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Michael Oren Is Challenged for Attack on President Obama and American Jewish Critics of Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2015

In his controversial new book, Ally: My Journey Across The American-Israeli  
Divide, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, a native-born American  
who abandoned his citizenship and emigrated to Israel, launches an attack on  
President Barack Obama and upon American Jews who do not provide total  
support for Israel.  
In op-eds and lectures prior to the book’s publication, Oren psychoanalyzes  
President Obama and accuses him of being too soft on Muslims because his  
Muslim father and step-father abandoned him. He also makes a series of  
charges about U.S. foreign policy which have been widely challenged. In his  
review of the book in The Washington Post (June 28, 2015), Philip Gordon,  
who served from 2013 until this spring as White House coordinator for the  
Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf region, declares that, “The  
problem with the book is that Oren’s main argument is a caricature,  
bolstered by exaggerations and distortions.”  
Oren charges that Obama is the first U.S. president to air differences with  
Israel in public. He charges that Obama is the first president to break with  
the principle that there should never be “daylight” in the relationship. To  
this, Gordon responds:  
“Really? To take just a few examples. Dwight Eisenhower slammed Israel for  
the 1956 Suez operation and forced it into a humiliating retreat; Gerald  
Ford froze arms deliveries and announced a reassessment of the relation¬ship  
as a way of pressing Israel to withdraw from the Sinai; Jimmy Carter clashed  
repeat¬edly with Prime Minister Menachem Begin before, during and after, the  
1978 Camp David summit. Ronald Reagan denounced Israel’s strike on the  
Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq and enraged Jerusalem by selling surveillance  
planes to Saudi Arabia; George H.W. Bush blocked loan guarantees to Israel  
over settlements; Bill Clinton clashed publicly with Israel over the size of  
proposed West Bank withdrawals; George W. Bush called for a settlement  
freeze in the 2002 road map for peace and afterward repeatedly criticized  
Israel for construction in the West Bank. In other words, Oren has a point —  
except in the case of virtually every Republican and Democratic U.S.  
administration since Israel’s founding.”  
When it comes to American Jews, Oren claims that Jewish journalists are  
largely responsible for the American media’s critical coverage of Israel. He  
writes that the antagonism toward Prime Minister Netanyahu shown by  
journalists such as Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, David Remnick of  
The New Yorker, and Leon Wieseltier of The Atlantic resembled “historic  
hatred of Jews.” Oren speculates that, “perhaps persistent fears of anti-  
Semitism impelled them to distance themselves from Israel and its often  
controversial policies.”  
Philip Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Policy and a former Columbia University  
roommate of Oren, declares: “He proposes their (American Jewish  
journalists) critique of Netanyahu is similar to the age-old, anti-Semitic  
image of the Jew as the ‘other’. … Nowhere does he entertain the possibility  
that those critics might just be right and their views motivated by the same  
hope for a better future for the U.S.-Israel relationship or for Israel  
itself, as are his. This view is not just wrong, it is profoundly,  
offensively wrong … He is rationalizing his view with perspective and  
analysis that twist reality, pervert his analysis and make it hard for him  
to accept the idea that perhaps those criticisms don’t come from American  
Jews because of their flaws, but because of their strengths.”  
Leon Wieseltier of The Atlantic states that, “Oren might instead consider  
the possibility that it is not fear of anti-Semitism that impels his  
brethren in America to distance themselves from Israel and its often  
controversial policies, but the policies themselves … American Jewish  
insecurity? You must be kidding … Our problem over here is not Jewish self-  
hatred but Jewish self-love, we are secure to the point of decadence.”  
Jane Eisner, editor of The Forward, wrote an article titled, “Michael Oren,  
You Hardly Know Us At All.” She notes that, “The pluralism Oren ridicules is  
now built into the DNA of American Jews … We feel accepted here because we  
are, and that leads many of us to broaden that acceptance to those not as  
privileged. Of course, the president looks awkward wearing a yarmulke in the  
official Seder photograph, but that image serves as a powerful  
acknowledgment that our religious tradition is on an equal footing with the  
Christianity that once dominated America. The same cannot be said for Reform  
and Conservative Jews in the Israeli religious context. Another source of  
American alienation from Israel that the Netanyahu government has chosen not  
just to ignore but to exacerbate.”  
In Eisner’s view, “Israelis are at fault for refusing to concede that  
Americans largely favor diplomacy over military action because the latter  
hasn’t worked out so well for us lately. And because we have myriad problems  
at home to address — problems like income inequality, persistent racism,  
assaults on free speech and reproductive rights, environmental degradation,  
a broken immigration system. The stuff Jews care about. A lot.”  
Michael Oren declared that, “American Jews prefer comfort to sovereignty.”  
His Zionist philosophy causes him to misunderstand reality. American Jews  
are not Israelis in exile. They are American by nationality and Jews by  
religion, just as other Americans are Protestant, Catholic or Muslim.  
Israel’s claim to be the “nation-state” of all Jews ignores the fact that  
the nation-state of American Jews is the United States. It is Oren’s  
worldview which has skewed his understanding of reality. His book has  
divided Israel from the U.S. Government and American Jews in a manner  
different than the author expected when he wrote it. •

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