There’s a certain poetic justice about the indiscriminate treachery of Michael Oren’s new book, ironically titled Ally. Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, whose systematic betrayals punish his comrades for the parallel sins of their pasts, Oren – once Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. – is now smearing many of his Jewish-American former friends with a dose of their own medicine.
There’s no question but that Oren has betrayed erstwhile allies in order to better advance Israeli propaganda. Still, while nothing pretties up a lie, let alone a premeditated back-stabbing, it’s hard not to notice that every one of the folks offended by Oren’s new book has been just as mendacious as Oren himself when it comes to flacking for Israel.
Take Rabbi Eric Yoffie, a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who fumed in late June that Oren’s book is “dripping with contempt.” Rabbi Yoffie took particular umbrage at Oren’s taunting treatment of American Jews: according to Oren, they are cowardly and “weak,” with the result that they’ll throw Israel under the bus out of “fear for their well-being in America.”
Rabbi Yoffie calls this “poppycock.” And of course he’s right. But can he really be outraged over Oren’s offense? After all, he himself told the New York Times just last September that synagogues should draw a “red line” to exclude any Jews who support sanctions against the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. Is it wrong, then, for Michael Oren to read Israel’s most credulous American enablers out of the Jewish community – for the sin of preferring Barack Obama to Benjamin Netanyahu – but right for Yoffie to slam the door on other American Jews because they believe in human rights and international law?
And how about this chestnut from the same Rabbi Yoffie, published less than three years ago: “Extremism of a particularly vicious variety is a Palestinian disease for which a cure has yet to be found.” I am not aware of an apology from Rabbi Yoffie for this remark, which implied that Israel’s far worse “extremism” – massacres in Gaza, apartheid in the West Bank, increasingly virulent anti-Palestinian bigotry – was a misplaced “Palestinian disease” that had mysteriously infected Israeli Jews. How can you aim that sort of racist victim-blaming at Palestinians and then complain about Oren’s comparatively mild anti-Semitic jibes?
Oren’s savaging of Leon Wieseltier, the former literary editor of the almost fanatically pro-Israel New Republic, is a particularly breathtaking fabrication – but it’s also, for people with their moral priorities in order, a peculiarly fitting one. Yes, it takes chutzpah to toss the “self-hating Jew” label at a man who has not only justified Israel’s inhuman siege of Gaza, but even called Israel’s most recent turkey shoot in that open-air prison “an act of retaliation” for a “barrage of rockets at Israeli towns and cities.” (You might as well claim the Nazi devastation of Lidice was just “retaliation” for the violence of local Czech partisans.)
But when it comes to chutzpah, Wieseltier’s reaction out-Orens Oren. Sure, he’s “outraged and offended” at being called a closet anti-Semite. He should be. But has he forgotten that he once called the fine scholar Norman Finkelstein “poison,” “a disgusting self-hating Jew,” “something you find under a rock”? Presumably not. But then, how can he manage not to notice the parallel between his slander of Finkelstein and Oren’s rather milder attack on Wieseltier himself? How can he fulminate against the latter while refusing to apologize for the former?
The hypocrisy of Oren’s most recent targets – Yoffie and Wieseltier are typical examples – extends beyond the personal. It’s bad enough that they enjoy trashing principled critics of Israel, and then start bawling the moment similar tactics are aimed at them from the right. But their deeper intellectual crime, it seems to me, is refusing to see that Oren’s attacks are merely the logical outcome of the Israel-uber-alles doctrine to which all these people have contributed for much of their professional lives. Yoffie lavished praise on Oren when he was Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. between 2009 and 2013, a job largely devoted to sugar-coating Israeli apartheid and lying about his government’s bloody crimes in Gaza. (Oren even used the pages of Wieseltier’s New Republic to claim that “the Goldstone Report goes further than…the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews…of the right to defend themselves.”)
The victims of Oren’s most recent treacheries are complaining about the insult to their good names and to the honor of the American Jewish public. But they gave up the right to such complaints the moment they became willing propagandists for objectives far more sinister than a snide shot at some American-Jewish intellectuals. To serve the cause of Israel, these people have presented slanders as truth, crimes as self-defense, and an officially racist and highly militaristic state as the very paradigm of liberal democracy. For the benefit of their Jewish Sparta they maligned truth-tellers and sacrificed the basic rights of Palestinians. And now they’re surprised that, as Israel’s government lurches ever farther to the right, one of their number is prepared to sacrifice a few Jewish pseudo-liberals to the same cause? There is a name for this sort of blindness – but you won’t find it in the critiques belatedly offered by the likes of Yoffie and Wieseltier.
Actually, the truth is even worse. For if Oren’s duplicity had prompted such people to an eleventh-hour burst of honesty, they might have done their readers a real service by calling attention to what is perhaps the book’s most ominous feature. As a friend of Oren’s, Yossi Klein Halevy, confessed in the Times of Israel on July 4, Oren timed the book’s release in the hope of sabotaging a nuclear agreement between Obama’s government and Iran, a deal that might lead to some easing of the war the U.S. has waged against the Iranian people ever since it toppled their elected president in 1953. “His explicit intention,” Halevy wrote of Oren, “was to call into question the credibility of the President of the United States” because “the President’s Iranian policy is placing Israel under existential threat.”
In other words, Oren wants a war with Iran; the assorted slanders in his book were part of a larger, fear-mongering effort to derail the U.S. government’s diplomatic maneuvers aimed at avoiding a large-scale military attack. If Oren’s newest victims could only see beyond their own egos – and could recognize, in Oren’s vicious extremes, the fruits of their own derelictions of conscience in support of the Jewish State – they could be warning many people of a very real danger. By calling attention to Oren’s aims, and to the methods he’s using to advance them, they could be helping to curb the Israeli government’s ambition to start yet another war, one whose results could only be disastrous for all concerned.
Alas, they haven’t got the conscience for that – not even while they’re on the receiving end of character assassination by one of Israeli propaganda’s most ruthless practitioners.
A version of this post first appeared on ZNet.