Jewish Journal


March 20, 2013

More than 500 journalists cover Obama’s Israel visit, only small number will attend events


U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with greeters upon his arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on March 20. Photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with greeters upon his arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on March 20. Photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed

Israel’s Government Press Office is working overtime. At Ben Gurion International Airport, a special counter has been set up to issue temporary press cards to the 300 journalists flying in.

At the Menachem Begin Center, a state-of-the art press center has been hastily set up, with computers and wi-fi. Small US and Israeli flags are posted at each work station.

“We’re excited – this is an important visit for us,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told The Media Line at a reception at the press center. “This visit will showcase the close and intimate relationship we have in many fields.”

Government Press Office (GPO) Director Nitzan Chen welcomed the journalists and promised to do everything possible to assist them.

“You don’t have to fight for a seat in the pool,” Chen told the guests referring to the small group of journalists who attend events and then share their coverage with all journalists. “You can sit here and have a VIP tour.”

Yet technology also has its limits. The GPO sent journalists an email with a link to the live feed of the president’s visit. They said each person would be given a password to access the feed. However, when this reporter tried it, it didn’t work.

All three Israeli Television channels broadcast the arrival ceremony live, as did several Israeli news sites.

As is customary, the White House traveling press who always cover the president will get priority in attending events. What are all of the others supposed to do?

“That’s a good question,” Chen told The Media Line. “They can hang around outside and mingle with the others who also couldn’t get in. They can soak up the atmosphere.”

Israeli officials see the visit as a chance to disseminate information about Israel to prominent journalists. At the airport, journalists are being given a disk on key with information about Israel. At the press center, representatives of the mayor’s office hand out colorful shopping bags with maps of Jerusalem, lists of cultural events and pens emblazoned with the emblems of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat was in his element at the press center. “We are lighting up the walls of the Old City in honor of the President’s visit and have placed more than 1000 flags,” he said. “We are very honored and very happy that the President is here.”

President Obama will also visit the West Bank for a few hours on Thursday to meet Palestinian leaders. The mood in the town of Ramallah was markedly different than in Jerusalem.

Even before the president landed, dozens of Palestinian demonstrators chanted slogans against Obama.

“After four years in the White House, Obama says he wants to listen,” Omar Assaf, a 50-year-old teacher, told The Media Line. “A responsible president should know what the Palestinian rights are under the Israeli occupation.”

Protesters scuffled with Palestinian police who prevented them from reaching the Palestinian presidential headquarters. One young activist, Yasin Ahmed, told The Media Line that the Americans should stop supplying military and financial aid to Israel. “American planes bombard our youth and people in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

A You Tube video circulating in the West Bank satirizes the Obama visit.

“Obama, welcome Obama -- have a safe visit,” sings a young man playing cards. “We’re so delighted to have you, Obama. The checkpoint is jammed, the sun is burning hot, please stay in the shade. Everyone is waiting for Obama but Obama is late.”

When the president finally arrives, he leaves immediately but promises to “be back soon.”

In real life, the presidential trip hit an embarrassing snag just a few hours in.

Israel’s Channel 10 News showed the presidential limousine on the bed of an Israeli tow truck after someone mistakenly filled the car's tank with diesel instead of regular gas.

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