Michael Oren’s book is driving a wedge right into the Israel lobby. His message that to be a member in good standing of “Jewish peoplehood” you must support Netanyahu, oppose a Palestinian state, and oppose the Iran deal is making Israel’s liberal apologists in the U.S. very unhappy. Especially given all the contempt that Oren has shown for American Jews, as soft, intermarrying social-justice types who don’t know what war is really like.
In Los Angeles, Oren seems surprised by the backlash. He says that some of the criticism is “sad.”
I always thought of myself as a person who can span the divides.
His good friend Yossi Klein Halevy says that American Jewish writers have to stop “demonizing” Oren, and Halevy tries to walk the book back somewhat. But Halevy also can’t stop himself from criticizing American Jews:
If Michael feels that American Jewry is failing Israel at the most dangerous moment in its history, he has the obligation to say so. Ironically, the Israeli-American Jewish relationship has become the reverse of its old problematic dynamic. Where once it was forbidden for American Jews to criticize Israel, now, apparently, it is forbidden for an Israeli to criticize American Jewry.
Is Michael wrong in his assessment of American Jewry?
Naomi Paiss of New Israel Fund explains to Halevy that American Jews don’t like being smeared and don’t want to kiss up to Netanyahu:
Oren equates anti-Bibi-ism w/ antisemitism & US Jewish self hatred. THAT’s what’s unacceptable
In The New Yorker, Bernard Avishai also wants nothing to do with Netanyahu. Oren was once a perfectly plausible figure, Avishai says, goodlooking and fun to talk to, but he wanted to be a player who could “shape” events, and that turned him into a reactionary:
As the Oslo process ground on, and especially once the second intifada began, Oren started drifting to the right—not the ideological right but what might be called the reactionary right.
But Avishai continues to pursue the liberal Zionists’ holy grail: the Netanyahu government is about to collapse and Israeli reason will be restored.
Oren is propping up a government whose “sense of tribe” has taken him to places no liberal should consider going. As Obama put it, deliberately, in “Dreams from My Father,” about confronting the legacy of black nationalism in Chicago, “Our sense of wholeness would have to arise from something more fine than the bloodlines we’d inherited.” And I use “propping up” exactingly: Netanyahu’s government holds a one-seat majority. I hope Oren will be reminded, by audiences at universities and interlocutors at Georgetown dinner parties, that a more convincingly democratic opposition is waiting in the wings, while he himself bears responsibility for the government remaining in power.
Wait, why does the American experience of diversity apply to Israel, a colonizing society with Jewish privilege built in? The Netanyahu government is not going anywhere, and you’d learn a lot more about Israel by reading Max Blumenthal than by reading the New Yorker. Then too, maybe Avishai agrees with Oren that American Jews are soft. He notes that Oren
“saw hard action with the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon in 1982, a war that he, like most worldly Israelis, only half-believed in, though, like many American Jews who’ve served in the I.D.F., he spoke of the experience as a rite of passage.”
Hard action– many of us remember civilian slaughter.
Josh Michael Marshall at Talking Points Memo is also squirming. In “The Ridiculous Mr. Oren,” he wants Oren’s book to stop being the face of Israel, in a hurry, because the rightwing arguments are feeding BDS and nullifying any argument against the Iran deal:
If you are a Jew and a Zionist and not in serious denial about the world we live in today, you must recognize that the statelessness of the Palestinians in the territories is an anomaly and that the pressure (expressed in diplomatic isolation, boycotts, sanctions and more) against it will only grow. How quickly it will grow, I don’t know. But it will never diminish, though it may be temporarily tamped down by another intifada. Similarly, if you are an Israeli rightist and you think none of this matters because America will always defend Israel, consider a few questions. Do you believe the US is becoming more or less powerful, in relative terms, on the global stage? Second, do you think the trends in the US electorate are toward one more or less supportive of Israel at all costs?
A lot of Marshall’s discomfort comes from the fact that he is part of the Israel lobby in the US discourse; and Oren is making the American Jewish job of standing up for Israel very difficult indeed:
there are insights American Jews have as well, ones that Israeli culture and that complacency with US protection make it very hard for Israelis to see. Again, just speaking for myself but perhaps for others as well, one of the more frustrating aspects of this conversation is trying to send this message to our brethren in Israel and being told in essence to fuck off because America will always protect them. It is something like a father, who has always underwritten his son’s money-losing business ventures, advising him that his latest idea needs serious rethinking and being told, “What do you know? Everything’s worked out for me until now!”
This is also Gilbert Kahn’s concern, at New Jersey Jewish News— Oren is driving a wedge between the right wing pro Israel lobby and the liberal apologists for Israel, and that’s not good for anyone.
Whatever Oren’s agenda, his negative portrayal of America’s relationship with its ally has done Israel a real disservice. He further riled up many of Israel’s friends in the United States against the president, alienated pro-Israel moderates, and, quite undiplomatically, gave the White House more reasons to distrust the current Israeli government. The controversy may be good for Oren — his career, his book sales, his ideology. It may have resulted from his genuine concern over the Iran nuclear deal. It is not, however, constructive for the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Where were these folks when Oren was defending the slaughter in Gaza, or saying on CNN that Palestinian boys killed on Nakba Day in 2014 weren’t really dead? The truth is that Oren is a centrist-liberal in the Israeli Jewish context; and American liberals just don’t like what that country has become.
Sean Hannity loves Michael Oren. Writing in the Jewish Press, this rightwing Israeli also loves Oren– and beats up on American Jews for believing there is such a thing as Palestine.And read some of Oren’s positions expressed to rightwing Israeli Shmuel Rosner. How do they square with liberal Zionists? He says he argued with J Street’s leaders because
a lot of young people were attracted to J Street, and for many of them J Street was the last stop out of the Zionist camp. Not the window in, but the window out. This was our last opportunity to engage with them, before they became JVP [Jewish Voice for Peace] or simply disinterested…
Oren says–and he’s right– J Street is caught in the middle.
J Street is under a lot of duress. I don’t want to defend J Street. They have been a under a lot of pressure, from BDS, from supporters of de-legitimatization. And J Street’s taken this position, ‘we’re not going to support BDS, but we’re open to a discussion about it.’ So, you know, ‘we’re not going to pose a movement that’s designed to destroy Israel, isolate it, kill it’s economy, take away its right to defend itself against thousands of rockets – but we’re willing to discuss it.’
This is just what Ali Gharib wrote, Oren’s book signals the end of liberal Zionism. The camps have polarized. You’re either with Netanyahu or against him.
And here’s Oren on American Jewish ideals of social justice (tikkun olam) and charity. How many liberal American Jews are going to send money to Israel to send to Haiti? Is he nuts?
Tikkun Olam has become the dominant idea for a large part of liberal American Jewry, and progressive American Jewry, Israel can’t ignore that. But we have to see it, on the one hand, as an opportunity, but, on the other hand, as a challenge. Because Tikkun Olam, by nature, is a universalist notion. Zionism, Jewish peoplehood, is a particularistic notion. I put it in a very pedestrian way in the book – I say ‘if you have a hundred dollars, do you give it to Birthright, or do you give it to building a school in Guatemala?’ That’s the challenge of Tikkun Olam. And I propose ways in which you can reconcile it. My wife is on the board of IsraAid, a wonderful organization, you probably know it – they were the first on the ground in Haiti, they’re all over the world giving disaster aid. So you can do Tikkun Olam through Israel, through the Jewish people.