Conventional wisdom has it that Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama have had an icy personal relationship. That’s hard to believe, judging by their lovefest on Wednesday.
Arriving at Netanyahu’s house, Obama kicked things off with a warm embrace of Israel’s first lady, Sara Netanyahu, and conveyed Michelle’s regrets that she couldn’t join the trip. Hilarity ensued, with Obama signing the guest book and joking about how he used to get rapped on the knuckles in school for bad handwriting. Netanyahu then ribbed Obama, saying, “You knew exactly when to come here, you knew we had elections.” Next up, Sara Netanyahu, explaining that there were several late evenings putting together the new governing coalition that just took shape last week. “The grass is always greener,” Obama remarked, referring to his own recent elections.
The small talk between the two leaders was broadcast through the “unbreakable alliance” Facebook page that was created just for Obama’s visit. While most reporters are told they have to wait in a holding pen, and a few get somewhat more access for the shared “pool reports,” on this trip, anyone with a Web connection and a Facebook account managed to get better access than the media.
Netanyahu asked Obama about Sasha and Malia. The president said, “They go to school where Chelsea Clinton went. I think they like being treated like everyone else. So far, so good.” Sarah then said it was difficult raising boys. Obama replied, “It is true, the boys are less mature.”
As Obama’s entourage, including Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, mulled outside Netanyahu’s main office, Obama spotted Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s oldest son. In 2011 Yair got in some hot water for posting on Facebook that Muslims “celebrate hate and death.” He looked more grown up Wednesday. He told Obama he intended to study international relations. Obama then urged him to study business.
The small talk started earlier in the day, when Obama was on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport. He asked where he should go, and an Israeli soldier told him, “We are following the red line, sir,” referring to the literal red line on the tarmac leading to an anti-missile system the president was scheduled to tour. But Obama, clearly unable to resist the opportunity for a zinger, pointed to Netanyahu, and said, “He’s always talking to me about red lines.”