Before MK Michael Oren’s book Ally is officially released on June 23, it is already causing the kind of buzz best-sellers are made of. And with good reason.
The memoir of Oren’s term as Israeli ambassador to the United States – a position he held from 2009-2013 – provides a detailed account of the US administration’s treatment of Israel. Though the tension that has existed between Washington and Jerusalem since Barack Obama became president is both an open secret and the focus of endless commentary on both sides of the political divide, its true extent is often obfuscated by protestations that the rift is greatly exaggerated. Or that it is merely due to the fact that Obama has a personal aversion to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Oren is now asserting that none of us even knows the half of it.
Providing a glimpse into the contents of the book, Oren published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last week called “How Obama abandoned Israel.” The piece blames the American president for purposely sabotaging the US-Israel relationship. Coming from Oren, whose own view of Netanyahu is complicated, it was as plausible an indictment of Obama as it was harsh.
Punishment was quick to follow. A few hours after the article appeared, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro phoned Netanyahu and asked him to dissociate himself from Oren’s assertions. When Netanyahu declined, Shapiro called Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (the leader of the Kulanu party, of which Oren is a member) to make the same request. Kahlon complied. First he summoned Oren to his office and let him have it. Then he sent an official letter to Shapiro, assuring him that Oren’s position did not reflect his own, and expressing his “deep and sincere appreciation for President Obama’s efforts to stand by Israel and defend its interests.”
Secretary of State John Kerry also attacked Oren, albeit through his spokesman, John Kirby. Kirby told reporters that Kerry called Oren’s article “absolutely inaccurate and false.”
And then Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Gilad Erdan got into the act.
“Oren is wrong to accuse President Obama of malicious intentions toward Israel,” he said. “The president prevents harsh resolutions against Israel from being passed at the UN, and actively tries to strengthen the security ties between the states. Saying that the president has abandoned Israel is disconnected [from reality].”
Criticism isn’t the only response Oren’s outspokenness has been eliciting, however. On the contrary, his bravery in the face of the onslaught he surely anticipated is being rewarded, as well. Indeed, he is receiving many accolades for acknowledging that, whatever mistakes Netanyahu may have made, they are not at the root of Obama’s kowtowing to the Muslim world, to the point of allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.
In an extensive interview with David Horovitz in The Times of Israel on Thursday, Oren explains the impetus for the book, which he calls a “cri de coeur for an alliance that should be in a much better place than it is,” both reiterating his stance and softening it somewhat.
“There’s a tendency to put this book in black-and-white terms and it wasn’t like that,” he says. “I had excellent relationships with a lot of people in the administration.
Many... were dear friends of the State of Israel. Someone like Tom Nides, the deputy secretary of state, Jewish guy, very funny guy and I quote him in the book. After UNESCO recognizes a Palestinian state [in 2011], he calls me and he says, the way they do in Washington, you know, ‘You don’t want to fucking defund UNESCO. They fucking teach the fucking Holocaust.’ ...That’s been quoted as an example of an anti-Israel bent for Tom Nides. It’s not like that. That’s the way they talk [in Washington].”
Still, Oren admits that the problem with Obama (whose election in 2008 he welcomed) is not his disagreements with Israel, but rather his worldview.
No kidding. And kudos to Oren for spelling this out, no matter how clear it has been to so many of us from the get-go.
But he deserves an equal amount of demerits for reaching the wrong conclusion in his own personal and historical depiction of events.
Yes, in spite of everything, he says his “biggest fear is not the Obama administration,” but rather “the future of the Democratic Party, with the progressive wing in the background. I think we have to do much more to reach out to that progressive wing.”
Reach out to it? Is he joking? How about praying it is defeated in 2016? He does not answer such questions, nor is he asked them. In fact, the word “Republican” does not appear a single time in the interview.
What does appear is a reiteration of the need for Israel to engage in a two-state charade with the Palestinians, in spite of the fact that, in his own words, “We’re talking about creating a state that has no institutions, no economy, a corrupt, unelected leadership, which is incapable of defending itself, even last summer when [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas was going to be overthrown. So how long is this state going to last? Really. No one is being realistic.”
Nevertheless, he adds, “We should always say, ‘We’re at the table ready to negotiate,’ even if Abbas is not here. We should limit where we build. We should go back to the Bush-Sharon formula. That would go a long way to lessening the chances for boycotts. It would help our friends in the Democratic Party tremendously.”
Does he actually believe that BDS would be minimized by Israel’s doing what it has been doing all along? And why do we need to help the Democratic Party? Which brings us to the final question he is asked in the interview: “Assuming that Israel gets to the next presidency intact and given your dealings with Hillary Clinton, how effective might she be as president in healing this fracture? Is it fractured, broken, collapsed, in tatters?” Oren replies: “Part of it was in tatters. Certainly. When you have people in the White House calling your prime minister what they call him, and the prime minister going and giving a speech without informing the president, that’s not a very healthy situation.
“I had a lot of hours working with Hillary. She’s an incredibly formidable intellect, physically robust. She’s of that generation that still has that warm place in her heart [for Israel]. Her formational experience with Israel was the Six Day War and not, say, the first intifada. But we’d still have to move toward her. We’d have to meet her halfway. If she were president – and this is all highly hypothetical – and we retained the status quo [on the Palestinians], we would still be in a very difficult situation.”
So there we have it. Oren holds the Obama administration responsible for the mess we’re in. But it is now our job to help usher another Democrat into the White House.
No thanks, Mr. Oren.The writer is the web editor of Voice of Israel talk radio (voiceofisrael.com) and a columnist at Israel Hayom.