Former ambassador to the US Michael Oren.
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ANNE MANDLEBAUM)
Michael Oren has been wrong before and he’s wrong now.
I am friendly with Israel’s former ambassador to the US, whom I first came to know through his brilliant book Six Days of War. Later, we met at The Shalem Center in Jerusalem where I had been invited to address its scholars prior to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
We became friendly immediately, and I was thrilled to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make the unorthodox choice of appointing him as Israel’s ambassador to the US, where he served admirably for four years before being succeeded by my very dear friend and former student, the eloquent and erudite Ron Dermer.
At The Shalem Center I discussed the relationship between evangelical Christians and Israel. As a codicil I made my case passionately as to why Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would be a disaster. Oren was one of the 20-odd scholars present and was seated to my immediate left. He was equally adamant that the Gaza withdrawal was the right thing to do and that Israel had no choice but to leave.
We now all know that on this matter Oren was wrong. Gaza was not just a mistake but a catastrophe, an ongoing disaster for Israel that has no end in sight. A short time after Israel withdrew, Gaza voted in a Hamas government and, with its genocidal charter, it has been a launching pad for terrorism and murderous rocket-fire against Israeli civilians ever since. It has drawn Israel into three wars already, and few believe there won’t be more.
None of this affected my admiration for Oren, who eloquently represented Israel in Washington, and I was the one who informed him, via a phone call from our WABC studios in New York City where I was hosting on Memorial Day, May 31, 2010, of the Turkish-Israeli Mavi Marmara incident before he had heard from anyone else.
Which brings us to Oren’s current and public criticism of Prime Minister Netanyahu for accepting an invitation from Congress to address the Iranian nuclear crisis. Oren, who is now running in an opposing political party to the prime minister, has called on Netanyahu to cancel the speech.
Now, I could easily call this an astonishing act of disloyalty, given everything that Netanyahu has done to put Oren at the very center of Israeli politics, where he had no position before. But I won’t.
Israel is a country facing deep and existential threats. And if Oren believes that Netanyahu is endangering the security of Israel then he has a responsibility to speak out whatever the costs, even if it offends his former friend and patron. But it is precisely on these grounds that I object to Oren’s irresponsible call. The prime minister has the same responsibility to protest Israel from a nuclear-armed Iran even if it offends the president of the United States.
Perhaps Oren spent a little too much time in Washington and became part of Beltway politics, and perhaps a devotee of the Imperial Presidency.
So, as an American, let me be clear: the president of the United States is just a man.
We Americans threw out the divine right of kings, along with persons claiming it, nearly a quarter of a millennium ago. Our presidents are mortals. They serve at the public pleasure. They are servants of the people. To be sure, they are our heads of state and we respect them and the office greatly. But we do not go about our lives in fear that we may offend them.
President Barack Obama has pledged that Iran will not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. He, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, have tried hard to stop Iran’s centrifuges from spinning closer and closer to a bomb. But the valiance of the effort notwithstanding, it has failed. The talks have produced no noticeable progress for two years and the Iranians simply continue to stall, all the while growing closer to a nuke.
The prime minister of a nation that experienced the slaughter of one of out three of its number just 70 years ago has a right to disagree with the president and express an opinion.
Moreover, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a completely separate branch of government, has a right to invite speakers to address Congress.
It is not Prime Minister Netanyahu but Michael Oren who is meddling in internal American domestic affairs. Who is Oren to tell John Boehner whom he can and cannot invite? Especially when Boehner says, rightly, that the invitation is largely predicated on Netanyahu being one of the foremost experts on the Iran nuclear program which, by virtue of his position, he most certainly is.
I am a Jew and I am an American. That makes me a double target of the Iranians, who hate both Jews and Americans, in that order.
Iran is as much a threat to my country as it is to Israel, if not more. I salute the Speaker of the House for inviting the prime minister of America’s foremost ally to address Congress.
And if President Obama takes offense, that’s unfortunate. There is nothing gained in gratuitously or needlessly insulting the leader of the free world. But there are times when such offense may be unavoidable. And no doubt, as the mature, wise and graceful leader President Obama is, he’ll get over it.The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the founder of This World: The Values Network, the world’s leading organization defending Israel in world media. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.