Michael B. Oren, the well-known American-Israeli historian, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and current Member of Knesset in Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu party, is again in the news for the roll-out of his latest book (“ALLY: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” 412 pp., Random House). The NY Times review by Jacob Heilbrunn (a writer and editor on public affairs) is both measured and critical. He notes how Oren has evolved from an admirer of Yitzhak Rabin, who served in his government in the early 1990s, to a harsh critic of Pres. Obama and other advocates of a nuclear agreement with Iran and an end to the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. These are Heilbrunn’s closing paragraphs:
. . . 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.
To criticize Israel is not tantamount to being anti-Israel, a tiresome tactic that too many of the country’s would-be defenders have adopted. Might it not even be pro-Israel, in the sense of pointing out failings that any Israeli government would be prudent to rectify? Oren, however, elides any discussion of Israel’s actions — other than to refer euphemistically to its settlements around Jerusalem as “robust construction projects.” What’s more, Oren sees the ghost of [Prof. Edward] Said everywhere, including in the Obama administration. Oren depicts Obama’s uplifting but vacuous June 2009 Cairo speech, which called for outreach to the Muslim world, and his desire to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran as part of a wider pattern that reflected “the ’60s revulsion to military strength, the romance with developing societies and the questioning of American primacy. Regarding the Middle East, in particular, one could discern the reverberations of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism.’ ”
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.
The pity of it all is that Oren has been a political moderate, at least in the context of Netanyahu’s inner circle. According to Oren, he often counseled prudence in dealing with America. Netanyahu would have none of it. Oren says, “my approach ran counter to Netanyahu’s personality — part commando, part politico and thoroughly predatory.”
But 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.