Michael Oren is my friend. During his nearly five years as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, we’d speak on an almost daily basis. Often those phone calls would come at 3 or 4 a.m., Washington time, and Oren, enduring another sleepless night, would share his fears about how the Obama administration was compromising Israel’s safety. While too discreet to reveal confidential information, he’d repeatedly say: You won’t believe what the administration is doing. It’s worse than you can possibly imagine. But I can’t talk about it …”
In his new book, “Ally, My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” Oren has gone public with his anguish. “Ally” has been burning in him for years. It is an impassioned critique of the Obama administration — including some of the details Oren couldn’t reveal as ambassador, when his job required him to publicly insist that American-Israeli relations were strong and unbreakable.
Oren’s accusations need to be debated. And a few who’ve critiqued the book have engaged with its ideas. Too many others, though, have turned personal and vicious. I have been pained almost physically to read and listen to the ways in which the Michael Oren I know has been distorted beyond recognition by an assault on his integrity, his credibility, even his honesty. Oren has been called everything from a publicity hound to a virtual traitor sacrificing Israel’s relations with its most important ally for the sole purpose of selling books.
Oren, currently a member of the Knesset, is one of the most selfless public servants of the Jewish people I’ve been privileged to know. What impelled Oren to write “Ally” is revealed in what I see as the book’s crucial passage, when Oren learned that America had been secretly negotiating with Iran: “Most disturbing for me personally was that our closest ally had entreated with our deadliest enemy on an existential issue without so much as informing us.” That is the decisive moment when Israel felt betrayed by Obama. The negotiations — in which America deliberately weakened its hand and allowed Iran to dictate terms — were the sin. A deal is merely the consequence.
What’s been overlooked though is that “Ally” also contains criticism of Israeli attitudes toward American Jews and laments the lack of religious pluralism in the Jewish state. Still, “Ally” does offer the harshest critique of American Jewry that any Israeli has offered in a long time. If Oren feels that American Jewry is failing Israel at the most dangerous moment in its history, he has the obligation to say so. Ironically, the Israeli-American Jewish relationship has become the reverse of its old problematic dynamic. Where once it was forbidden for American Jews to criticize Israel, now apparently it is forbidden for an Israeli to criticize American Jewry.
Is Oren wrong in his assessment of American Jewry? Is he wrong about the Iranian deal? By all means, argue with him. But argue the argument, not the person. Stop demonizing a man whose essence is service to Israel and the Jewish people.