Obama Sends Rabin Memorial Video, in Bid to Woo Israelis

President's aides worried by comments he is hostile to Israel, hope to boost support among public.

U.S. President Barack Obama has videotaped a message to be shown Saturday night at the annual memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. The message will relate to the murdered prime minister's legacy and the need to advance the peace process. It was prepared in response to a request from Rabin's daughter, Dalia Rabin.

This is another step in Obama's attempt to speak directly to the Israeli public in light of the very low level of support he has among the Israeli public. Several polls over the past few months show the American president has won the support of only 6 percent to 10 percent of the Israeli public, with people saying Obama does not support Israel.

Obama's advisers are worried about his lack of popularity and the expressed feeling that he is hostile to Israel. They believe this seriously harms his ability to advance the peace process with the Palestinians. Obama's advisers see this as the reason why Israelis view his diplomatic initiatives on both Iran and the Palestinians so negatively.

Recent weeks have seen a number of meetings on the matter in the White House, and one of the ideas under discussion is an Obama visit to Israel. It was decided at this stage to wait and send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Jerusalem; she is to arrive Saturday night.

Meanwhile, the U.S. administration has started to increase the number of messages it is sending to the Israeli public on the peace process. For example, Obama published a New Year's greeting to the Jewish people for Rosh Hashanah, in which he spoke at length about his aspirations to advance the peace process. In addition, he sent a video recording to the President's Conference in Jerusalem, reiterating his commitment to Israel's security. Obama also released a special announcement a few days ago honoring the 15th anniversary of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty.

Clinton's visit is also part of the attempt to influence Israeli public opinion, in addition to her high-level talks in Jerusalem. Clinton is interested in being interviewed in the Israeli media to deliver the administration's messages on the Palestinian and Iranian issues.

She may hold a press conference during her visit. Members of special U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell's staff have also been trying to improve relations with Israel recently, holding their first press briefing before Mitchell's last visit to Israel. Mitchell recruited a new staff member to deal with public diplomacy with the Israelis and Palestinians on the peace process.

Remembrance tents

The events marking the 14 years since Rabin's murder opened yesterday around the country in 17 "remembrance tents" set up by the Noar Haoved Vehalomed youth movement. They include an exhibition on the incitement against Rabin before the assassination.

President Shimon Peres, Rabin family members, ministers, MKs and students from across the country participated yesterday afternoon in the memorial ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.

Rememberance events will continue today. This afternoon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior figures will participate in the official memorial ceremony for Yitzhak and Leah Rabin at their graves on Mount Herzl.

Shortly afterward, the Knesset will hold its special memorial session.

The main memorial ceremony will be the Rabin Square one Saturday night, on the site of the murder. Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni are expected to participate, as well as Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and numerous other politicians. A large number of artists will perform at the event, including Aviv Gefen, Ahinoam Nini, Miri Aloni, Rona Keinan and Miri Mesika.

"The years have passed and Israeli society is still facing serious violence that we never faced in the past, said Dalia Rabin, the chairwoman of the Yitzhak Rabin Center. She said it was particularly important this year to attend the ceremony and to remind everyone of her father's values and what he fought for.