Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren says he pressured Random House to publish his controversial new book “Ally” now, rather than during book season in September or October, because “Israel is at a fateful juncture” before the deadline of the Iran talks and the vote on the French initiative on Palestine in the Security Council. He said that one of his main objectives was to “motivate, animate and inspire my readers” in advance of these challenges “to do more than just stand there”.
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“It’s about saying no” to an Iran deal that “everybody in the Knesset agrees is emphatically bad,” Oren said. He compared “this critical moment” to the Holocaust era, when American Jews had an opportunity to “intercede and perhaps save millions of Jews”.
Oren appeared on Sunday night at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y before a warmly supportive audience for the launch of the PR tour for his book “Ally”, which is harshly critical of President Obama. The book has garnered widespread praise in America’s right wing media and harsh scorn on its left. On Saturday, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman dismissed some of the claims made by Oren in his book and in an article in Foreign Policy, labeling them “conspiracy theories with an element of amateur psychoanalysis.”
But there were no such reservations at the 92nd Street Y. Oren was introduced by Susan Engel as expressing “the best of the ideals” of the 92nd Street Y Talks that she directs “to stand in solidarity with Israel and to take pride in our Jewish heritage.” And in a soft interview which often bordered on fawning, Jonathan Rosen, renowned author and editor of the Nextbook/Schocken Jewish Encounters series, described Oren and his book as “gripping”, “terrific” and “powerfully persuasive”.
Oren stated that “Obama is not anti-Israel” but reiterated his position, widely challenged, that the Obama administration has departed from the hitherto “sacrosanct” principles of “no daylight and no surprises” in U.S. relations with Israel. Oren said that both the Cairo speech in June 2009 and Obama’s speech on the 1967 borders were major policy shifts that caught Israel by surprise.
Oren, who has ascribed Obama’s wish to engage with the Muslim world to his abandonment by “two Muslim father figures” called on the U.S. to “stop the ad hominem attacks” against Netanyahu. “We shouldn’t be treated this way,” he said.
Oren discussed what he described as the unprecedented predominance of American Jews in the Obama administration – “there were discussions in the White House in which there were six Jews – 3 Americans and 3 Israelis, discussing a Palestinian state - and the only non-Jewish person in the room was the President or the Vice President.” He said that the non-Orthodox and the intermarried American Jews in the administration – “have a hard time understanding the Israeli character.”
Oren claimed that part of Israeli hesitation in attacking Iran is its doubts about American support for any campaign to neutralize Hezbollah rockets that might be fired at Israel in retaliation from Lebanon. Oren said these doubts were raised after the Obama administration’s “strident criticism” of Israel during last summer’s Gaza War, the FAA decision to steer clear of Ben Gurion Airport and its decision to delay rearmaments of certain ammunition. “Can we rely on our ally to back us on that?” Oren asked.
Recounting his academic experience in America, Oren said that “1968 revolutionaries” had taken over the Middle East and international relations departments of American universities and that unless one published their “neo-Marxist ideas”, one would not get tenured or published. When he came to Washington in 2009, he encountered the same ideas in his talks with Obama administration officials in the White House and the State Department: “I could tell what professors they had.” Oren went on to claim that the term “Israel Lobby”, which was condemned when it was used by Professor Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, is now an accepted term in Washington discourse.