Jul 6th 2015

Oren's Orgy of Self-Justification

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

In his new book, "Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide", former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, relates how late one night he received a frantic call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alerting him to the fact that the Palestinians were preparing to petition the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a state. Netanyahu's message to his Ambassador was to immediately start calling US Congressmen urging them to block the move. Congress, of course, was most responsive with Members immediately issuing statements strongly condemning the Palestinian move, coupled with threats to withhold US aid to the Palestinian Authority. 

I will get back to what this little story tells us about Israel's relationship with the US Congress and the role that Congress' predictable support plays in shaping Israeli behavior in a moment, but first I want to set the stage for my observations with a few broader comments about "Ally".   

The book is instructive and disturbing on many levels. First and foremost, I was struck by the arrogance and the sense of impunity with which "Ally" was written. No one who criticizes Israel is spared from Oren's venomous pen. Two targets receive special attention: President Obama and liberal American Jews.  

Although Oren is a former diplomat and now a Member of Israel's Knesset (and a partner in the governing coalition), his attacks on the President of the United States are shockingly brutal and insulting. He accuses Obama of betraying Israel by violating what he claims are the two principles that have long governed US-Israeli relations: that there be "no surprises" and "no daylight" between the public positions taken by leaders of either country.

According to Oren, Obama violated these principles when he failed to provide Netanyahu with an advance copy of his Cairo Address to the Muslim World and when, in 2011, Obama announced that the 1967 borders (with mutually agreeable land-swaps) should be the basis for a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. Apparently, for Oren, these same "principles" do not apply to the Israeli side, since Oren is loathe to find fault with his Prime Minister's three hypercritical addresses to the US Congress, his disruptive announcements of new settlement construction, and his courting of the Republican party in recent US elections. 

I was startled by the personal contempt Oren demonstrates for President Obama. He accuses him of harboring anti-American ideas and not fully appreciating "American exceptionalism" (a strange charge coming from Oren, who renounced his American citizenship to become an Israeli diplomat and politician). And he indulges in demeaning amateur psychology suggesting that the President's outreach to the Muslim World was prompted by his need to become reconciled with his two estranged fathers (one who was Kenyan, the other Indonesian). Says Oren "I could speculate how that child's abandonment by those men could lead him many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists".   

Oren also focuses significant attention on liberal US Jews in media and in government who are critical of Israel. He accuses them of being insecure, self-promoters, and/or self-haters. He charges that they criticize Israel and its Prime Minister in an effort to say "I'm Jewish...but I'm not one of those Jews—the settlers, the rabbis Israeli leaders, or the soldiers of the IDF". Or they criticize because they see doing so as "a career enhancer".

Having dismissed the policies of the US President—which, for better or worse, have essentially been consistent with those of his predecessors for the past four decades—and the criticisms that liberal American Jews have offered of Likud efforts to sabotage a two-state solution, Oren and his boss, Netanyahu, can feel vindicated. They are not in the wrong. It is their critics who are wrong, precisely because they are psychologically damaged and personally flawed and, because of this, they have joined the rest of the world's anti-Israel cabal in attacking the Jewish State. 

Being incapable of accepting criticism, where do the Orens and the Netanyahus of the world go for validation and vindication? To Congress, of course. And that is precisely where they do go, time and time again.  

Congress' role as not just protector of Israeli interests but as enabler of Israeli behavior was on full display in recent weeks. Congress passed a trade bill which included a provision that for the first time since the 1967 war, "conflated Israel and 'Israeli-controlled territories". Dozens of Members of Congress and Senators lined up to issue statements decrying a potential P5+1 deal with Iran—with many quoting verbatim or, at least, cribbing from AIPAC (the pro-Israel lobby) talking points on the deal. Others issued statement denouncing either the United Nation's report on the 2014 Gaza War or the Palestinian response to inquiries from the International Criminal Court—once again, threatening to cut off all US assistance to the Palestinian Authority. 

To its credit, and to the consternation of Oren and Netanyahu, the Obama Administration response was clear. The US will not accept Congress' false "conflation"—noting that "every Administration since 1967...has opposed Israeli settlement activity...The US government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and...does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them". The Administration let it be known that it will continue to pursue a "good deal" that will end the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. And finally, the Administration stated that they do not believe that the Palestinian response to the ICC warrants a cut in aid. 

These strong responses from the Obama Administration, of course, have only served to reaffirm the Israeli rightists' contention that it is a wrong-headed government with a flawed leader. As a result, the Israeli leadership will continue to rely all the more on Congress to protect them.  

It is Israel's ability to "turn on" Congress and Congress' penchant for doing Israel's bidding, that has shielded Israel's leaders from introspection and self-criticism. The results are clear. Israel's bad behavior continues and its isolation from liberal opinion grows. And it is this negative dynamic that has created the very mind-set that could write a harsh, demeaning, and self-serving book like "Ally". 




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