My good friend, Alex Zusmanovich, was one of the lucky 600 students who won the raffle to hear Obama's speech, first hand. Here are his impressions:
Excitement. Excitement was what I felt when I got the email telling me that I was one of the 150 lucky students that won the raffle organized by the student body of the Tel Aviv University to go to President Obama's speech for the Israeli nation in Jerusalem. For a Political Science student like me, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear one of the greatest world leaders of our time speaking. Dressed in a navy blue shirt with a logo of the university, we headed towards the capital of our state. When I entered the hall of Binyanei HaUma, I instantly felt that something big is going to happen. A couple dozen of Israeli and American flags hanging on the stage, a lot of press everywhere, jazz music is heard from the loudspeakers. Everything was set for President Obama's arrival.
Hope. Hope was the feeling that many of the Israelis wanted to feel after President Obama's long-awaited speech at Binyanei HaUma in Jerusalem this afternoon. Did we feel it? Yes and no. Yes, because it was the first time that a world leader of such stature talked straight to the citizens of Israel without mediation of our domestic politicians, and unlike them, he made us believe him; No, because he didn't say something that we didn't already know.
First, Obama talked about the security of Israel and the long ongoing relationship between Israel and the United States. I thought to myself during his speech that if this relationship stayed strong during the last four years despite the bad relationship between the leaders and the governments of both sides, there is no reason that it won't stay strong in the future. Of course Obama's will to strengthen this relationship and ensure Israel's right to defend itself is very good to Israel, but it's not the main issue as I see it.
Second, Obama talked about the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian authority. In this case it sounded as if the President doesn’t fully understand the complexity of the situation. Do we want peace? Of course we do. And do the Palestinians want their own state? Of course they do. The problem is that the solution to this political-ethnic-religious dispute lies somewhere else other than just "peace is made between people", like President Obama suggested. I don't think that Obama put all the burden of the peace talks on Israeli shoulders, like some people suggested, but I think that things that seem one way from the Oval Office, look like something completely different from the Middle East.
President Obama talked about a few more topics, added some jokes and words in Hebrew and made the feeling that he is talking for the Israeli people, and not to them. Without a doubt, he was the greatest speaker I have ever heard, in spite of the lack of cutting edge, practical sayings in his speech.
The hope that I talked about in the beginning lies in the feeling that he really meant what he said – he is a real friend of Israel. Our problems concern him and he will do everything he can to solve them. If it wasn't a one-time visit, and he really wants to help us, we all can hope for a better, brighter future.