I just read the latest excerpts being reported from Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s new book and they make it sound like Israel has a toxic personality.
Almost every story I’ve seen so far from the book is an unpleasant one. Leon Wieseltier is an anti-Semite. Obama is a mean guy with a chip on his shoulder who had no love for the country he wanted to lead. Tunisia had a Jasmine revolution? Bullshit, this is the Middle East, not Manhattan.
The betrayals never end. American Jewish journalists just want to fit in with Christian society, so they piss on Israel to show how evolved they are. Obama blindsided Israel by daring to give his Cairo speech and daring to talk with Iran: “our closest ally had entreated with our deadliest enemy on an existential issue without so much as informing us.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was so angered when he found out Oren “could barely hold the receiver to my ear.”
Netanyahu has the reputation for being a man of appetite, but in fact he’s joyless, Oren says. Eating is a chore. They never get to be friends. The only time Netanyahu relaxed was “watching the TV series ‘Breaking Bad.’” A TV series, I hardly need to remind you, about the very darkest aspects of human nature; a lot of people I know can’t watch it.
And when he actually does something nice, Netanyahu immediately regrets it. He apologizes to Turkey’s Erdogan at Obama’s urging during the president’s historic visit in 2013, but there’s no satisfaction in it.
When the call is done there are high-fives and hugs, but Netanyahu tells Oren later the same evening, “We may have made a mistake.” (David Horovitz relates from the book)…
“Wearily, Netanyahu repeated, ‘I think we made a mistake.'”
Our former secretary of state does all she can to avoid these characters:
Hillary Clinton inexplicably rebuffed a series of initial requests from Oren for a private meeting, even though his and her predecessors had frequently held such sessions. She once “socked” him on the arm when they happened to pass, and laughingly claimed that he wasn’t returning her messages. But still she wouldn’t meet with him. (Horovitz again).
Mr. Oren, you were a diplomat: don’t you know how to take a signal?
The emotional reality that seems to underlie all these unpleasant anecdotes is that Israel is a toxic personality. It has become so entitled and aggrieved that people do their best to avoid its leaders’ company. We all know people with a toxic personality. They’re people we avoid because they are so negative or sarcastic, they have a perpetual cloud over their heads, they seem to derive no enjoyment from anything.
There’s no grace. Consider that apology. Israel had killed nine Turks on an aid ship three years before. You’d think it would lift something from a leader’s spirit to apologize for killing nine people? Nope, just bitterness. (And you want Israel just to acknowledge the Nakba?)
The book reminds me of the famous bitch-session between Obama and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy caught by an open mic four years ago:
“I can’t stand him [Netanyahu]. He’s a liar,” Sarkozy said…
Obama replied, “You’re tired of him; what about me? I have to deal with him every day.”
It also underscores what Obama lately told an Israeli interviewer: there’s no point in peace talks because Netanyahu can’t see “the best” in others, and Israel is controlled by its fears:
I am more worried about… an Israeli politics that’s motivated only by fear. And that then leads to a loss of those core values that, when I was young and I was admiring Israel from afar, were what were the essence of this nation.
I just googled the term toxic personality, and an Australian therapist and life coach has this to say about toxic people:
“Often the person is deeply wounded and for whatever reason, they are not yet able to take responsibility for their wounding, their feelings, their needs and their subsequent problems in life.”
They may overidentify and act out the parts of who they are, such as the victim, bully, perfectionist or martyr, [Jodie Gale] said.
Of course there are lots of ways to describe Israel’s malady. President Reuven Rivlin has said that Israel is a “sick society.” Others have said that Israel has a “national psychosis.” Everyone acknowledges the deep wound of the Holocaust, and I have quoted Seamus Heaney’s line that it takes seven generations for a society to overcome a great trauma. Rivlin has become such a star because he’s the exception to the rule: he actually seems to seek a real relationship with Palestinians based on the idea that they’re the victims.
Toxic people generally take no responsibility for their behavior. After the last war in Gaza, Oren complains, the US-Israeli alliance is largely “in tatters.” Yes, and why? Because Obama had said that the killings of civilians was “appalling.” Such a comment might have prompted some soul-searching, not resentment. Israel had just killed more than 500 children.
Looking through Netanyahu’s twitter feed, I never see him grinning with pleasure. The smiles are all forceful ones. Here’s his official portrait:
Look at the strain in this meeting with Art Garfunkel last week.
You can see Rudy Giuliani’s teeth here, not Netanyahu’s.
Same with Federica Mogherini.
Here he was lecturing the president in 2011. You can understand why Obama didn’t invite him to dinner with Michelle and the girls.
Look at Oren’s official portrait as ambassador. I get why Hillary Clinton didn’t want to hang out.
P.S. One other thing about Oren’s book. It’s getting a lot of press for these disclosures. It’s likely to be a bestseller. I confess I’m a bit cynical about Oren’s calculations and the press’s willingness to flak the book. As Abe Foxman said last week at the 92nd Street Y, when asked his response to Ari Shavit’s Israel book, My Promised Land: “First of all, it’s a bestseller. That can be manufactured, but it’s still a bestseller.”