This weekend everyone is talking about a revealing interview with Michael Oren by Isaac Chotiner in the New Yorker, titled, “Michael Oren cuts short a conversation about Israel.” The short version is that Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. and deputy prime minister, just blew himself up.
When Chotiner pressed Oren about the future of the two-state solution, Oren said Jews have an absolute right to settle in the West Bank as much as in Haifa, and Chotiner said, “You were born in New York . . . Where did you get that right?” Oren answered, “It’s my heritage for three thousand years.” Chotiner said, “You are saying that wherever they are living, they [Palestinians] have less right to be there than you as a Jew born in New York.”
Then Oren bridles and says the New Yorker is promoting “delegitimization” of the Jewish state. He hangs up the phone.
“The great thing about the Oren interview is that he’s being honest and the argument sucks so bad he can’t even have a conversation,” Scott Roth wrote on Twitter. “It’s glorious!”
We’ve got an excerpt of the interview below, but don’t forget that Oren was a high official in the Netanyahu government and these questions were entirely reasonable, indeed perfectly mundane, given Netanyahu’s destruction of the two-state solution, and yet he can’t take the heat. Why does he get so flustered? Because right-wing Zionists have been pampered in the mainstream American press for many years, the underlying religious-chauvinist assumptions of their ideology never sharply questioned. When Oren says “delegitimization,” he is accusing the New Yorker of endorsing anti-Semitism under international guidelines that are now embedded in anti-BDS legislation that one U.S. state after another is rushing to pass.
In finally asking these questions, the New Yorker inches closer to the understanding that Zionism really is settler-colonialism.
Also, Oren understands Jewish Israeli society when he hits Chotiner with the truth that young Jewish Israelis are far to the right and disdain the two-state solution. This is the work that the New Yorker should have been doing years ago — revealing the intolerance and supremacism in Israeli society.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Oren: We have the highest percentage, of any Western-style democracy, of the population under the age of thirty. That population does not remember the Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords—it remembers Israel’s withdrawal from territory, whether it be Lebanon or Gaza, in an effort to sort of jump-start peace, and not getting peace, getting thousands of rockets. This is the generation that came of age in the second intifada. If I went into an audience of people that you would call millennials, and I talked about the peace process and the two-state solution, people would look at me like I am crazy. Because this is where we get to the moral imperative: for them, the moral imperative is, if you are giving up territory, you are going to die. You are not going to get peace. The opposite of peace—you are going to get terror.
Q. Is that what annexing settlements and building more settlements is about? The safety and security of the Jewish people? [Or] it is being done because people are traditional and religious—
Oren: That’s my point. It’s not just security. It’s also ideology, it’s also belief. . . It is definitely our right. I think it is our incontrovertible right as Jews to live anywhere in our ancestral homeland. . . Anywhere. And a member of the Sioux nation has a right to live on Sioux-nation territory. These are our tribal lands. The cradle of our civilization.
Q. Just to be clear: You were born in New York, correct?
Oren: I was.
Q. So you think that you, as a Jewish person born in New York, have a right to be anywhere in Israel —
Oren: Absolutely. . .
Q. Where did you get that right?
Oren: It’s my heritage for three thousand years. . . I live in Jaffa. The same right I have to live in Jaffa I have in [the settlement] Beit El or Efrat, or in Hebron. Exact same right. Take away one right, the other right makes no sense. By the way, P.S., most of the lands of pre-1967 Israel are not even in the Bible. Haifa is not in the Bible; Tel Aviv is not in the Bible . . .
Q. You are saying there are Palestinians living in various areas of the West Bank right now. . . which may or may not at some point become a state. But you are saying that, wherever they are living, they have less right to be there than you as a Jew born in New York.
Oren: I didn’t say that. Don’t impute words to me I didn’t say.
Q. I’m sorry, I thought you just said that.
Oren: No, I did not say that in any way. Listen, I don’t think I want to continue this interview. I don’t think this is a constructive interview. You can do with it — I would like to request you withdraw it. I don’t think you are actually interested in anything I have to say. And that’s been my experience with the New Yorker all the time. You guys are just into delegitimization. You are not really interested. Why don’t we call it quits right here, and I will pull this interview? I am relying on you to do that, as a journalist. . .
Q. I am not going to take anything out of context.
Oren: Sure you are. You already have in the questions. Your questions are hostile, but they are not even informed hostile. You are not that good. So let’s just pull it, and we will call it quits, and please don’t call me again. Take care. [Hangs up.]
Notice the arrogance of Oren to expect the journalist to be professional and “pull this interview.” This is the same arrogance that drove Oren not to meet with J Street, a liberal Zionist group, when he was Israel’s ambassador here, but he got away with it because the rightwing American Jewish leadership went right along with that exclusion. Zionist extremists are cosseted.
A couple other points. Here is Oren saying why annexation is inevitable, at least of major portions of the West Bank, and no Israeli Jew of right mind supports a two-state solution.
Oren: [E]ven under the Obama Administration, the assumption was a swap, if you remember. And it was always assumed that Israel would annex the major settlement blocs but relinquish territories as compensation. That position is no longer tenable for the right part of the Israeli spectrum.
Q. Why is it no longer tenable?
Oren: The two-state solution, of which that formula was part, is no longer supported by anybody, not just to the center right but even in the center. You would have to go to the left to find anyone who supports the two-state solution.
And again reflect that Oren’s extremism has been perfectly acceptable in the U.S. discourse until now, among center-left Dems. Oren tweeted this extremism about Hamas a few days ago: “Hamas must go. Right after our holidays and Eurovision, Israel must evict Hamas from Gaza. The U.S. should back us militarily and diplomatically and, together with Arab states, commit to Gaza’s renewal. Peace in the region is impossible with Hamas in Gaza. Israel is ready to act.”
You’d think that would make Oren an outlier; it doesn’t. Even Peace Now says: “Once [Netanyahu’s new] government is in place, will it finally take serious action to end this ridiculous chain of disruptive clashes and get rid of Hamas?”
P.S. Chotiner’s interview is an interview, not a “conversation.” Journalists should stop using this word for all discussion. Conversation suggests two peers and an exchange. The interview is a very different construct, as Chotiner knows.