Obama’s Opening Speech in Israel Sounds Strangely Familiar – Oh yes, remember Bibi Netanyahu’s speech before Congress in the US?

Obama at Ben Gurion Airport

No sooner had US President Barack Obama touched the ground at Ben Gurion Airport, than he commenced this speech:


President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and most of all, to the people of Israel, thank you for this incredibly warm welcome. This is my third visit to Israel so let me just say tov lihiyot shuv ba’aretz.

I’m so honored to be here as you prepare to celebrate the 65th anniversary of a free and independent State of Israel. Yet I know that in stepping foot on this land, I walk with you on the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.

Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be “masters of their own fate” in “their own sovereign state.” And just as we have for these past 65 years, the United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend.

– Barack Obama, in “Full text of Obama’s speech on arrival in Israel”, The Times of Israel, 20 March 2013

Now, there is much in here that a critical biblical scholar might take issue with.

Have “the Jewish people” really lived in the region for “more than 3,000 years”? No. A people known as Judeans did live in the land from perhaps the early part of the first millennium BC to the early Common Era. And they did so alongside many other peoples, many of whom have come and gone, including the Philistines (or residents of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath), the Edomites/Idumaeans, Romans, and Arabs (including Nabataeans). Moreover, the Judeans never occupied all the region now occupied by the modern state of Israel, including Tel Aviv, where Obama delivered his speech.

Did “the Jewish people” pray to God there for more than 3000 years? No. Not if you mean by God, with a capital letter, or the monotheistic concept of later Jews. In the early period of Judean settlement of the southern hill country and northern Negev, the inscriptions from various sites and the Elephantine correspondence (around 400 BC), written before much of the Bible was written, show that Judeans worshipped a number of gods and goddesses. Before this, even Yahweh (later identified as the monotheistic “God”) was worshipped alongside his divine consort or wife, named Asherah.

Are “the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah” fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be ‘masters of their own fate’ in ‘their own sovereign state'”. No. Almost everything is wrong with this. First, no Abraham or Sarah ever existed, except in legendary tales. Second, if you’ve read the Bible, you might note that “the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah” comprises a much more inclusive group than the Jews of the “Jewish State of Israel”. The sons of Abraham and daughters of Sarah include, for example, Ishmael (Abraham’s first son), the alleged ancestor of all Arabs. Given that the Bible makes Ishmael older than Judah (the eponymous ancestor of the Jews), why haven’t their “dreams of the ages” to have “their own sovereign state” been fulfilled? Third, the “dream” of a sovereign Jewish state is not “the dream of the ages”. It was only a dream of some Jews in the nineteenth century onwards, under the influence of European concepts of national sovereignty and Christian concepts of divine election and manifest destiny. And many Jews today still oppose the idea of a sovereign state in Palestine.

But this propaganda sounds all very familiar. Oh yes – remember the speech by Bibi Netanyahu to Congress in the US in 2011?

We’re not the British in India. We’re not the Belgians in the Congo. This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one god, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw his vision of eternal peace.
– Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, in Jonathan Lis, “The facts and fictions of Netanyahu’s address to Congress”Ha’aretz, 26 May 2011

I guess when you’re planning a war against Iran “to preserve our freedom” (as Obama alludes to the Bush Doctrine in his speech) the facts will only get in the way of shoring up political alliances.


Filed under Goliath, Politics, War, Violence & Business

3 responses to “Obama’s Opening Speech in Israel Sounds Strangely Familiar – Oh yes, remember Bibi Netanyahu’s speech before Congress in the US?

  1. Pingback: Keith Whitelam on Obama’s Speeches in Israel | Remnant of Giants

  2. Dave

    You clearly don’t know anything about the content of the Bible, nor Jewish history.
    I’m not saying Obama does either, but misproving his statements about Judaism is a paltry attempt at undermining the Jewish belief system.
    Jews have, since the time of Abraham, had an exclusive relationship with the monotheistic God. Yes, there were groups who deviated and fell into the desire for solipsistic polytheism, as we all do to different degrees even today in terms of dancing around our projections of how we feel things should be. But those idolatrous gods were never ever matched to the true God, as is spelled out innumerable times throughout the Old Testament.
    And this silliness about the promise to the descendants of Abraham Sara… I mean you are simply so unprofessional. You mention almost parenthetically that they never existed? Do you have some sort of source to that? Because the Jews have a universal mouth-to-mouth transmission stretching over time to that very couple. You would have to provide some proof that their chain was somehow corrupted or entirely fabricated, in which case you would have to identify exactly when the rumor began.
    I wish I could continue but I need to leave now. I would appreciate a response, or some proof-text.


    • Deane

      “Monotheism” was not a part of Jewish belief until the Persian period. Even as late as 400BC, Jews in Elephantine showed no embarrassment in discussing various other gods in their correspondence with the high priest in Jerusalem. I am, of course, well aware that the Bible claims that Yahweh was the sole god of Israel from as early as Jacob himself. But this is just a part of a story which was developed in the Persian period, more than 1000 years after the Bible dates Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If you rely on the story itself to say that the story is true, it is entirely circular, and thus a very poor basis for such a claim.

      I’m certainly not the only one who concludes that Abraham and Sara did not exist – this is widely accepted in biblical studies. See, for example: John van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975); Thomas L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: The Quest for the Historical Abraham (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1974).


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