U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, with Michael Oren, then the Israeli ambassador to the United States, at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on April 9, 2013. (photo from U.S. State Department via jns.org)
It’s safe to say that in the coming weeks you’ll be reading a great deal about the memoir Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide (Random House, June 2015), authored by Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.
Oren spent the years 2009-13 as Israel’s envoy in Washington. Once a dual national of both the United States and Israel, the New Jersey-raised Oren had to surrender his U.S. passport at the American embassy in Tel Aviv before taking up his ambassadorial post – an emotionally wrenching episode that he describes in detail. Oren’s complicated identity as an American and an Israeli is a theme that runs throughout the book, and his treatment of this subject is a welcome tonic to the dreary and rather smelly charges of “dual loyalty” that too often accompany examinations of the relationship that Jews in the Diaspora have with the Jewish state.
The main attraction of the book, of course, is its account of the Obama administration’s Middle East policies, and Oren’s candor has already gotten him into trouble. Dan Shapiro, the current U.S. ambassador to Israel, who makes several appearances in Oren’s memoir, told Israel’s Army Radio that Ally is “an imaginary account of what happened,” belittling Oren for having, as a mere ambassador, a “limited point of view into ongoing efforts. What he wrote does not reflect the truth.”
This is a serious charge, and it remains to be seen if Shapiro will attempt to substantiate it. In the meantime, it should be pointed out that what makes Ally such a fascinating read is that it provides, from Oren’s perspective, a detailed sense of the bitter atmosphere in both Washington and Jerusalem that underlay diplomatic efforts on the issues we are all intimately familiar with, from the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Unlike other diplomats, Oren didn’t wait 20 years to publish his story – most of the key individuals in his book, most obviously U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, are still in power, and the bilateral tensions that Oren agonizingly explains haven’t been lessened since his departure from Israel’s Washington embassy. Diplomats aren’t supposed to be this transparent, which is why Oren will be regarded in many circles as a man who broke “omertà,” the code of silence which ensures that we ordinary mortals are kept in the dark about what our leaders are saying in private.
While it’s true that Obama comes in for heavy criticism, Oren rubbishes the claim that the president is “anti-Israel.” The reality is more complex; as Oren writes, “the Israel [Obama] cared about was also the Israel whose interests he believed he understood better than its own citizens.” One might add that this paternalistic approach has informed Obama’s stance on the entire region, resulting in a sly policy that presents itself to Americans as a much-desired withdrawal from the Middle East’s endless bloodshed while, at the same time, fundamentally redistributing the region’s balance of power in favor of Iran, whose rulers have spent almost 40 years chanting, “Death to America.”
Read more at jns.org.