Israel’s former Ambassador to the United States, the renowned historian and academic Prof. Michael Oren, has been making a huge splash in the media in the last few days after he published several columns about the US-Israel relationship in advance of the publication of his new book on the same subject entitled “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide“.
Since Oren has a well-deserved reputation of being a moderate, thoughtful academic, and centre to centre-left politically, the fact that he slams US President Barack Obama for ruining the US-Israel relationship as well as for his incompetence in managing world affairs, has caused something of a sensation.
We’ll start with David Horovitz’s take on the scandal in his column: Michael Oren sees Israel-US alliance in tatters and Israel on its own:
The US-born former diplomat, who is now a Knesset member for the Kulanu party, notes in his foreword that the Hebrew term for “ally” is ben brit — literally “the son of the covenant.” And what he documents is actually the breaching of a covenant, the collapse of an alliance — an accumulated arc of abandonment by the Obama administration, and most especially the president himself, of Israel.
Oren’s style is not excitable or melodramatic. In fact, he writes in generally understated tone, with the measured sense of perspective you’d expect from a best-selling historian. So when he notes, as he does near the very end of the book, that last summer’s Israel-Hamas war left “aspects of the US-Israeli alliance in tatters,” you take him seriously, and you worry.
And when you read that Washington worked relentlessly to quash any military option for Israel, most especially in 2012 — arguably the last moment at which Israel could have intervened effectively to thwart Iran’s drive to the bomb (though Oren does not confirm this) — you sense that he has exposed the emptiness of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s endless assertions that Israel will stand alone if necessary to stop a nuclear Iran. And you register, with all its grim repercussions, the realpolitik of a broken relationship with our key defender — the rupture that now leaves Israel vulnerable to an increasingly bold Islamist regime that avowedly seeks our annihilation.
It’s a really worrying book. You’re documenting — you’re describing it; you’re the ambassador — a presidency that is so wrong and so increasingly problematic on Israel. You talk about an America that wants to pull out of the Middle East. I think the worst criticism is the line about the administration negotiating with Iran in secret on an issue of existential importance to Israel… (Oren writes in the book: “Most disturbing for me personally was the realization that our closest ally had entreated with our deadliest enemy on an existential issue without so much as informing us.”)For seven months behind our back.
Again, the book is called “Ally,” but it’s not the documentation of an alliance. It’s the documentation of the failure of an alliance.
It’s a cri de coeur, that’s what it is, for an alliance that should be in a much better place than it is.
Michael Oren goes on to describe to Horovitz some of the daily events taking place in the Knesset: a discussion in the constitutional committee about whether the State of Israel should give grants, advantages, to industries within the Gaza envelope area; a discussion with Arab MKs about an Arab Book Week which currently does not exist; and then a caucus meeting with various political parties on educating young Israelis about transgenderism.
Oren continues (emphases are mine):
Now all of this is happening about a two hour drive from ISIS. Think about it. There were two extraordinary things: One, this is happening a two-hour drive from ISIS. And two, I’m probably the only person in the room who thinks this is extraordinary. I’m sure I’m the only one who is thinking, “holy s**t, this is happening here!”
Why do I bring this up in this conversation? Anybody who would want to in any way endanger this little pearl of democracy, with all of its craziness, to me is being reckless and unappreciative of what we have here. There’s a tremendous lack of appreciation for what we’ve accomplished here. That doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes. We make huge mistakes. But as irreplaceable as the United States is for Israel as the ultimate ally, we are an ultimate ally for the United States. You’re not going to find anything (else) like this here. There’s a lot of talk in this book about being on the right side of history. History’s going the other way. There is no Iraq. There is no Syria anymore. And this alliance is crucial for Middle East stability, and through Middle East stability is crucial to the world. I deeply believe that.
Don’t get me wrong. You can have disagreements. The Obama administration was problematic because of its world view: Unprecedented support for the Palestinians. Reconciling with what Obama calls the Muslim world; even the choice of the term is interesting. And outreach, reconciling with Iran. From the get-go. You see that right from the beginning. He comes into office going after Iran.
But (the administration) is also problematic because the White House jettisoned the two core principles of the alliance, which were “no surprises” and “no daylight.” Obama said it: I’m putting daylight. And proceeds to put daylight, public daylight. And then surprises. I was told that with previous administrations — I’m certainly going back to Clinton — we were always given advance copies of major policy speeches. The Cairo speech (that Obama delivered in 2009) was twice as long as the First Inaugural Address. It touched on issues that were vital to our security. We never had any preview.
How endangered are we on Iran because of the Obama administration? You say nobody should want to endanger this pearl. But that’s what’s happened, isn’t it?
It has happened.
The good news is that America is not just the administration, as you know. America is America. America is the Congress. My biggest fear is not the Obama administration. I am deeply concerned about the future of the Democratic Party, with the progressive wing in the background…
Oren ties the Iran imbroglio to Obama’s inaction on Syria:
The bottom line is that the day that Obama didn’t act against the Syrians (for their use of chemical weapons in 2013, and thus failed) to maintain the Syrian “red line,” was the day that the debate (over whether Obama was serious about his military option on Iran) stopped here. Did you notice that? Just stopped. Dead. And everyone went quiet. An eerie quiet. Everyone understood at that point that that was not an option, that we’re on our own.
To me that’s a refreshing Zionist moment. We realize we’re on our own..
There’s much much more at the link. Do go and read it all. I don’t think it can be stressed strongly enough, considering Oren’s moderation and academic and diplomatic neutrality, how shocking Oren’s book is, as well as this interview. It’s as if the man has done a complete about-turn in character. I commend him for his courage in “coming out” so publicly.
Adam Kredo at the Washington Free Beacon writes about An inside look at how Obama killed the US-Israel relationship:
Obama stacked his administration with senior officials hostile to Israel and pursued a policy of “daylight” with Jewish state, Oren recounts.
“The first thing Obama will do in office is pick a fight with Israel,” Oren recalls a confidant as telling him in the early days of the administration.
Below are a series of passages that reveal in detail how the U.S.-Israel alliance hit historic lows under the Obama administration.
1. ‘I know how to deal with people who oppose me’
… “Face-to-face, I later heard, Obama had demanded that Netanyahu cease all building not only in the territories but also in the disputed areas of Jerusalem,” Oren writes. “‘Not a single brick,’” the president purportedly said. ‘I know how to deal with people who oppose me.’”
2. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Commanders Never Trusted Obama
…These commanders “scoffed at what they regarded as Obama’s inexperience with the Middle East, where magnanimity is often seen as weakness. They cringed at his tendency to equate America’s moral foibles with the honor killings, human trafficking, and the suppression of women, foreign workers, and indigenous minorities rampant in many Muslim countries,” Oren writes.
3. The Anti-Israel State Department
… “Discord indeed mired my initial meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg,” Oren writes.
“Under the administration’s policy, a Jew could only build his home in certain Jerusalem neighborhoods but an Arab could build anywhere—even illegally—without limit. ‘In America,’ I said, ‘that’s called discrimination.’”
4. Congressional Democrats Scold Oren
… Oren recalls taking a call from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), who “railed at me so furiously [about Israeli criticism of Obama] that I literally had to hold the phone form my ear.”
7. White House Orders Senior Officials to Criticize Israel
In addition to privately embracing the anti-Israel fringe group J Street, the Obama administration sent top officials to speak at its first national conference in Washington, D.C.
Oren, who refused to participate in the event, reveals that Obama administration officials had direct orders to criticize Israel publicly.
Again, there is much more at the link which I recommend you read, though by now, after suffering through these past 6 years of Obama’s presidency, none of it is hardly new. Again, the shocker is that Oren has related these stories so publicly and so outspokenly in such an undiplomatic fashion.
Shockingly, Michael Oren thinks that the US-Israel relationship has soured to the extent that he thinks the US might not veto Palestinian state vote:
Former Israeli envoy to Washington, Michael Oren, said the United States is “likely” not to veto an expected United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Oren’s remarks were made at the New York launch of his new book Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide on Thursday evening.
Responding to a question from the audience about Israel’s public diplomacy on the Palestinian issue, Oren brought up the expected upcoming move at the U.N. and stated emphatically that “the United States is likely not to cast a veto.”
Oren did offer some solutions to the lawfare facing Israel at the UN, though we might not necessarily agree with his prescription:
To preempt the U.N. threat, Oren suggested that Israel publicly declare three positions. Firstly, the Jewish state should announce that while “we realize there is no Palestinian partner,” nevertheless, “we are always going to be at the table.” Secondly, he said Israel should reaffirm that “we still subscribe to the Bar Ilan formula of two states even though it’s probably not realizable for the foreseeable future.” Thirdly, it should be declared that Israel will only build in settlements likely to remain part of Israel in a peace deal, namely the large blocs in Jerusalem’s suburbs.
Oren also indicated that Abbas in some ways presents a greater threat to Israel than the Gaza-based terror group Hamas.
“The irony of the thing is that Hamas presents a tactical threat to Israel with its rockets, it’s Mahmoud Abbas with the attempt to sanction and boycott us which is the strategic threat,” Oren said. “Any Israeli security official will tell you just what I’m telling you now, he’s the threat, we can preempt the threat by saying to the world [these] three things.”
In a third op-ed in the media this week, Oren reached intot he world of psychology to explain Obama’s behaviour, relating how – and why – Obama opened his heart to the Muslim world:
In an op-ed published Friday, Kulanu Knesset member and former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren speculates that President Barack Obama’s relentless outreach to the Muslim world may stem from the fact that he was abandoned by the two Muslim father figures in his life and therefore seeks acceptance by their co-religionists.
In the article, in Foreign Policy Magazine, Oren also posits that the world may look back on Obama’s approach to Middle East issues as naive and hard to credit.
In the Foreign Policy article Friday, Oren writes that “Obama’s attitudes toward Islam clearly stem from his personal interactions with Muslims. These were described in depth in his candid memoir, ‘Dreams from My Father,’ published 13 years before his election as president. Obama wrote passionately of the Kenyan villages where, after many years of dislocation, he felt most at home and of his childhood experiences in Indonesia. I could imagine how a child raised by a Christian mother might see himself as a natural bridge between her two Muslim husbands. I could also speculate how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists.”
Oren’s book and his columns have certainly touched a nerve in Washington as well as in the media, as the Algemeiner reports in its story: Michael Oren’s book lifts a veil on US-Israel relationship:
The main attraction of the book, of course, is its account of the Obama administration’s Middle East policies, and Oren’s candor has already gotten him into trouble. Dan Shapiro, the current U.S. ambassador in Israel, who makes several appearances in Oren’s memoir, this week told Israel’s Army Radio that “Ally” is “an imaginary account of what happened,” going on to belittle Oren for having, as a mere ambassador, a “limited point of view into ongoing efforts. What he wrote does not reflect the truth.”
This is a serious charge, and it remains to be seen if Shapiro will attempt to substantiate it. In the meantime, it should be pointed out that what makes “Ally” such a fascinating read is that it provides, from Oren’s perspective, a detailed sense of the bitter atmosphere in both Washington and Jerusalem that underlay diplomatic efforts on the issues we are all intimately familiar with, from the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Unlike other diplomats, Oren didn’t wait 20 years to publish his story—most of the key individuals in his book, most obviously President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are still in power, and the bilateral tensions which Oren agonizingly explains haven’t been lessened since his departure from Israel’s Washington embassy. Diplomats aren’t supposed to be this transparent, which is why Oren will be regarded in many circles as a man who broke “omerta,” the code of silence which ensures that us ordinary mortals are kept in the dark about what our leaders are saying in private.
Most interestingly, within Israel there were two contrasting reactions from the government:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected an American request to publicly distance himself from the criticism aimed at the White House by former ambassador Michael Oren, according to an Israeli newspaper.
The op-ed has drawn unhappy reactions from the US, including an angry phone call from US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro to Netanyahu, asking the prime minister to renounce Oren’s ideas in a public statement, according to a report in Haaretz Thursday.
Netanyahu refused Shapiro’s request and said he had no intention of publicly addressing the piece, an anonymous source told the newspaper.
The prime minister said Oren was no longer a public official but a politician belonging to another party and therefore he saw no reason he should intervene, Israel’s Army Radio reported, citing a statement from Netanyahu’s office.
Sadly, and a bit surprisingly, Kulanu’s chief Moshe Kahlon, rushed to distance himself and the party from Oren’s views:
Kahlon, in response, sent a letter to Shapiro emphasizing that they were Oren’s personal views and did not reflect the party line of Kulanu.
Oren, according to Kahlon’s letter, wrote his book before he joined the party. Kahlon, who serves an finance minister, said he had summoned Oren and made clear his appreciation for the US’s commitment to Israel.
Even more unexpectedly, firebrand Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely chided Oren for his critique of Obama:
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that Oren “does not represent the State of Israel in matters relating to our relationship with the United States, only himself.”
“The United States is a true friend of Israel and every attempt to harm the relationship between the two countries by resorting to personal attacks will not succeed,” Hotovely added.
I’m glad that Hotovely knows how to act in a statesmanlike way, but this was possibly one of those times when we would have liked to hear how she really feels. 🙂