Michael Oren’s account of his years as Israeli ambassador to the United States is the gift that just keeps on giving. We have already seen how the memoir (Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide) reveals just how ultra-sensitive Israel’s elite is to American opinion, but also how contemptuous he is of Jewish Americans. But there is even more in the book, and here at the site we are delighted it reached the best seller list briefly, and sorry that it has now slipped off. Ally is a valuable look at what Israel is really like in 2015.
Where to begin? How about the 2011 Arab springs, when mass demonstrations for human rights swept Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. Oren, like the rest of the Israeli establishment, is appalled that the Obama administration seems at first to tentatively sympathize with the Arab democracy movement, (the mild U.S. support would soon stop). He quotes a senior Israeli approvingly: “‘Why won’t Americans face the truth?’ one frustrated Israeli ex-general exclaimed to me. ‘To defend Western freedom, they must preserve Middle Eastern tyranny.'”
Oren may not realize it, but he has just exposed the breathtaking hypocrisy behind decades of Israeli propaganda about being “the only democracy in the Middle East.”
Then there is Oren’s cringe-inducing, several-page-long suck up to Benjamin Netanyahu, which starts, “His resume reads more glowingly than even the most sterling of the Obama administration’s CVs.” Oren is displaying some amnesia here, because he earlier told us that one of his first Israeli heroes was Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by an Israeli right-wing extremist in 1995. Many Israelis, including Rabin’s widow, Leah, held Netanyahu indirectly responsible, because he had appeared at mass rallies where Rabin was vilified as a Nazi and a traitor — and said nothing. Oren will only acknowledge that he was “discomfited by the memory of Netanyahu’s criticism of Rabin before his assassination,” but getting his dream job was apparently more important.
Oren includes some undiplomatic revelations:
* The billionaire American gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson seems to have a big say in picking Israel’s ambassador.
* Israel keeps quiet about Obama’s opening to Cuba to avoid alienating “the Cuban caucus in Congress,” who are “among our best friends.”
* Oren comes right out and admits that the U.S. straightforwardly tried to bribe Israel with advanced weaponry. He describes a tentative 2010 agreement “in which Israel froze settlement building for an additional ninety days and received, free of charge, twenty F-35 Joint Strike Fighters;” in the end, the White House did come to its senses and back out of what would have been an astonishingly bad deal.
* The book is studded with Orientalist gems, which is not surprising as Oren had studied under Bernard Lewis. Some of them sound like something you might find inside a fortune cookie: “A friend who stands by his friends on some issues but not on others is, in Middle Eastern eyes, not really a friend.” Here’s another one, directly from Lewis, which came up when Israel briefly considered whether it should make any amends to Turkey over attacking the Mavi Marmara on the high seas, killing 9 people. “‘He who apologizes is neither a valued friend nor a feared foe,’ Bernard Lewis, the renowned Princeton professor, once told me. “‘In the Middle East, no one gets credit for a preemptive cringe.'”
But there are limits to Oren’s honesty in this book. He does not mention the Israel lobby in connection with money. He surely knows plenty about the system of financial rewards and punishments that produce those standing ovations for Benjamin Netanyahu in the U.S. Congress. But on that subject, he is uncharacteristically quiet.