Kulanu MK Michael Oren.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Anti-Defamation League walked back a statement from last year implying MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) used racist stereotypes to describe US President Barack Obama, ending what Oren called a painful experience Sunday.
Last year, when the former ambassador to the US’ book Ally: My Journey Across the American Israeli Divide was published, the MK wrote a series of op-eds for various publications promoting the book, including one titled “How Obama Opened His Heart to the ‘Muslim World” for Foreign Policy.
Then-National Director of the ADL Abraham Foxman accused Oren of arguing “that American foreign policy in the Middle East is primarily being promoted and dictated by the president’s early upbringing in the Muslim faith and in Muslim traditions…This results in borderline stereotyping and insensitivity.”
In time for the publication of the Hebrew translation of Oren’s book, current ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt clarified last week that “there were some who misinterpreted [the statement] as suggesting that we thought he was using racist language…We as ADL make clear that we never intended to suggest that what he said was racist, nor did we have any intent to suggest the ambassador is racist.”
Greenblatt also apologized for any harm the implication may have caused Oren, calling him “a person of the highest integrity whose career has reflected a commitment to the public good.”
Oren said that the original ADL statement did, in fact, cause him harm, in that it caused him personal distress and professional damage, in that Foxman’s statement was brought up in interviews with the press.
“I’m very happy that they put this behind them and apologized and removed this thing from my reputation,” Oren said. “As an author, I’m used to getting criticism…but some of the criticism was made by people who didn’t actually read [the book] and imputed to me things I didn’t say.”
“To impute to me some type of anti-Muslim feeling was so unfair. Of all the criticism, this was the most painful,” he added.
Oren pointed out that, as ambassador, he initiated dialogues with the American Muslim community and was the first to hold an Iftar meal to break the fast during Ramadan in the Israeli embassy.
Had he not already been an MK at the time, Oren said, he would have considered suing Foxman for defamation.
As for Foxman’s criticism, Oren explained that any references to Obama’s upbringing in Muslim countries and with a Muslim father came from the US President’s memoirs, adding that Obama talked about how that influenced him in a recent interview in The Atlantic