Can Barack Obama Turn Israel Into a Blue State — With Benjamin Netanyahu's Help?

Peace Message May Provide Political Opening for Bibi

getty images

By William Kolbrener

Published March 27, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Of all of the gestures performed during Barack Obama’s trip to Israel, that of the president of the United States bowing to the president of the State of Israel as the former accepted the Presidential Medal of Distinction was among the more extraordinary.

But even before that, there was another moment of symbolism when the two presidents, Obama and Shimon Peres, walked side by side into the presidential residence in Jerusalem for the state dinner, while the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, walked behind with his wife, Sara. State protocol or not, the prime minister, forced to yield center stage to the political elder statesman, did not seem happy.

Peres’s opening words to the gathering that included every major political and religious figure on the Israeli scene was, “Bravo, Mr. President.” Here was someone to whom Peres could talk over dinner, a younger American version of himself.

Earlier in the day, Obama did what had been promised but seemed unlikely. He spoke directly to the people of Israel, and about peace. Here was the language of “hope,” directed not to the populace of urban Chicago or rural New Hampshire, but to Israelis. Young Israelis, “Blue State” Israelis.

Obama’s afternoon speech, which surprised and quickly grabbed the attention of the nation, was addressed to university students from around the country. And once he began speaking, the controversy from earlier in the week — the exclusion from the audience of students from the university in the settlement Ariel — made sense.

Obama spoke in Hebrew, cited the Bible and the Passover Haggadah, quoted from Theodor Herzl and even Ariel Sharon (some of his other references escaped Israelis: TV commentators had to explain to the audience watching the state dinner who Abraham Joshua Heschel was). But he most emphatically did not speak for the cause of “Greater Israel.” It was not for Red State Israel, those living in the occupied territories, but for the Blue State, the students gathered in Jerusalem. Biblical history, it turns out, resonates even for them.

Obama almost certainly knows that the prophet Joshua, who inherited the leadership of Israel from Moses, is associated with Israeli settlement — Joshua is the one who conquered the Land of Israel. But in his speech, Obama referred to Blue State Israel as the “Joshua Generation,” asking them to make their own future: “You must create the change you want to see.”

To the Joshua Generation, Obama exhorted — making the previous days of publicly chumming up with Bibi almost seem a ruse — “political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.