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{Originally posted by the author to his website, Elder of Ziyon}

“Ally,” Michael Oren’s new book in the headlines, is not the book you expect it to be.


Especially if you have been reading Michael Oren’s daily articles to promote his book – most notably his article in the Wall Street Journal last week, that began:

‘Nobody has a monopoly on making mistakes.” When I was Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2009 to the end of 2013, that was my standard response to reporters asking who bore the greatest responsibility—President Barack Obama or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—for the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations.

I never felt like I was lying when I said it. But, in truth, while neither leader monopolized mistakes, only one leader made them deliberately.

I read his book with this sentence in mind. How did he back up his statement? I’d like to know the inside story of how President Obama purposefully distanced himself from supporting Israel.

Oren mentions plenty of events that showed that President Obama wanted to kowtow to the Muslim world. He mentions that Obama chose to call Mahmoud Abbas before then prime minister Ehud Olmert upon entering office. He talked about how Obama’s much heralded speech in Cairo tied Israel to the Holocaust rather than thousands of years of history in the land, and then chose not to visit Israel but went to Buchenwald instead as if to underscore the point. He talks about how Obama ignored the Bush/Sharon letter of understanding that Israel would hold onto major settlement blocs and instead steamrolled his way to declaring that the “1967 lines” were the basis for negotiations – and how that emboldened the Palestinian negotiators to be more intransigent and less likely to seek a negotiated agreement. But none of this is a smoking gun. On the contrary, Oren describes Obama’s later speeches to AIPAC and his later visit to Israel in glowing terms, filled with optimism that Obama had finally understood what had eluded him about Israel in his early years in office – and that he had something to do with it.

Then, in the last chapter, with Oren leaving his position, things turn for the worse again. Netanyahu speaks in front of Congress and Iran fools American negotiators. Without Oren, we are led to believe, things are going to pot again.

In fact, and I hate to say this, “Ally” is not so much a description of how Obama betrayed the US-Israel relationship as much as how Michael Oren has transformed from an esteemed historian who is scrupulous in his dedication to truth…to a diplomat who reluctantly understands that he sometimes has to bend the truth…to a politician who disregards the truth to reach his goals…to a salesman trying to pump up his book to a potential audience by deceiving the public as to what the book is about.

I am profoundly disappointed.

A small anecdote towards the end of the book, when Oren has decided to run for Knesset in the Kulanu party, is what disillusioned me most. He talks about Netanyahu’s supposedly racist rant on the day of the election – and takes it at face value, so much so that he says he was proud that his party denounced it. Even though, he says, he had never heard Bibi say anything that could be construed as prejudiced in the slightest.

Oren, the former historian, and who only a few months earlier would have checked out the context and defended Bibi, had turned into a politician who didn’t even bother to read the other Facebook posts that were written that day on Netanyahu’s page that explained what he meant, and that were more consistent with the Bibi that Oren knew so well.

But now he was Michael Oren, politician and rival to the Likud, so his former dedication to the truth became a casualty to politics.

The bulk of the book, of course, describes Oren’s experiences as ambassador, and the difficulty of the job (and it is indeed a superhuman position.) Oren is self-deprecating and it is mostly an enjoyable read. While the best anecdotes have already been published in the media, there are still some choice stories. Oren knows he has to mention his family to make it more personal but he generally keeps their stories at arm’s length, even though his wife suffered both breast cancer and a burst appendix while he was ambassador.

What about his insights into Obama? He certainly believes that Obama is naive about the Middle East. He even quotes, ironically, three separate Obama speeches where the president said “I’m not naive.”

In fact, the best way to describe the impression that Oren has of  President Obama’s views of Israel  comes from a more recent statement of Obama himself, speaking to Jeffrey Goldberg:

And I care deeply about preserving that Jewish democracy, because when I think about how I came to know Israel, it was based on images of … kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking the world. We’re repairing it. We are going to do it the right way.

This is like saying that Americans are nostalgic for the version of America shown on Ozzie and Harriet. An idealized world where black people could only hope to get jobs as Pullman porters, where women who went to work were considered a little abnormal, where mental health issues were causes of great shame. Wasn’t that great?

Israel in the 1950s and 1960s is no less idealized, and was no less flawed. It was a nation with a second class Sephardic community. It was also a time when Israel’s Arab population were indeed discriminated against by law (until 1966, they were under martial law.) Moshe Dayan happily stole priceless archaeological treasures. And, of course, Israel was under constant threat to its very existence.

Nostalgia for the Israel of yesteryear reflects nothing less than sheer naivete – a naivete that much of the liberal Jewish population in America seems to share today.

This is the best description I can give for how Michael Oren thinks of Obama in this book, quite a difference from how he described him last week in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The book most emphatically says that Obama is not anti-Israel, especially the Obama towards the end of Oren’s time as ambassador. Oren describes an Obama who didn’t hesitate to help his  idealized Israel in danger – from the raging Carmel forest fire or the crisis in the Egyptian embassy. But Obama would not show interest in the real Israel – the Israel that voted for Netanyahu so many times.

Oren himself notes early on that Obama’s positive gestures towards Israel were received as “chibbuk,” a hug that was not meant to show affection but was rather meant to immobilize. That explains the money Obama throws at Israel for defense as well as the leaks from the White House on Israel bombing Syria – the administration spent more energy in blocking an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities than it did on stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

In the end, extreme naivete is arguably just as dangerous as malice, especially when coupled with egoism. I don’t see Obama having learned anything from his years in office concerning Israel except for optics (he no longer ties Israel to the Holocaust in speeches, for example.)

Oren’s book does have value. Although he is more centrist than Netanyahu he offers a pretty good defense for Israel keeping settlement blocs, and he describes countless examples of how he defended Israel from clueless media and other diplomats. He offers a rare glimpse into the world of diplomacy which is certainly valuable. But it is still a disappointment to me.


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  1. I use this analogy. Do you think it is right for a rich man to ABUSE his wife just because his provided her with a nice lifestyle? With or without the increase of aid Israel would of been able to serve and prosper as it already does. However your talking to someone who was a BIG fan of the President the way in which he has treated the democratic leader of the ONLY democracy in the middle east has been quite SHAMEFUL. The Prime Minster disagreement with Pres Obama was always to do with policy however the President and his minister have seemed to attack Netanayhu on a personal level which to me shows there CHILDISHNESS and amateurishness of them as politicians.

    I do believe the timing of this book could of been done at a latter date due to the fact that both leaders are still the current leaders of their countries. However what Michael Oren has said about the President is SADLY TRUE.

  2. Symone Anderson The idea that Obama has purposely tried to harm israel is far from the truth. How do you explain that Netanyahu has very few friends worldwide? How do you also explain that the president of Israel and the head of Oren's political party, in addition to many other key israelis,
    are unhappy with Oren's assertions.

  3. Richard SchwartzStop being naive. You are a bright liberal, progressive individual and as most liberals you ignore the concept of anti-Semitism and reality. Most world leaders have reverted back to the days of Chamberlain's world and will continue to make the same mistakes as Chamberlain did. Of course they will not want to deal with people who don't share their views. How many friend does Putin have for instance? I am not comparing Bibi to Putin, but let's get real, the West has given in to not dealing with reality. They bury their head on the Iran negotiations and don't want to deal with reality. There will be a war some day, the question is will we have to deal with Iran being a nuclear nation. It is just a question of time. The Western leaders seem to believe that if you ignore what evil leaders say and do and just be nice, it the World will be just fine. I can assure you that in 25 years, a number of European countries will be overtaken by Islam and as Henry Kissinger warned prior to 2012, Israel will be lucky to survive 10 years if Obama is elected President.

  4. Richard Schwartz I a sure the Israeli public are not upset with his remarks. The president and Kahlon are new to politics so they don't know how to handle things like this unlike the Prime Minister. I don't understand why you bring up worldwide friends because the PM unlike Peres doesn't need the PRAISE from the world community to do his job. The only people Netanyahu is answerable to is the Israeli public and they seem to be satisfied hence why his been in power for so long. Stephen Harper is a Great friend of Israel and with the PM. As the saying goes "I’d Rather Have One Good Friend Than 100 Sh*tty Ones".

  5. Michael Oren wrote an excellent book!! I understand why a lot of American Progressive Jews live in a ' World of Denial ' given that they supported a President who is about to permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. It's sad that many of these Progressives are just realizing that they may have aided and abetted in the future destruction of Israel and annilation of the Jewish People by their support of President Obama given the potential of Iran using nuclear weapons against Israel and via ICBMs against the USA.

  6. I think Oren's view of Obama can be summed up pretty much as, he doesn't hate Israel, he just doesn't have any use for it and it doesn't really have a place in his world view, his vision for the future or his cosmology. He is not anti-Israel anywhere near so much as he is really obsessed wit being pro-Arab. There IS a difference between the two, although it still bodes very ill for Israel. In essence, for Obama,Israel is a troublesome piece of furniture in the room that he doesn't have any use for but is not inclined to destroy or let somebody else do the honors. That said, he is perfectly happy to let it get banged up, pushed around the room and discolored by the kids' spilled beverages.

  7. Oren said repeatedly strategic cooperation was good. But political was not, and that is something the Arabs pick up on very swiftly. And don't forget, Congress has a very big role in making things happen in foreign policy, so OBummer may not deserve as much credit for this as you think.

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