has engendered further distrust.
“One of the great resentments within the Jewish community is that in his first term he never visited Israel,” he continued.
“That probably would have helped matters.”
Sigal, a Jerusalem native who also didn’t want to give her full name, said she was apathetic about Obama’s visit, citing the icy stalemate between him and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“I’m kind of indifferent. I don’t think anything will change much, even if it’s a friendly visit,” she said. “This is more ‘formal’ than ‘friendly’ and I don’t think that Obama or Netanyahu think things will change.”
After pausing briefly to consider the possibility of a breakthrough, Sigal said she was not sanguine.
“I’m for giving Obama a nice reception, but I don’t think it will have any effect, one way or the other,” she said. “They’re just going through the motions.”