This site enthusiastically promoted the hardcover version of the 2015 memoir by Michael Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States. Now the paperback is out, with a revealing new afterword, and we are delighted to renew our strong endorsement.
The book is called Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide. We noted last year that a more accurate subtitle would be How Israel’s Government Disrespects Americans, Particularly American Jews, But Is Still Ultra-Sensitive to Criticism. Oren’s memoir is an indispensable guide to how Israelis, especially top officials, really think about America. Oren was raised in New Jersey, emigrated to Israel as an adult, and is an accomplished writer, which makes his revelations even more convincing. He was picked as ambassador to the U.S. partly to slow the Jewish-American drift away from Israel, but his book cannot conceal his lack of respect for his primary audience.
The new afterword includes more of his trademark sniping at American Jews. He doesn’t disguise his contempt when he notes that “less than one-third” of the Jewish members of Congress opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, and he dismisses J Street, hardly an enemy of Israel, as “a branch of the Obama administration.”
Oren rushed his book out in 2015 to try and help stop the Iran deal, and his afterword has to ruefully admit he failed. But he does give a glimpse into Israel’s thinking, which suggests that the main reason Tel Aviv opposed the agreement was not any nuclear danger from Teheran. He notes that “a far more immediate shortcoming, from Israel’s perspective, was the treaty’s utter disassociation from Iran’s behavior” — and he cites, among other factors, Teheran’s support for the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. In other words, Israel’s real fear is that Iran is countering Tel Aviv’s regional strength, and is therefore a threat to its ongoing occupation of Palestine.
Oren’s afterword then turns to how hurt he was that Ally triggered such negative reactions among so many American book reviewers. He writes:
I was prepared for a backlash, although admittedly nothing quite like what ensued. Drowning out the enthusiastic reviews was a wave of attacks. ‘Slinky,’ ‘self-aggrandizing,’ ‘reckless,’ ‘amateurish,’ ‘foolish, ‘ugly,’ even ‘un-Zionist’ — were among the epithets hurled.
He notes to his (and our) astonishment that even Abe Foxman, the former head of the Anti-Defamation League, accused him of “borderline stereotyping and insensitivity.” (He does fail to mention the Mondoweiss endorsement; we were “delighted” last year his book got on the best-seller list, and “sorry” it quickly “slipped off.”)
Michael Oren is not a stupid man. But he sounds genuinely stumped by the hostility, most of it from Jewish Americans. One explanation is that he has fallen out of touch with America. He moved to Israel in 1979, and despite frequent visits, he seems not to recognize the central truth that partly inspired Phil Weiss to launch this website; American Jews are quite happy in America, and growing numbers of them, particularly among the young, are turning against an Israel that continues the occupation, and jails and kills Palestinians who oppose it.