ABC NewsREPORTER’S NOTEBOOK By ABC News’ Molly Hunter
(JERUSALEM) — At long last, Israelis gathered around TV sets Tuesday night to watch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address Congress. And I gathered around the big screens at a Jerusalem sports bar with at least four guys, plus the bar staff.
Coming out of the gates, we had one TV in English and one in Hebrew, but the election commission required all Israeli channels run on a five-minute delay, allowing editors to yank any overt campaigning for Israel’s general election March 17. It all made the dual-screen experience very distracting.
— Molly Hunter (@mollymhunter) March 3, 2015
Canvassing central Jerusalem before the speech, Joseph, an American Jew, and an Israeli friend stopped into Mike’s Place in Jerusalem to catch the main event.
“We saw it in the news; it’s very important,” Joseph told ABC News. “It’s a historic time for Israel. We had to watch.”
In a speech Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, Prime Minister Netanyahu blasted an emerging deal with Iran as “a bad deal, a very bad deal.” He added “we’re better off without it,” but fell short of actually laying out an alternative plan.
Shay Mamo, an entrepreneur from Tel Aviv, agreed the speech was “a big deal,” but added the controversy had piqued his interest.
“I’m watching because it’s a scandal,” Mamo said. “I’m watching because Obama is against it. I’m watching because it split the American political world.”
Mamo continued, “He has the opportunity to say something new. If he were to give a speech here, it’s just another speech.”
But very little was said that the prime minister had not previously said, and Israelis largely saw Tuesday’s speech as an election stunt two weeks before the country’s hotly contested general election.
“It’s Bibi doing his Bibi thing,” quipped Elon, 23, of Kfar Abomin. “It’s a power move. His signature play, a show.”
“To be fair, it’s a reasonable thing to do,” going to Washington to speak, Elon said. “But not in the way he did it. And not now.”
Analysts say his strong performance could earn Netanyahu a bump in the polls, where he lags ever so slightly behind his biggest challenger, Isaac Herzog. And by all accounts, he turned in a win Tuesday night. Political analysts, and my viewing mates alike, thought Netanyahu hit it out of the political park. But Israelis like Ami Azoulay, who owns a convenience store in central Jerusalem, just shrugged.
“Sure people will watch out of curiosity. But for what? Israelis care about the situation in Iran,” he said, “but he’s going to go and come back, and it will be just like he never left.”
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