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Former Israeli Ambassador’s Assault on American Jewish Critics of Israel Is a Revealing Look at the Zionist Worldview

Allan C. Brownfeld
Fall 2015

By Michael Oren, Random House, 412 Pages, $30.00  
In his new book, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, a  
native-born American who emigrated to Israel and renounced his U.S.  
citizenship, launches an attack upon President Barack Obama and American  
Jewish critics of Israel which is unprecedented for a former diplomat. It  
reveals a great deal about the Zionist worldview, perhaps more than Oren  
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 stepfather abandoned him. He accuses the president of  
“intentionally, maliciously, abandoning Israel.” In Israel itself, this  
assault on Mr. Obama has been widely criticized. Oren, now a member of the  
Knesset representing the Kulanu Party, did not even gain his own party’s  
support for such claims. Instead, the party leader, Finance Minister Moshe  
Kahlon, apologized for Oren’s remarks in a letter to the U.S. ambassador.  
Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan declared that, “Oren’s claims  
are disconnected from reality.” Columnist Nahum Barnea, writing in Israel  
Opinion (June 23, 2015), noted that, “Some of Oren’s colleagues in Jerusalem  
and Washington thought that he had gone mad.”  
Main Argument Is Caricature  
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 distortion.”  
To Oren’s charge that Obama is the first president to air differences with  
Israel in public and the first to break with the principle that there should  
be no “daylight” in the U.S.-Israel relationship, 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 relationship  
as a way of pressing Israel to withdraw from the Sinai. Jimmy Carter clashed  
repeatedly with Prime Minister Menachem Begin before, during and after the  
1978 Camp David summit. Ronald Reagan denounced Israel’s strike on the  
Osirik 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  
administration since Israel’s founding.”  
Jewish Journalists’ Critical Coverage  
When it comes to his attitude toward American Jews, Oren is particularly  
instructive. He claims that Jewish journalists are largely responsible for  
the American media’s critical coverage of Israel. In his view, Israel’s own  
actions and policies have little to do with the coverage he finds  
According to Oren, the work of such journalists as Thomas Friedman of The  
New York Times, David Remnick of The New Yorker, Joe Klein of Time Magazine,  
the late Bob Simon of Sixty Minutes, Leon Wieseltier of The Atlantic and a  
host of others resembled “historic hatred of Jews.” He speculates that,  
“Perhaps persistent fears of anti-Semitism impelled them to distance  
themselves from Israel.”  
Oren catalogues some of the criticism of Israel he found disturbing: “Tom  
Friedman … for him, Netanyahu was ‘annoying’ and ‘disconnected from reality’  
and most commonly, ‘arrogant’ … American commentators, almost all of them  
Jewish — were fiercely indisposed to Netanyahu. Joe Klein of Time decried  
him as ‘outrageous, cynical and brazen.’ For The New Yorker’s David Remnick,  
Netanyahu was ‘smug and lacking diplomatic creativity,’ a firebrand who  
posed a risk ‘to the future of his own country.’ In The New Republic, Leon  
Wieseltier described him as a ‘gray, muddling reactive figure, a creature of  
the bunker.’”  
Characteristic of Anti-Semitism  
Such criticism, Oren somehow concludes, has little to do with Netanyahu  
himself or his policies, but is, instead, characteristic of traditional  
anti-Semitism: “The antagonism sparked by Netanyahu, I gradually noticed,  
resembled that traditionally triggered by the Jews. We were always the  
ultimate other — communists in the view of the capitalists and capitalists  
in communist eyes, nationalists for the cosmopolitans and, for jingoists,  
the International Jew. So, too, was Netanyahu declaimed as ‘reckless’ by  
White House sources and incapable of decision making by many Israelis.”  
Oren’s characterization of Netanyahu as a “biblical figure” tells us  
something of his mindset. He describes Netanyahu this way: “Netanyahu, a man  
of mighty contradictions, less than a modern Jew, he reminded me of a  
biblical figure with biblical strengths, flaws, appetites, valor or wrath,  
scything his foes with rhetorical and political jawbones … the images of  
Masada, Auschwitz and looming Jewish apocalypses permeated his speeches and  
even our private talks.”  
Oren describes how, “The pinch I felt reading articles censorious of Israel  
sharpened into a stab whenever the names on the bylines were Jewish. Almost  
all of the world’s countries are nation-states, so what, I wondered, drove  
these writers to nitpick at theirs? Some, I knew, saw assailing Israel as a  
career-enhancer — equivalent of Jewish man bites Jewish dog — that saved  
struggling pundits from obscurity … Others still, largely assimilated,  
resented Israel for further complicating their already conflicted identity.  
Did some American Jews prefer the moral ease of victimhood, I asked myself,  
to the complexities of Israeli power? … I could not help questioning whether  
American Jews really felt as secure as they claimed. Persistent fears of  
anti-Semitism impelled them to distance themselves from Israel.”  
Fanciful Analysis Overlooks Reality  
This fanciful analysis overlooks another possibility, which is reality  
itself. The overwhelming majority of American Jews — journalists and others  
— do not believe in the Zionist worldview which so captivated Michael Oren  
as a teenager. He writes: “Zionism allowed us to assert our self-  
sufficiency, even independence from formal religion, but in the one place  
that our forebears cherished as divinely given. Zionism enabled us to return  
to history as active authors of our own story. And the story I considered  
the most riveting of all time was that of the Jewish people. I belonged to  
that people and needed to be part of its narrative. Being Jewish in America,  
while culturally and materially comfortable, felt to me like living on the  
Oren’s Zionist teachers and youth group leaders evidently were very  
convincing in advancing their doctrine that Jews outside of Israel were in  
“exile,” and that Israel was the Jewish “homeland.” He followed their  
ideological imperatives, abandoned his American “exile” and emigrated to  
Israel and joined the Israeli army. Most American Jews, however, reject  
Israel’s presumptuous claim to be the “nation-state” of all Jews. They  
consider the “nation-state” of American Jews to be the United States. Rather  
than living in “exile,” they consider themselves very much at home. They  
view themselves as American by nationality and Jews by religion, just as  
other Americans are Protestant, Catholic or Muslim.  
Oren notes that, in his view, “the major chapter” of contemporary Jewish  
life “was being written right now … and not in New Jersey. History, rather,  
was happening in a state thriving against all odds and thousands of miles  
away. How could I miss it? In the summer of my 15th year, I finally  
purchased my ticket. I acquired my first U.S. passport and booked a plane to  
Israel … The pride of becoming part of the first Jewish army in 2000 years.  
This was the answer to exile, to the Holocaust.”  
Tribalism Rather Than Religion  
In fact, Oren’s notion of Jewish identity has little to do with Judaism, a  
religion of universal values which uniquely held that all men and women, of  
whatever race or nation, are created in the image of God. His view, instead,  
is one of tribalism, which he understands has little appeal to most American  
Jews. He writes, “More tormenting still were the widening gaps between  
Israel and American Jews. Whatever our differences, I insisted, and however  
disparately we practice our religion, we still belonged to the same tribe …  
I could not imagine anyone not being thankful for belonging to it.”  
Of particular concern to Oren is that younger American Jews did not believe  
they were members of a “tribe,” but had an obligation to advance Jewish  
morals and ethics, to pursue Tikkun Olam, the mandate to repair the world.  
He provides this assessment: “No longer comfortable with defining themselves  
solely in tragic terms, younger American Jews searched for a fresh source of  
self-affirmation. This was Tikkun Olam. Meaning literally ‘Repair the  
World,’ the concept derived from the medieval Kabbalistic idea of  
reconnecting with the bright light of creation. But, in its 21st century  
American Jewish interpretation. Tikkun Olam became a call to rescue  
humanity. For liberal American Jews especially, Tikkun Olam served as  
Judaism’s most compelling commandment, almost a religion in itself.  
Addressing synagogues, non-Jewish politicians dependably mentioned the term  
… and like the Holocaust before it, Tikkun Olam tended to sideline Israel as  
the focal point of American Jewish purpose. How can we donate to the Hebrew  
University in Jerusalem, when children went hungry in Honduras?”  
Making Israel rather than God the “focal point” of American Jewish life is,  
in reality, a form of idolatry, much like the worship of the golden calf in  
the Bible. But to Oren and those who share his tribalistic and ethnocentric  
views, this form of idolatry represents the essential core of what it means  
to be Jewish. He writes: “The drift away from an Israel-centric American  
Jewish identity distressed me, of course. I welcomed the willingness of  
American Jews, who once only whispered about it behind closed doors, to  
publicly reckon with the Holocaust. But, for me, the annihilation of the 6  
million remained a uniquely Jewish catastrophe whose recurrence was best  
prevented by Israeli power. By contrast, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial  
conveyed a universalist message that stressed tolerance as the cure for  
future genocides.”  
Lamenting Jewish Generosity and Sense of Belonging  
Michael Oren is deeply troubled by the generosity of American Jews to others  
and their sense of belonging as an intrinsic part of the fabric of American  
life. He notes that, “ … ambivalence characterized my feelings about Tikkun  
Olam. Here, on the one hand, was an outstandingly prosperous community  
recalling its humble origins and responding to Judaism’s ancient  
compassionate appeal. And yet, in fulfilling their commitment to aid the  
world, what resources would American Jews retain for assisting our own  
The “Jewish identity” with which Oren identifies, one which is “tribal” and  
nationalistic rather than religious, is one he finds largely absent among  
young American Jews. “The supreme question asked by post-World War II Jewish  
writers such as Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth, ‘How can I reconcile being  
Jewish and American?’ was no longer even intelligible to young American  
Jews. None would feel the need to begin a book, as Saul Bellow did in The  
Adventures of Augie March, with ‘I am an American, Chicago born.’ Bred on  
that literature, I saw no contradiction between love for America and loyalty  
to my people and its nation state. But that was not the case of the Jewish  
20-somethings, members of a liberal congregation I visited in Washington,  
who declined to discuss issues such as intermarriage and peoplehood , that  
they considered borderline racist. Israel was virtually taboo.”  
Israel, rather than bringing Jews together, Oren found, instead divided  
them: “Israel ruled over more than 2 million Palestinians and settled what  
virtually the entire world regarded as their land. The country that was  
supposed to normalize Jews and instill them with pride was making many  
American Jews feel more isolated and embarrassed.”  
Early Zionists Never Understood America  
The history of Jews in America, where religious freedom existed from the  
beginning and where there was never a religious test for citizenship or  
public office, in which our first president, George Washington, wrote a  
Jewish congregation that in America bigotry would be given no sanction, was  
something the early Zionists never anticipated or understood, and fail to  
comprehend at the present time.  
Michael Oren seems to have some understanding of this dilemma. He writes  
that, “Zionist pioneers never came to grips with an America that defied  
their definition of Diaspora life as a cultural and political dead end.  
Their point of reference was Alfred Dreyfus, the French captain who, though  
thoroughly assimilated, was accused of spying in 1894 and sentenced to  
Devil’s Island. Covering the Dreyfus trial, encountering mass anti-Semitic  
protests, the journalist Theodor Herzl concluded that Jews could never be  
part of Europe but rather must leave and establish their own Jewish state.  
Herzl and the early Zionists could not have conceived of the sight that I  
came to regard as commonplace — of six Jews, three Israelis and three  
Americans, sitting in the White House and discussing Middle East peace.”  
Similarly, writes Oren, those early Zionists “could not have foretold the  
question I would one day pose to my son Noam, now an officer in the IDF  
(Israeli Defense Force), ‘Who do you feel you have more in common with, your  
Bedouin Sgt. Mahmud or your cousin Josh in Long Island? And no pioneer could  
have predicted Noam’s answer, ‘Are you serious?’ he shrugged. ‘Mahmud slept  
in the dirt with me. Mahmud fought for this country.’”  
Israelis Look Down on American Jews  
Not recognizing that American Jews have a country of their own, Oren reports  
that, “Many Israelis, the world’s only Jews without a compound identity —  
looked down on an American Jewry that preferred comfort to sovereignty … The  
presence of so many Jews in print and on the screen rarely translates into  
support for Israel. The opposite is often the case, as some American Jewish  
journalists flag their Jewishness as a credential for criticizing Israel.  
‘I’m Jewish,’ some even seem to say, ‘but I’m not one of those Jews — the  
settlers, the rabbis, Israeli leaders, or the soldiers of the IDF.’ The  
preponderance of Jews in the U.S. media often means, simply, that Israel is  
subjected to scrutiny and standards imposed on no other foreign nation.”  
When Thomas Friedman of The New York Times wrote of an appearance by  
Benjamin Netanyahu before Congress that, “I sure hope that Israel’s Prime  
Minister … understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress was  
bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” Oren “called him the moment the  
article came online and urged him to retract it.” He told Friedman: “You’ve  
confirmed the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes that Jews purchase seats in  
Congress.” Friedman was unmoved. He replied: “For every call I’ve received  
protesting, I’ve gotten ten congratulating me for finally telling the truth.  
Many of those calls were from senior administration officials.”  
Ally has come under widespread criticism from many prominent American Jewish  
voices. According to The Atlantic’s Leon Wieseltier, long a vocal supporter  
of Israel, “Oren might … 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.”  
Critics Might Be Right  
Foreign Policy editor Philip Rothkopf, 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 perspectives and analyses that twist reality, pervert his  
analysis and make it hard for him to accept the idea that perhaps these  
criticisms don’t come from American Jews because of their flaws but because  
of their strengths.”  
In an article titled “Michael Oren, You Hardly Know Us At All,” Jane Eisner,  
editor of The Forward, 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.”  
In his review of Oren’s book in The New York Times Book Review, Jacob  
Heilbrunn, editor of The National Interest, describes the debate over U.S.  
Mideast policy as, more and more, an intramural Jewish enterprise: “On the  
one side are traditional liberal Jews who continue to see Israel as an  
egalitarian version of America … On the other side are more conservative  
Jews and Christian evangelicals who believe that this is sentimental piffle.  
Instead of lecturing Israel, Americans should unflinchingly stand by it …  
and recognize that peace is an illusion. It is here that Oren’s memoir is  
most illuminating … his personal odyssey exemplifies the shift from a  
liberal and secular Zionism to a more belligerent nationalism.”  
Lens of Ethnic Identity  
In Heilbrunn’s view, “It’s difficult to avoid the impression that Oren  
continues to carry a large chip on his shoulder. He complains, for example,  
that ‘The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, both Jewish-edited,  
rarely ran nonincriminating reports on Israeli affairs.’ The odd formulation  
‘Jewish-edited’ suggests that Oren views everything through the lens of  
ethnic identity. In addition, Oren hastily dismisses the historian Tony Judt  
as someone who ‘opposed Israel’s existence.’ If anything, Judt’s  
apprehensions about Israel’s future seem more cogent than ever.”  
Oren’s contention that President Obama has embraced ideas of pacifism is  
also challenged by Heilbrunn: “Oren seems stuck in a time warp. Obama has  
never sought to resuscitate warmed-over pacifist ideas from the 1960s. As it  
happens, Obama ramped up the drone war and attacked Libya. Nor has he  
extricated the United States from either Afghanistan or Iraq. So much for  
the bogus notion that Obama reviles military power. … What Oren, much like  
Netanyahu himself, refuses to countenance is that Obama’s focus on reaching  
a deal with Iran isn’t based on wishful thinking but on cold strategic  
considerations. Oren concludes by saying that Israel should not take America  
for granted and that he wants to help restore ties between the two. If so,  
he has a funny way of going about it. ‘Ally’ does not strengthen the  
alliance but could further erode it.”  
Jewish publications have also been highly critical of Oren’s book.  
Editorially, The Forward (July 3, 2015) provides this assessment: “Oren’s  
reputation as a respected historian has … taken a beating … as the version  
of events outlined in Ally has been challenged repeatedly … A fair and  
careful reading of Ally reveals an ambassador so intent on analyzing what he  
perceives to be a hostile White House that he doesn’t try hard enough to  
understand why most American Jews not only continue to support Obama but  
also align themselves so fulsomely with progressive values and politics.”  
Anti-Semitism Not a Lived Experience For Most Jews  
To Oren’s argument that fear of anti-Semitism causes Jewish journalists and  
others to distance themselves from Israel, The Forward responds: “Fears of  
anti-Semitism don’t impel American Jews to distance themselves from Israel.  
Anti-Semitism is at historic lows … it is simply not a lived experience for  
most Jews today — especially younger Jews, who are more likely to question  
the controversial policies Oren cites or to reject Netanyahu’s persistent  
warnings that it is 1939 all over again. Oren is famed for writing  
brilliantly about the Six Day War, but for many Jews who came of age since  
1967, Israel is seen not as David but as Goliath, not as victim but as  
occupier. That same generation’s experience of American military engagements  
— Iraq and Afghanistan — has understandably persuaded them that the ‘soft  
power’ Oren derides is far preferable to pursue than the reckless wars  
championed by George W. Bush and his contemporary acolytes.”  
In an editorial with the headline “Oren’s Un-Diplomacy,” Washington Jewish  
Week (June 25, 2015) declares: “ … these kinds of attacks on a sitting U.S.  
president are highly unusual — all the more so when coming from a diplomat.  
There is much blame to go around for the foundering U.S.-Israel relations,  
and Oren is certainly entitled to his opinion. But we are troubled that  
nothing in his book appears to be designed to improve relations between the  
two countries. Add to what has been described by others as Oren’s ‘amateur  
psychoanalysis’ of Obama and his veering ‘into the realm of conspiracy  
theories’ and we are left with a work that is both undiplomatic and a-  
historical. All in all a disappointing turn of events for a respected  
historian and former ambassador.”  
Writing in Mondoweiss (June 17, 2015), Philip Weiss notes with regard to  
Oren’s reference to Israel as the “nation-state” of all Jews: “… our own  
nation state. This is of course why Oren moved there from the U.S. — and now  
is a member of the Israeli parliament — he believed it was his country. And  
he expects us to hold the fort in the U.S. for our own little piece of  
heaven in the Middle East, and keep the checks coming, but keep our mouths  
shut when  
Israel adopts the same kind of Jim Crow … policies that we fought in the  
U.S. … I’m thrilled by Michael Oren’s shot, as a sign of what is coming:  
open warfare between the American Jewish community and the Israeli one will  
break out in the U.S. press. Even Abraham Foxman is criticizing Israel these  
days … almost all American Jews will stand by the country they live in.  
Zionism will be seen by everyone to be what it has worked out to be, a  
segregationist ideology, and important liberal Zionists, led by Peter  
Beinart, will with sadness and sagacity renounce it.”  
Oren Tried to Influence Times on Danon Article  
After The New York Times published an article by Palestinian leader Mahmoud  
Abbas, which Oren believed was historically inaccurate, he called the editor  
of the op-Ed page, Andrew Rodenthal, and urged him to publish a response by  
Israeli President Shimon Peres. Oren writes that, “Rosenthal said that he  
already had an article by Knesset member Danny Danon. A rightist who opposed  
the two-state solution, Danon would only make Israel look more extreme, I  
knew, which is perhaps what Rosenthal wanted. ‘Hold off on Danon,’ I urged  
the editor. ‘I’ll get you the Peres piece in time to go to press tomorrow.’  
… The next day The Times published Danon’s article. How to explain such  
Oren seems to be saying that presenting Danny Danon in the Times as a  
representative of Israel represents “chicanery” and an effort to portray  
Israel in a negative light. This seems a strange assessment in light of the  
fact that in August, Prime Minister Netanyahu named Danon as his next  
ambassador to the United Nations. According to The New York Times, “Mr.  
Danon is an ambitious, headline-grabbing young politician who has called for  
Israel to annex all West Bank settlements, annul the Oslo Peace Accords and  
allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. He has described the Obama  
administration’s criticism of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem as  
racist and said the United States is not an honest broker between Israel and  
the Palestinians.”  
Israelis understand the meaning of Danon’s appointment. Alon Liel, a former  
director of Israel’s foreign ministry, said that it showed Mr. Netanyahu’s  
disdain for the diplomatic corps, which is more moderate than the  
government’s ministers. “This is a right-wing government; it’s not a center-  
right government,” Mr. Liel said’ “The message goes through, I think, that  
Israel is not surrendering on the issue of two states.” The center-left  
Zionist Union faction of Israel’s parliament, issued a statement calling the  
appointment “another nail in the coffin” that Netanyahu was “putting in  
Israel’s foreign relations.” One of its lawmakers, Erel Margalit, called  
Danon “a right-wing extremist with the diplomatic sensitivity of a pit  
Danon Is Representative of Today’s Israel  
While Michael Oren, in effect, told Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times  
that Shimon Peres, rather than Danny Danon was more representative of  
Israeli thinking, he seems to have been mistaken in his assessment. Danon’s  
extremist views, and willingness to give them full expression are  
instructive. He has likened the nuclear agreement with Iran as “providing a  
pyromaniac with matches,” described President Mahmoud Abbas of the  
Palestinian Authority as having hands “drenched with the blood of innocent  
civilians,” and said Secretary of State John Kerry was “disconnected from  
the reality on the ground and is ignoring the basic security needs of  
Israel.” A 2013 profile in The New Republic said that Danon “was doing  
everything he can to push his party — and his country to the right.”  
Danny Danon tried to torpedo Secretary of State Kerry’s peace talks with the  
Palestinians by saying that a majority of Netanyahu’s government and Likud  
leaders opposed a two-state solution, and by threatening to quit if the  
prime minister released more Palestinian prisoners as promised. “The  
international community can say whatever they want and we can do whatever we  
want,” he told The Times of Israel at the time. Michael Oren may still  
believe that Shimon Peres is more representative of the “real” Israel than  
Danny Danon, but the available evidence does not support that view.  
The case of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was of particular interest to Oren,  
who did his best to secure Pollard’s release from prison. He acknowledges  
that Pollard violated the law and even points to his lack of remorse. In an  
interview with Wolf Blitzer, then a reporter for The Jerusalem Post, Pollard  
declared: “I want to be very clear. I do not believe the operation was a  
mistake.” Oren notes that, “After initially disassociating itself from  
Pollard, Israel granted him citizenship in 1995. Israelis increasingly  
viewed him as a principled Jew who sacrificed his freedom for his people, a  
soldier who must not be abandoned in the field.”  
Oren and Pollard  
American Jewish opinion on the Pollard case was divided, although at the  
time of his arrest his act of espionage received little sympathetic support.  
Oren notes that, “While many community members, especially the more  
conservative and religiously observant, rallied for Pollard’s freedom,  
others upheld the verdict. ‘Pollard is no hero of Israel,’ Martin Peretz,  
the avidly pro-Israel editor emeritus of The New Republic, blogged. ‘He was  
paid for his filthy work … and his moral profile is truly disgusting.’ Such  
revulsion reflected, at least in part, American Jewry’s lingering fear that  
the Pollard affair exposed it to accusations of dual loyalty … Indeed,  
Pollard’s supporters accused the half-Jewish (Secretary of Defense) Caspar  
Weinberger of seeking the harshest possible punishment in order to deflect  
charges of conflicted loyalty from himself.”  
Oren saw similarities between himself and Pollard: “Pollard, roughly my age,  
was disconcertingly familiar. Like me … he bore the burden of the Holocaust,  
and exulted in Israel’s rebirth. ‘There was no difference between being a  
good American and a good Zionist,’ he explained to Blitzer. ‘American Jews  
should hold themselves personally accountable for Israel’s security.’ “  
Among American Jews in sensitive U.S. Government positions, hostility to  
Pollard and to calls for his release was overwhelming. Oren recalls that,  
“One senior member of the National Security Council told me over breakfast,  
‘As an American Jew, I believe Jonathan Pollard should get out of prison … ‘  
He paused … ‘In a coffin.’” What Oren does not properly consider is the fact  
that Jonathan Pollard, more than anything, was a victim of Zionism. In  
religious school, in youth groups, in summer camps, young people such as  
Pollard viewed the Israeli flag flying. They were told that Israel was their  
“real” homeland and that they were in “exile” in America. Their highest  
religious obligation, they were instructed, was to make “Aliyah,” emigrate  
to Israel. Most young people who are subject to such ideological thinking,  
reject it, recognizing that it has no connection with the reality of their  
lives. A few, like Pollard and Oren, believe it and act upon it, although in  
different ways. It is not a question of “dual loyalty,” a dubious  
proposition at best. Oren, after all, left America, fought in the Israeli  
Army, and abandoned his U.S. citizenship. He lived the Zionist dream, very  
much involving a “single” loyalty. Jonathan Pollard lived a variation which  
turned into a nightmare.  
Little Introspection  
There is little introspection in Oren’s book. He never mentions the long  
history of Jewish opposition to Zionism, of which, as an historian, he must  
surely be aware. Prior to the mid-20th century, the overwhelming majority of  
all Jews rejected Zionism. In 1929, Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamarat  
wrote that the very notion of a sovereign Jewish state as a spiritual center  
was a “contradiction to Judaism’s ultimate purpose.” He wrote: “Judaism at  
root is not some religious concentration which can be localized or situated  
in a single territory. Neither is Judaism a ‘nationality,’ in the sense of  
modern nationalism, fit to be woven into the three-foldedness of ‘homeland,  
army and heroic songs.’ No, Judaism is Torah, ethics and exaltation of  
spirit. If Judaism is truly Torah, then it cannot be reduced to the confines  
of any particular territory. For as Scripture said of Torah, ‘It’s measure  
is greater than the earth.”  
At the beginning of Reform Judaism, perhaps its most articulate spokesman,  
the distinguished German rabbi and scholar Abraham Geiger (1810-1874) argued  
that Judaism developed through an evolutionary process that had begun with  
God’s revelation to the Hebrew prophets. That revelation was progressive;  
new truth became available to every generation. The underlying and  
unchangeable essence of Judaism was its morality. The core of Judaism was  
ethical monotheism. The Jewish people were a religious community, destined  
to carry on the mission to “serve as a light to the nations,” to bear  
witness to God and his moral law. The dispersion of the Jews, Geiger pointed  
out, was not a punishment for their sins, but a part of God’s plan whereby  
they were to disseminate the universal message of ethical monotheism. Geiger  
deleted all prayers about a return to Zion in a Reform prayerbook he edited  
in 1854.  
One of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century,  
Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for  
civil rights for all people, said, “Judaism is not a religion of space and  
does not worship the soil. So, too, the State of Israel is not the climax of  
Jewish history, but a test of the integrity of the Jewish people and the  
competence of Israel.”  
Ignoring a Long History  
One would think that a highly educated observer such as Michael Oren, while  
embracing the Zionist philosophy and worldview himself, would acknowledge  
that most American Jews are ambivalent at best about Zionism’s claims. From  
the beginning, American Jews considered themselves full and equal citizens  
and embraced the promise of the American Dream. In 1841, Rabbi Gustav  
Poznanski of Charleston, South Carolina spoke at the dedication ceremony of  
Temple Beth Elohim. He declared: “This country is our Palestine, this city  
our Jerusalem, this house of God our Temple.”  
Jews in Europe were equally critical of Jewish nationalism which they viewed  
as a substitute for religion. Adolf Jellinek, who became the greatest Jewish  
preacher of his age and a standard bearer of Jewish liberalism from his  
position as rabbi at the Leopoldstadt Temple in Vienna, deplored the  
creation of what he called a “small state like Serbia or Romania, outside  
Europe, which would most likely become the plaything of one Great Power  
against another, and whose future would be very uncertain.”  
In 1897, the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted a resolution  
disapproving of any attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution  
stated: “Zion was a precious possession of the past … as such it is a holy  
memory, but it is not our hope for the future. America is our Zion.” In  
1904, The American Israelite, edited by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the leader  
of American Reform Judaism in the 19th century, noted: “There is not one  
solitary prominent native Jewish American who is an advocate of Zionism.” In  
a speech to the Menorah Society Dinner in New York City in December 1917,  
Chief Judge of the New York State Supreme Court Irving Lehman, brother of  
Governor Herbert Lehman of New York, stated: “I cannot recognize that the  
Jews as such constitute a nation in any sense in which the word is  
recognized in political science, or that a national basis is a possible  
concept for modern Judaism. We Jews in America, bound to the Jews of other  
lands by our common faith, constituting our common inheritance, cannot as  
American citizens feel any bond to them as members of a nation, for  
nationally we are Americans and Americans only, and in political and civic  
matters we cannot recognize any other ties. We must therefore look for the  
maintenance of Judaism to those spiritual concepts which constitute  
Idolatry, Which Judaism Abhors  
Beyond showing no understanding of the long history of Jewish opposition to  
Zionism, Oren’s embrace of what he admits is “tribalism,” and his rejection  
of the mandate of “tikkun olam,” to repair the world, pushes him to make the  
State of Israel into a virtual object of worship, the very kind of idolatry  
which Judaism abhors. He states many times that Israel and the United States  
share “common values,” but this is hardly the case. We believe in religious  
freedom and separation of church and state. Israel is, in effect, a  
theocracy with a state religion, Orthodox Judaism, which is supported by  
Israeli taxpayers. Reform and Conservative rabbis have fewer rights in  
Israel than any place in the Western world. They cannot conduct weddings and  
funerals and their conversions are not recognized. There is no civil  
marriage in Israel. For a Jew to marry a Christian or a Moslem or a Jew  
whose mother is not Jewish is impossible, without leaving the country. These  
are hardly “common values.”  
Israel’s current government makes no secret of its contempt for religious  
diversity. In July, its minister of religious services, David Azoulay, said  
that he did not consider Reform Jews to be Jewish. He declared, “The moment  
a Reform Jew stops following the religion of Israel, let’s say there’s a  
problem. I cannot allow myself to call such a person a Jew.” Even so vocal a  
supporter of Israel as Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said  
that the Israeli government’s “refusal to recognize the vibrant diversity of  
mainstream Jewish religious practice is of particular concern to the  
American Jewish community.” He referred to Mr. Azoulay’s “demeaning and  
hateful comments about Reform Jews.” Some years ago, Israel’s president,  
Reuven Rivlin, when he was a member of parliament, attended a service at a  
Reform synagogue in New Jersey. As he left, he told an Israeli newspaper,  
“This is idol worship, not Judaism.” In June, Rivlin reneged at the last  
minute on a plan to host a disabled children’s bar mitzvah ceremony under  
the auspices of Orthodox and Conservative rabbis. He agreed to hold it only  
if the Conservative rabbis did not participate.  
Rabbi Burt Visitzky, a Reform rabbi in Connecticut, declares that, “We’re  
commanded to love one another … So why are we teaching hate, and not just  
Jew against Jew. We have raised a generation of Israeli kids who can set  
fire to a bilingual school and then, when they’re sentenced at trial, hear  
them say it was worth it? Why are we raising a generation of kids in  
yeshivot who can spray-paint ‘Death to the Arabs’? … How did this happen? …  
Instead of working to find ways to talk to one another, we find ways to shut  
one another out.”  
Beyond this, the U.S. and Israel do not share “common values” when it comes  
to citizenship. Israel proclaims itself as the “nation-state” of “the Jewish  
people,” even though 20 per cent of its population is not Jewish. American  
nationality is not based on common race, religion or ancestry but upon a  
common commitment to the idea of freedom. “If you shed one drop of American  
blood,” Herman Melville wrote, “you shed the blood of the whole world.”  
Sadly, at the present time Israel represents the tribalism Oren embraces.  
This, however, is not a “common value.”  
Sovereignty as Americans  
It disturbs Oren that “American Jews prefer comfort to sovereignty.” But it  
is not “comfort” with which American Jews identify, but an American identity  
that guarantees freedom and equality to all citizens, regardless of  
background. They already exercise sovereignty as Americans.  
Oren abandoned America to join his “tribe.” Zionism did a good job of  
alienating him from his native country. In this sense, it remains a uniquely  
subversive enterprise. It is still doing its best to alienate young  
Americans from their country. Few, however, are heeding its call and  
following in Oren’s footsteps. This accounts, in large measure, for the  
dismay he feels about younger American Jews who, he observes, are committed  
to universal Jewish values rather than the “tribal” identity he has  
When he laments that not very many in the younger generation are following  
his example, Oren seems at least to recognize that Israel and American Jews  
are going in decidedly different directions. In that sense, this book serves  
to illustrate the ever growing gap between American Jewish values and  
Israel’s exercise of power — perhaps a different result than the author  
intended. But he has done us the service of making Zionism’s worldview clear  
to all, something we seldom encounter, since obfuscation serves a philosophy  
such as this far better than clear explication.

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.