What Obama's Ideal Day in Israel Would Look Like, vs. the Dispiriting Reality

If the president had the time to himself, this is how he might spend it.

President Obama, in an interview with Yonit Levi of Israel's Channel 2 last week, expressed a desire to visit Tel Aviv and sit in cafes. This will not happen on his trip this week; he's going to be a prisoner of Jerusalem, and only official Jerusalem. It's a shame, because the Israel he's not seeing is actually quite enjoyable. I thought I would design a day that might conform to Obama's actual desires:

1. Wake up late, in the American Colony Hotel, one of the Pasha rooms, preferably (trust me, they're very nice). It's not that he would prefer the American Colony -- a couple of short streets inside Arab East Jerusalem -- for political reasons; it's just an aesthetically pleasing place, and the breakfast, for someone who does not keep kosher, is delightful. The King David Hotel breakfast is also fine, if you like herring and cucumbers (I do!).

At the King David, though, he would stand more of a chance of running into a delegation of Jewish National Fund leaders from Chicago, who would then need at least 10 minutes of his time. This would keep Obama from doing what he wants to do, which is to read Haaretz quietly in a corner. And no, not The Jerusalem Post. He's more of a Haaretz guy.

Then, from the Colony, he would take a long walk through the Old City, alone, from the Damascus Gate, tracing the Via Dolorosa down to the Holy Sepulchre, then through the Muslim Quarter, into the Jewish Quarter. Then he would walk through the souk to the Jaffa Gate. Eventually, he would find himself at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, the artists' colony just down from the Montefiore windmill, where he would meet the novelist David Grossman for coffee. They would talk for two hours about Philip Roth. Also, the Shoah. And the Palestinians.

Obama would then get in a taxi to the Israel Museum, where James Snyder, its ebullient and erudite director, will provide him with a map, and a few minutes of suggestions, and then set him off through the galleries, which are astonishingly catholic for the national museum of the Jewish state. Obama, after walking alone for an hour or two, would meet Snyder for mezze at the museum restaurant, Modern. Then he would grab a taxi outside the museum and head down to Tel Aviv.

He would sit for a while at Tolat Sfarim, a literary cafe on Rabin Square, where Amos Schocken, the owner of Haaretz, would be sitting, and Obama would tell Schocken that he likes his newspaper, but it's just slightly too left for him (okay, that's my fantasy). Or maybe Obama would have coffee at Ahat Haam, a smart-crowd cafe, and then meet Yonit Levi and her writer friends in the vibrant Flea Market section of Yafo for dinner. He would stay the night at Montefiore, a boutique hotel near Rothschild Boulevard, where he would spend a couple of hours reading Grossman's "To the End of the Land," and the bound galleys for Ari Shavit's forthcoming book, "My Promised Land."

Sounds pretty nice.

Instead, he's visiting the grave of Theodor Herzl and having dinner with Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu. But, whatever. At least he gets to bypass Ben-Gurion Airport security.  

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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