Michael Oren’s new book Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide, continues to drive a wedge between Israelis and Israel supporters in the U.S. in ways that folks on our site have long been dreaming about. Oren’s Zionist American readers are treating the book as spiteful because of the former ambassador’s attacks on President Obama and on American Jews for being self-hating or indifferent to Israeli achievements; and so the book is undermining the very connections it was trying to shore up.
Here are three new important criticisms of the book.
First, Ron Kampeas at the Forward reports that Oren likely “concocted” the claim that he felt “kicked in the chest” by a 2010 statement from President Obama praising six countries that rushed to help Haiti after the earthquake. Oren wrote:
Omitted from the [president’s] list was Israel, the first state to arrive in Haiti and the first to reach the disaster fully prepared. I heard the president’s words and felt like I had been kicked in the chest.
Kampeas says these claims are simply wrong:
• Israel was not “the first state to arrive in Haiti.” Israel arrived on the evening of Jan. 15. According to this CNN timeline, the United States, Iceland, Canada, Spain, China, Argentina, Cuba and Brazil had rescue teams in place by Jan. 13 and 14. The Dominican Republic was first…
• Obama delivered his remarks between 1:08 and 1:14 PM on Friday, Jan. 15. The Israeli rescue teams arrived on Jan. 15 – in the evening, according to Walla News…
So why would Oren have “felt kicked in the chest”? Israelis did not rescue or treat a single Haitian until after Obama delivered his remarks; there was no Israeli team in place when he spoke…
I’d point out that Kampeas is a strong supporter of Israel who owns an apartment in occupied territory. Not the kind of reporter you’d expect to bash Oren.
Next Jeffrey Goldberg, diehard supporter of Israel who once moved there and joined its army (and did softball interviews of Oren a year ago and six years ago), now takes Oren to task in an interview. He criticizes Oren over his psychologizing of President Obama; and watch as Oren just digs the hole deeper: Obama has “deep.. very strong feelings about Islam.”
Goldberg: Do you believe that President Obama seeks reconciliation with the Muslim world for these deeply personal reasons having to do with unreturned love from Muslim father figures, and that he saw distancing the U.S. from Israel as a way to bridge the gap… ?
Oren: The answer is no… I was trying to figure out what are the origins of his feelings toward Islam. He has deep feelings about Islam, obviously. [He] talks about them—I’m not making them up—and he has a high regard for Islam. And I wanted to know where it came from. If George Bush all of a sudden came out and expressed very strong feelings about Islam, you’d want to know where they’re coming from…
Goldberg: why do you think you’ve stepped in it, to the degree that you agree that you stepped in it on this particular question?
Oren: Have I stepped in it? I didn’t know I’d stepped in it.
Goldberg: … [It] strikes me as unfair, this idea that [Obama] was so influenced by his exposure to Muslims, to Islam. There’s an omission here. Fine—it’s fair game to look at the people and ideas who influence a president. But what about his exposure to Lester Crown, Newton Minow, Abner Mikva, all of his Jewish mentors, his Jewish supporters early in his career, when he was seen as the Jewish candidate in Chicago. These are important to grapple with, too. You don’t talk about this.
Goldberg goes down the list of American Jews whom Oren finds objectionable, including a former State Department official whom he calls an “apostate”: “He became very secular. He became a WASP.” An ugly thing to say in this multicultural age.
The next questionable Jew is the NYT’s Tom Friedman:
I also think he said some things that were very problematic, not the least of which about Jews buying seats in Congress. That’s problematic.
I am expecting them, if they are members of the Jewish people, I expect them, as I said in the book, to be grateful that we are living in a moment which is totally unique in the history, when we have these two vastly successful, powerful Jewish communities, and we should be grateful. But that’s the whole thrust of that position—it comes down to the question of ingratitude, and what I have a problem with is Jewish journalists who say, “I’m Jewish, but I’m not those Jews.”
In the 1967 war, which was the foundational event for me, tens of thousands of American Jews went out to protest in the weeks before the war. You know, during the waiting period. They were protesting against the Vietnam War. They weren’t demonstrating for Israel.
Goldberg: So this gets to my point. There’s this feeling that runs through the book that you feel betrayed by American Jewry—by the community from which you come.
And this brings me back to my point: American Jews are also feeling betrayed, by Israel. So when this reputable and extremely presentable representative of that country maligns them and their president, they feel confused. Some of that confusion is evident in Leon Wieseltier’s angry response to Oren’s book. The former literary editor of the New Republic says that the author’s accusation that Wieseltier was anti-Semitic in his attacks on Netanyahu is “patronizing Israeli crap.”
Oren responds to disagreement with psychopathology: Jews who differ with him are infirm Jews. They suffer from an identity disorder. “Pondering these questions, I could not help questioning whether American Jews really felt as secure as they claimed. Perhaps persistent fears of anti-Semitism impelled them to distance themselves from Israel and its often controversial policies. Maybe that is why so many of them supported Obama …” This is patronizing Israeli crap…
But Wieseltier’s piece exhibits an anxiety that has nothing to do with Oren and everything to do with his own Zionism, or “my loyalty to the Jewish people,” and therefore his deep dissatisfaction with where Israel is going. Wieseltier asserts of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu
that he will never preside over the establishment of a Palestinian state, which in my view is the very condition of the survival of a Jewish state; that he has no interest in the moral dimensions of Israel’s coexistence with Arabs and Palestinians (the Other, indeed!) and will poison Israel’s relations with its citizens and its neighbors if it suits his political purposes; that he prefers military solutions to diplomatic solutions and is utterly lacking in diplomatic imagination; that he regards Israel’s isolation not as a strategic threat but as a moral victory, as a proof of its righteousness; that he has promoted fear from an empirical response to actual dangers into a philosophy of history, and thereby diminished his country’s sense of historical possibility; that he will pander to the darkest forces of Israeli reaction, secular and religious, to advance himself.
So Wieseltier has seen the Israel that Max Blumenthal has described, and is recoiling from it. He speaks out now because Oren has smeared him — in the very same way Wieseltier smeared Andrew Sullivan and John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt when they dared to criticize Israel at the start of the unraveling several years ago– but the real problem is that American Jews don’t see much that they can embrace in Israel. And that is the great thing about the Oren book. He is another loose cannon for the Jewish state, but this one directed not against Palestinians and Israel’s neighbors but at the community he left for reasons having to do with his need to experience Jewish power and his longstanding disdain for the “tikkun olam” tradition in Jewish political life. His original community is shocked by the attack; and is recognizing its distance from a militant Jim Crow state with fascistic strains.
P.S. I know I touched on Wieseltier’s piece in an earlier review of the reviews.