Michael Oren’s Surprising New Book

The former Israeli Ambassador unleashes on Obama.

“I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war,” President Barack Obama told Jews from central casting at Adas-Israel Congregation last month in Washington, DC. “The notion of pioneers who set out not only to safeguard a nation but to remake the world…the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as Israel was, but not be trapped by it[.]”

Memo to B.H. Obama about your speech: (a) The first kibbutz was established more than a century ago in Palestine, when the word meant Israel; (b) Moshe Dayan was a warrior unlike you; (c) Golda Meir thanked maligned Nixon for saving Israel in the 1973 war; (d) you claimed the Holocaust as Israel’s rationale — in fact, it was the continuous Jewish presence in the land of Israel over millennia; (e) Israel is not trapped by history, but you should learn history; and (f) get real -- you were five years old in the ’67 war. Besides, Israel pre-emptively destroyed the Egyptian Air Force, and you oppose pre-emption.

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East is Michael Oren’s 2002 historical masterpiece honored by the liberal Los Angeles Times with its History Book of the Year Award. Oren’s 2007 Power, Faith and Fantasy: American in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present further established Oren’s credible scholarship.  Oren, born in New York, went to grade school in New Jersey. He overcame early learning disabilities and physical problems to graduate from Columbia, earn a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton, and even become a champion rower.  At 18, he won the PBS National Filmmaker’s Award. A decade later he was an Israeli paratrooper in the 1982 Lebanon War. Then he volunteered to help Jews in Ukraine, where he was repeatedly arrested by the KGB.  He has taught at Harvard and Yale. Easy-going and reflective, intelligent and analytical, Oren idolized not the Likud, but Yitzhak Rabin.

Oren’s new book, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide, more personal than his first two, is surely more controversial. Ally effectively assaults the Obama hyperbole that “I am the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office,” as quoted by presidential sycophant David Axelrod, one of Obama’s many court Jews.

Let’s briefly explore the backdrop for Oren's new book and reopen old wounds.  For about two decades, roughly the time Obama on and off attended Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s services, I went to Chabad Malibu services with Rabbi Levi Cunin. Rev. Wright baptized Obama’s children. Rabbi Cunin officiated at my son’s bris. If Levi Cunin were anti-American or anti-black, I would have walked years ago. We are expected to believe that in all those years Obama, who celebrated Wright as his spiritual adviser, somehow was unacquainted with Wright’s virulent anti-Americanism and anti-white liberation theology. There is no ambiguity here: Obama knew that Israel-bashing Wright honored the Jew-hating Rev. Louis Farrakhan. No surprise, in retrospect – Obama has opened the White House to the rabble rousing Al Sharpton, whose resume includes condoning the 1991 Crown Heights riots where Jews were beaten and student Yankel Rosenbaum was fatally stabbed.

At best, an expedient Obama used Wright and his church to gain his state legislative seat. When Obama threw Wright under the bus, many secular Jewish “progressives” gave the politically correct presidential candidate a tortured pass; for them, even now Obama can do no wrong. One prominent Jewish journalist recently defended the Iran “deal” by saying “experts” were for it. When President Obama’s first trip abroad was his apology tour to Arab countries, he somehow was a bold visionary. How, then, does one explain that more than a half dozen years later, moderate Arabs, including Jordan, are estranged from Obama?

The Saudis, among others, have contempt for Obama. A generation ago in Saudi Arabia, I met the Governor of Riyadh, Prince Salman. If you had predicted this traditionalist, who was named King earlier this year, would quietly align with Israel against Iran, I would have thrown up my hummus. A Saudi journalist earlier this month tweeted that the Kingdom should open an embassy in Israel, and he is not in jail. Incredibly, the Saudis blamed the 2014 Gaza war not on Israel, but on Hamas. In contrast, President Obama backed Hamas allies, including the extremist Muslim Brotherhood and Turkish leader Recep Erdogan.  The entire region is apoplectic about Iran, but as Michael Oren discovered, Barack Obama and John Kerry believe the number one threat to peace is Israel building more Jerusalem housing.

Yet, Ally is hardly a diatribe. Oren initially admired candidate Obama and at one point even praises Kerry. Of his first encounter with Obama, Oren wrote: “Successive years of controversy and disappointment would invariably dull its sheen, but Obama’s image then was near blinding.” Precisely because the meticulous Oren is fair and understated, his indictment is devastating. That’s why the Obama Administration has reacted defensively and harshly to the book.

A few months ago, a mischievous John Kerry took on Bibi over Iran, with his hysterical outburst that encouraged the myth that Israel wanted the Iraq war. However, Kerry knows that Israel was skeptical of contesting Iraq’s internecine rivalries and doubted the U.S. military strategy, especially nation building, and that Israel feared that a vanquished Iraq would benefit its enemy Iran.  Oren, who opposed the Iraq war, had publicly predicted the U.S. invasion would spread Iranian influence to Jordan and the West Bank and had cautioned that the U.S. should “not get involved in Middle East state-making.”

As Israel’s Ambassador to the Unites States, Michael Oren kept a diary, the basis for Ally, which chronicles his dual love affair with America, his native land, and with Israel, his adopted country. Some will question the propriety of his memoir, coming so soon after his ambassadorship, and his motives.  Perhaps the ambitious Oren, now in the Israel Knesset, wants to be Israeli prime minister. More power to him.

As Oren’s successor, an ostracized Ron Dermer, now copes daily with the Obama Administration’s hostility.  For example, when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey went off message last year to praise Israel’s “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties” in Gaza, the State Department repudiated Dempsey. As Oren knows, both State and CIA have long tilted Arabist, with the Department of Defense more receptive to Israel, which has long served as a laboratory for the Pentagon. However, Oren notes that Defense Secretary Robert Gates personally disliked Bibi.

Rewind to July 2008, when candidate Barack Obama traveled to Israel, charming even Bibi. Obama said then that Jerusalem should be Israel’s capital, and Israel “won’t be pressured into something that is going to put them at risk.” In Sderot, candidate Obama urged the world to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and warned an Iranian nuclear capability would be a “game changing situation” for the world. Who knew that Congress, Democrats and Republicans, would have to pressure President Obama into strong sanctions, so effective that he wanted to abandon them?

Obama was running against John McCain, a student of Mideast history who understood the origins of Israel. McCain knew full well, after the first Persian Gulf War, that pedophile Yasser Arafat, who bucked the Saudis, was on the way out, making Israel-Palestinian peace possible. Instead, in 1993 President Bill Clinton inexplicably resurrected Arafat. This recalled another Mideast fiasco when President Jimmy Carter in 1979 threw the pro-Western Shah under the bus and triggered the Islamist revolution.

A month after Obama’s campaign visit to Israel, Republicans formally nominated McCain and Sarah Palin. Although the Palin bounce in the polls would disappear, Bibi initially was concerned that his probable opponent for prime minister, a woman -- Tzipi LIvni -- would gain momentum.  But Tzipi was hardly Golda Meir. After McCain’s bumbling campaign predictably failed, Bibi -- still comfortable with Obama -- retained Obama media consultant Bill Knapp. Bibi later appointed Oren, recommended by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, now distraught (with the politically correct Abe Foxman) because Oren thoughtfully asks whether Obama’s Muslim roots may affect his perspective.

The rest is, as they say, history. Obama, community organizer, was increasingly uncomfortable with Netanyahu, citizen soldier. Obama had coasted in college, failed as a law school instructor, a state legislator and a U.S. Senator; he was, first and foremost, a polemicist.   Bibi, for all his faults, has multiple degrees from MIT and Harvard (his doctorate unfulfilled when his brother was killed in Operation Entebbe) and was a management consultant, served in heroic combat and special-ops missions in multiple wars, was elected repeatedly to the Knesset, served as Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. and held no less than ten different cabinet positions. Bibi was relentless; he could relax, Oren informs us, only when he watched “Breaking Bad.”

Oren writes that Israelis “could not understand why Americans would choose a candidate lacking in any military, administrative, or foreign policy experience”; that Israelis valued experience over appearance, notably in, Oren’s words, the “portly Ariel Sharon, diminutive Ehud Barak, and Menachem Begin, who was both follically and visually challenged.”

Preparing for his job, the amiable, soft-spoken and politically moderate Oren read Obama’s Dreams From My Father and was stunned that Obama was down on America. Oren wondered – why did Obama want to lead a country for which he had so much contempt? Obama already had provided the answer — he wanted to transform America. Michelle finally found something in America to be proud of, she said, only when Obama was elected.

As a young man working for Sen. James L. Buckley (N.Y.), I pursued wide-ranging issues, including dissent in the Soviet Union. I then relied on constituent Malcolm Hoenlein for background on Soviet Jewry. Decades later, Malcolm had emerged as the principal liaison to the presidents of major Jewish organizations. In a July 2009 meeting at the White House, Malcolm told President Obama that Israel, confident of U.S. support, would continue to take risks for peace. “When there is no daylight [between Israel and the U.S.],” Obama ominously replied, complaining, “Israel just sits on the sidelines and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.”  Wrong.  Oren notes when President George W. Bush supported Israel, that nation offered a Palestinian state that Abbas rejected. Giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he is ignorant.  But in the image-conscious Mideast, Oren notes that Obama quickly telegraphed to Israel’s enemies that the U.S. no longer had Israel’s back and thus emboldened Abbas’ intransigence.

Oren’s narrative, however personal, is of a historian.  But what Oren tells us is hardly reassuring. A few examples. Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, told Oren the U.S. had “other important things to do” than defend Israel. Without consulting Israel, Obama single-handedly repudiated long-standing U.S. policy and called for a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines with land swaps. And John Kerry let the corrupt, two-faced Abbas veto and then define Bibi’s negotiating conditions. When the U.S., during last year’s Gaza hostilities, unilaterally ordered its commercial airlines not to fly into Tel Aviv, Hamas achieved, in Oren’s words, its “greatest-ever strategic victory.” Finally, Obama not only took the U.S. military option against Iran off the table, but he also effectively sabotaged the possibility of Israeli military action.

President Obama is now establishing Iranian hegemony over the Mideast, destabilizing the region, and precipitating an ominous nuclear arms race that liberals once properly feared. Iran will enhance its delivery systems, so that it can dispatch a nuclear payload beyond Israel, to threatened Europe and eventually the United States. Michael Oren’s book is more than the story of Obama’s betrayal of Israel, it is about Obama’s failure to serve the just interests of the United States.

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