A fact check of Michael Oren

The former ambassador makes distorted and false claims; and he shows unfathomable hostility to Barack Obama

The more I learn about the assertions that Michael Oren makes in his latest book, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” as well as those he’s made in articles and interviews, the more astounded I am by the distortions and falsehoods that the former Israeli ambassador to the United States presents.

Oren, a well-respected historian, seems to have lost perspective and at times ignores context when it comes President Barack Obama. It’s time for a fact check.

In his Foreign Policy column last week, Oren refers to the president’s absence at a memorial following the horrific terrorist attacks last winter on Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher market in Paris as an example of the president’s “refusal to acknowledge the identity of the perpetrators, the victims, or even the location of the market massacre, provides a broad window into his thinking on Islam and the Middle East…. And if there are no terrorists spurred by Islam, there can be no purposely selected Jewish shop or intended Jewish victims, only a deli and randomly present folks.”

Oren seems to have missed President Obama’s comments in a Jan. 22 statement to the United Nations General Assembly that “anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community” and on Jan. 27 – International Holocaust Remembrance Day – “The recent terrorist attacks in Paris serve as a painful reminder of our obligation to condemn and combat rising anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

In that same column, Oren presents an armchair psychological analysis of the president, speculating that his outreach to the Arab world stems from his abandonment by his Muslim father. Anti-Defamation League Director Abe Foxman rightly castigates the former ambassador for “borderline stereotyping and insensitivity” and veering “into the realm of conspiracy theories.”

The former ambassador’s claim that President Obama canceled the sale of F-35 joint strike fights is absurd in light of a Congressional Research Service report this month stating that “In February 2015, Israel signed a contract to purchase a partial second squadron of 14 F-35s for $2.82 billion, bringing the total number of planes on order to 33. Israel has received U.S. approval to purchase up to 75 aircraft — potentially leading to as much as $15.2 billion in purchases if all options are exercised.”

Additionally, reports the CRS, “If the planes are delivered on schedule, Israel would be the first country outside of the United States to receive the F-35.”

Jumping on President Obama for failing to mention Israel’s relief assistance to Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake is just plain petty, especially given that Israel’s team didn’t arrive until shortly after the president’s statement.

Absurd, too, is the notion that President Obama is the first president to allow “daylight” between the two nations. As a historian, Oren surely should know better, but seems to have forgotten public disagreements between Israel and the United States under the Eisenhower, Reagan, Ford and first Bush administrations. Let’s not forget that it was President Ronald Reagan who joined a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel for destroying Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility and supported selling sophisticated arms to Saudi Arabia.

Oren also complains that President Obama violated a “no surprises” principles between the two nations when in his first meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he demanded a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of a two-state solution. He seems to have forgotten that limits on settlement building and a two-state solution have been U.S. policy since the Clinton administration.

It’s not just Oren’s statements about President Obama and the administration that cast doubt on his credibility. It’s others, who since the book came out are either directly refuting the ambassador’s “facts” or saying they lack context.

The U.S. ambassador, Daniel Shapiro, disagrees with Oren’s take, saying, “What [Oren] wrote does not reflect the truth.” Shapiro said he does “not agree with those who say that we do not have close coordination, and were not always in very close professional contact with the Israeli government, including the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, head of Oren’s Kulanu Party, went so far as to apologize to Ambassador Shapiro, saying Oren represented himself, not Kulanu.

Oren claims that journalist Josh Rogin apologized for having recorded a Yom Kippur synagogue talk that the ambassador had given, yet Rogin says not only did he never apologize, but he also “never spoke directly with Oren about it.” And, New York Times opinion page editor Andrew Rosenthal says Oren’s portrayal of a conversation between the two of them is missing context.

I’d long respected Michael Oren as a historian, an ambassador and a student of the Middle East, but now I see someone who has a political agenda and an antipathy to a U.S. president that is hard to fathom coming from an ambassador who long spoke of the close ties between the two countries. I hope he quickly realizes that his charges serve only to exacerbate tensions and do nothing to help Israel.

About the Author
Mel Levine is a former senior Democratic congressman of the Middle East subcommittee of the House of Representatives from California. He served from 1983-1993.
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