Michael Oren and American Jews: No love lost

Reading Michael Oren’s account of his years as Israeli ambassador to the United States, I was surprised to see how critically he regards American Jews and the American-Jewish community.

 Although he professes to love the community, or at least those within it who support the Israeli government without reservation, his words suggest that he actually doesn’t like it very much at all.  American Jews, in his opinion, are insufficiently committed to Israel – and the fault is entirely on their side. A sizeable number of American Jews, he writes quoting an unnamed “embittered conservative” were “more pro-choice than pro-Israel.”

Oren recalls with disapproval how in the period leading up to the Six Day War how tens of thousands of Americans Jews went out to demonstrate against the Vietnam War instead of rallying for Israel. He notes that only a third of American Jews have ever visited Israel “and many of those would cancel their trips at the first whiff of crisis.” He even criticizes the custom of dancing the hora at weddings and bar mitzvahs. “American Jews may not have marched for Israel before the Six-Day War, but they danced for it zealously afterward,” he writes.

Oren recalls the failure of American Jews to pressure the government to prevent the Holocaust which happened before most were born – and then criticizes them for building Holocaust museums that seek to deliver a universal message. “American Jews erected a monument to the suffering they did little to prevent,” he writes. In fact, many of the leaders in the effort to build museums and memorials were survivors themselves. Would Oren rather they had not built these museums? Nor can Israel present itself as a paradigm of perfection when it comes to the treatment of Holocaust survivors, where some 50,000 of the 190,000 survivors still alive live below the poverty line, according to the Association for Immediate Help for Holocaust Survivors.

Oren reserves special scorn of American Jewish journalists, many of whom, he says, are “largely assimilated” and “resent Israel for further complicating their already-conflicted identity. The former envoy often chances his hand at amateur psychoanalysis -- as in this passage: “Perhaps persistent fears of anti-Semitism impelled them to distance themselves from Israel and its often controversial policies. Maybe that’s why so many of them supported (President) Obama, with his preference for soft power, his universalist White House Seders, and aversion to tribes.”

Or maybe they just disagree with the policies. Incidentally, poor Obama can’t catch a break. He may be the first American President to hold a Seder at the White House but he gets no credit from Oren. His gatherings are “universalist” – which means they don't warrant a hechsher from Ambassador Oren.

Many of Oren’s toughest zingers are delivered under the guise of quoting someone else – invariably an unnamed individual. He gives one example of having breakfast with a "senior member of the National Security Council who happens to be Jewish. Oren quotes the official as telling him, "As an American Jew, I believe Jonathan Pollard should get out of prison…’ He paused to take a bite of his bacon. ‘In a coffin.’”

One must admire how artfully that paragraph is constructed – the self-hating Jew who works for the despised, "universalist" President Obama eating treif and callously condemning a fellow Jew, who unlike himself is a follower of the mitzot, to an eternity behind bars. It's artful but it's also sneaky and unworthy and detracts from Oren's overall credibility.