In the weeks leading up to the release of his new book, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide, Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States and current member of Knesset, penned three essays for leading American publications, all of which offered pointed critiques of U.S. President Barack Obama. The response has been polarizing, to say the least.
The controversy began June 16, when the Wall Street Journal published an article by Oren under the headline “How Obama abandoned Israel” (even though Oren never explicitly states in the piece that the American president has in fact “abandoned” the Jewish state). Instead, Oren argues that Obama has ditched what he calls two key elements of the U.S.-Israeli relationship – the principles of “no daylight” and “no surprises” – and made deliberate mistakes in his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Three days later, another Oren essay appeared in the Los Angeles Times, titled “Why Obama is wrong about Iran being ‘rational’ on nukes.” Here, Oren documents the ever-expanding rift between Israel and the Obama administration over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Obama, Oren writes, seems convinced that the ayatollahs are rational, noting that the U.S. president recently told Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg: “The fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival.”
On the same day, a third Oren piece, “How Obama Opened his Heart to the ‘Muslim World,’” was published by Foreign Policy. The author recounts how, in the early days of his ambassadorship, he sought to study the U.S. president – an exercise Oren dubbed “Obama 101.” When it comes to the Muslim world, Oren writes, Obama’s approach – on issues ranging from Palestinian statehood, to Israeli settlements, and the Syrian conflict – is nothing short of “revolutionary.”
As for why Obama chose that path, Oren suggests it has something to do with the president’s studies at liberal institutions such as Harvard and the University of Chicago, places where he would have been influenced by the work of Edward Said, who argued in favour of engagement with the “Islamic world.” Oren also suggests Obama has been motivated by the memory of the two Muslim men who abandoned him and his mother. “I could also speculate how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists,” Oren writes.
In these essays and other recent media appearances, including a sparring match with former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk on CNN, Oren comes across as many things: a champion and defender of Israel, a fierce critic of Obama and his administration, an amateur psychologist, as well as angry and perhaps even insecure. He has been widely accused in recent weeks of sowing divisions between American and Israeli Jews, as well as goading Jews in the mainstream media.
Some have suggested that Oren has adopted an aggressive public persona in order to sell books. Indeed, a number of commentators have pointed out that Oren is more supportive of Obama in Ally than his recent essays might indicate. But that’s mere conjecture. And speculating about the motivations of allies, after all, can get you into hot water rather quickly. — YONI