Linda Gradstein
The Media Line
March 6, 2013 - 1:00am

Young Israelis Want the President to See their Side

A group of students sit around a conference table at the Hadassah Academic College in downtown Jerusalem. They are all majoring in politics and government, and started college only after finishing their mandatory army service.

Overall, they are pleased that President Obama is coming to visit Israel, but say he should have come during his first term.

“I think it’s about time that he comes because of the close relationship the US has with Israel,” Nadav Aud, 23, told The Media Line. “He needs to understand what Israelis really feel and we hope it will bring a better atmosphere to the relationship with US and Israel.”

During the President’s first term, there was tension between him and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over Israel’s threats to attack Iran if it does not stop its nuclear program and Israel’s continued construction in land captured during the 1967 war.

These students say they hope that President Obama will realize that Israel lives in a bad neighborhood.

“President Obama sees Israel as a western country and they look at us from a western point of view,” Chezi Marcus, 25, and wearing the knitted skullcap of an observant Jew, said. “But we are a western country in the Middle East. America tried to make changes in Afghanistan and Libya and it didn’t work – they think differently and have a different way of life. We need to have freedom to deal with our problems as we think best.”

Marcus is afraid that Obama will pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians that could damage Israel’s security.

“I think we need to separate between being appreciative of the help we get from America and knowing that we still need to do what is best for us and not just what America says is good for us,” he told The Media Line.

When asked who they voted for in Israel’s recent elections, five of the eight say they chose Yair Lapid, the handsome TV personality turned politician who formed a new political party called Yesh Atid (There is a Future) and won 19 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Lapid promised to represent the interests of Israel’s middle class – the large swath of the population that works, pays taxes, does army reserve duty, and is barely making ends meet.

Lapid is currently negotiating with Netanyahu over joining his coalition government, although he is insisting on becoming foreign minister – a post Netanyahu has reserved for his ally Avigdor Lieberman once Lieberman finishes his trial for corruption and breach of trust.

“I had a huge argument with my father over the elections,” Netanel Tevel, 25, said. “He said I should vote for Netanyahu but I felt that the economic problems were more more important so I voted for Lapid.”

These students are as concerned about economic issues as political ones. They study only part-time and all have jobs to help pay tuition and living expenses. They worry they will never be able to afford to buy an apartment. The average three bedroom apartment in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv is well over $600,000, while the average monthly salary in Israel is about $2400.

In January’s elections, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was barely mentioned. Many analysts say this was the first time that the question of whether Israel should uproot Jewish communities in post-67 land and withdraw in exchange for a peace deal with the Palestinians, was not even discussed.

These students say they do think about the issue, but feel there’s not much they can do.

“We don’t really have anyone to talk to on the other side,” said Keren Sharabi, 24, as she flicked her long red hair over her shoulder. “I think the Palestinians are not ready for peace. They don’t have a leader who can take them there.”

Sharabi, by the way, may be the only one of these students to actually see President Obama. A former army officer, she works as a security guard at the Israel Museum, which the President is scheduled to visit. She suggests he skip the museum and take a tour with Israeli soldiers instead.

“I wish he would get on a jeep and go with soldiers to an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank,” she said. “He would see how we handle these difficult problems and how well we deal with Palestinians every day.”

Other students argue with Sharabi, saying Israel bears some responsibility for the lack of movement in peace talks with the Palestinians.

“I disagree with Keren’s opinion -- I think both sides are not ready for peace,” Or Sharon, 23, with a silver hoop earring over his right ear. “We have been in a never ending conflict since the Israeli state was formed. Maybe we need a strong President who is not a fan of either side to come and clean up the place.”

In recent days, President Obama’s aides have been saying that he is not coming with any peace plan or any intention to pressure anybody. Netanyahu has said the main issues on the agenda will be Iran and Syria, followed by the Palestinian issue.

College President Professor Bertold Fridlender, a biotechnologist, says he hopes President Obama is coming with a new initiative to break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians.

“There are two big issues for the President’s trip -- Iran and peace with the Palestinians,” he told The Media Line. “I hope the President is coming with some kind of plan. War became part of our daily vocabulary and it would be nice to talk about education, to take us away from this daily conflict. It’s time for us to lead a more boring life.”


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