Oren spent the years 2009-13 as Israel’s envoy in Washington DC. “Ally” provides, from Oren’s perspective, a detailed sense of the bitter atmosphere that underscores diplomatic efforts on the issues from negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
JNS Unlike other diplomats, Oren didn’t wait 20 years to publish his story. Most of the key individuals in his book, most obviously Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are still in power, and the bilateral tensions which Oren agonizingly explains haven’t been lessened since his departure from Israel’s Washington embassy.
Diplomats aren’t supposed to be this transparent, which is why Oren will be regarded in many circles as a man who broke “omerta,” the code of silence which ensures that us ordinary mortals are kept in the dark about what our leaders are saying in private.
As Oren writes, “the Israel [Obama] cared about was also the Israel whose interests he believed he understood better than its own citizens,” resulting in a sly policy that presents itself to Americans as a much-desired withdrawal from the Middle East’s endless bloodshed while, at the same time, fundamentally redistributing the region’s balance of power in favor of Iran, whose rulers have spent almost 40 years chanting “Death to America.”
Struggling to understand how Obama–who claims to have genuine empathy for Israel, Oren says–could adopt policies and postures so hostile to the Jewish state, Oren turns to Obama’s first memoir, Dreams from My Father.
What he read shocked him:
More alarming for me still were Obama’s attitudes towards America. Vainly, I scoured Dreams from My Father for some expression of reverence, even respect, for the country its author would someday lead. Instead, the book criticizes Americans for their capitalism and consumer culture, for despoiling their environment and maintaining antiquated power structures. Traveling abroad, they exhibited “ignorance and arrogance”–the very shortcomings the president’s critics assigned to him.
Speaking to Breitbart News last week, Oren recalled his impressions of Dreams. Obama said “nothing good about America” in his memoir, Oren says. Here was a man “without a word of praise or gratitude to America”–and yet “no one was listening” to what Obama truly believed. “That said a lot to me about where America was” when Obama was elected, Oren recalls.
The reader is struck, reading Oren’s analysis of Obama’s policy speeches, by how often the president has used the phrase “I’m not naive”—surely a case, as Shakespeare might have put it, of “our elected leader doth protest too much.” On a visit to Turkey in April 2009, Obama emphasized his personal regard for that country’s radical leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pointedly adding “I’m not naive.”
He reached for this formulation again in an address to the U.N. General Assembly the following September, in which he articulated the demand for a “contiguous” Palestinian state. “I’m not naive,” Oren quotes the president saying, “but all of us must decide whether we are serious about peace or whether we will lend it lip service.”
“All of us,” as Oren’s book makes clear, was really code for “Israel,” and, specifically, Netanyahu. The fork-tongued Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, never experienced the same degree of diplomatic pressure from the Americans, and nor was he subjected to the kind of ugly whispering campaigns that have targeted Netanyahu.
Ironically, though, Obama’s zeal to resolve the Palestinian question by insisting on the 1967 lines as the border between two sovereign states actually boxed in the Palestinian leader. Despite Abbas’s apparent willingness “to concede parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel,” Oren says, “the White House continued to condemn Israeli construction in some of the very areas that Abbas offered to forgo.”
On Iran—the source of a truly existential threat to Israel—Oren’s book offers little in the way of comfort. Oren recalls hearing Israel’s late prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, warning in the early 1990s that Iran “was covertly working to produce nuclear bombs”—a deadly prospect that has been kept alive in the ongoing negotiations with Tehran. In Obama’s eyes, though, this reality has been inverted.