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Michael Oren’s self-deceiving critics

US progressives are misrepresenting their fellow Jews, denying anti-Semitism and ignoring real Iranian threats

The words of Ambassador Michael Oren echo in my mind as I contemplate the challenges with the American-Israel relationship, and fear of a “too quick to condemn” complicity in the progressive wing of the Jewish community.

The evening after publishing Ally — My Journey Across the American-Israel Divide, Ambassador Oren was speaking at the Free Library of Philadelphia to a packed crowd. Giving comprehensive answers, he apologized for the length of his responses from probing questions directed by Middle East Forum founder Daniel Pipes, another one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable people I ever met. Michael Oren began to take questions from an attentive and engaged audience. Shortly into the Q&A, at 8:40 PM, the fire alarm rang and guests and speaker were escorted out of the building.

The abrupt end was symbolic of efforts of the progressive wing in US to cut off debate when they perceive an attack on the current administration, and with our Jewish progressive leaders also championing an “attack the messenger” mode.

Knowing that I risk this same attack from my progressive friends in defending Michael Oren, I also expect that I will alienate my friends on the right wing by sharing that, in February, I wrote a letter to President Obama in praise of his two courageous acts to save the American economy. He successfully bailed out Detroit, thus rescuing the auto industry as a foundation of the American economic infrastructure. He also achieved a remedy on the greatest drain to the pocketbook of the American people, the exponentially spiraling health care costs, rather than doing as his predecessors, kicking the can down the road until our ruin as a nation.

These words of gratitude to the President preceded a request to reconsider his drive for a nuclear enabling deal with Iran.

Similarly, Ambassador Oren wanted his unique insights to be part of the topic of the debate during this critical decision making time on the Iran nuclear deal efforts. His book, he commented, was not a light beach read. His sacrifice was to publish during the lazy days of summer, rather than riding the more appropriate wave of publishing PR during the Fall focus on international relations and Jewish Book month. His intent was to bring into the national discussion two critical issues, a deliberately stated intention and practice of the US President to create distance — “daylight” with Israel, and concurrently the effort to avoid a previous internal policy of “no surprises” — keeping Israel informed of relevant major policies and directions.

The progressive wing does not deal with those issues, but shifts the focus with a cause to discredit the person of the former Ambassador, and the unique insights of his four years in the halls of decision making, in order to “shoot the messenger” rather than deal with real concerns.

Presenting the progressive position that same morning of the Philadelphia speech, Jane Eisner, Forward Editor, penned an Op-Ed declaring “most American Jews not only continue to support Obama but align themselves…fulsomely with progressive values and politics.” The Forward is normally very nuanced and informative on the American Jewish community. This time “most Jews” means about half, with the numbers dropping. Recent Gallup polls show a January 2015 approval rating of 61% falling to barely over 50%, which Gallup attributes it to ” The administration has embarked on a controversial effort to broker a nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel’s longtime avowed enemy, which may have offended some American Jews who see their president as siding more with Iran than with Israel.”

Commenting on Oren’s observation of anti-Semitism in America, Eisner relates, “anti-Semitism is at historic lows.” Again, a quick look at the ADL website reveals a significant increase of anti-Semitism. ADL Headline: “Anti-Semitic Incidents in 2014: A 21 Percent Increase Across the U.S.” And more critical, as the editor brings into the equation directions of Jewish young adults, we know that growing anti-Semitism on campus is challenging Jewish student leadership in the halls of student government,, as well as an increased fear of the personal safety for identified Jewish students.

Yet, in the attempt of showing complete alignment with the President’s agenda, there is the progressive Jew’s failure to recognize that perhaps a significant number of fellow Jews have a gnawing fear of this administration “throwing Israel under the bus” in the attempt to create new foreign policy objectives.

Eisner continues: “Oren directs some of his most scathing criticism of Obama to the president’s outreach to the Muslim world, beginning with his landmark speech in Cairo in 2009 and up to what Oren sees as the catastrophic mistake to negotiate with Iran today.”

My own take is that a significant number of Jews were open to new ways of outreach to the Muslim world, with accompanying prayers of hopeful success. What was most telling from Ambassador Oren’s front row seat, was the pointed decision not to include Israel in the President’s first trip to the “neighborhood.” Another telling sign Oren points to is the recent failure to have meaningful US representation when Jews were targeted in Paris this January…and completely discounting that Jews were targeted.

I am seriously fearful of the progressive’s “wishful thinking” support for an administration’s foreign policy of enabling the number one source of three and a half decades of international terrorism, to move forward with their drive to obtain a nuclear sledgehammer to achieve their goals of eliminating the State of Israel.

To operate in a crazy world, sometimes we inure ourselves to reality. We can rest on wishful thinking, but Israelis are unanimous in their appreciation of what they are up against. Hezbollah is Iran’s front-line shock troops on Israel’s northern border, with tens of thousands of, as yet, non-nuclear tipped missiles. Contrary to their own war against fellow Muslims who are of Sunni allegiance, Iran arms Hamas on Israel’s southwestern border. Are Iran’s intentions against Israel hidden? Do my progressive friends ask themselves, “What if I’m wrong?”

Oren’s book Ally deals with critical existential issues for Israel, and the relationship with the US, as it also acts as a lightning rod for the progressive defenders who strive to defend a President with a blind hope that his policy is the correct path.

In one way, though, Michael Oren’s book Ally does make for a good summer read. It is a passionate love story, the tale of his love for Israel, his love for America, and the love for his wife Sally. I believe that we all can relate to these three expressions of love.

About the Author
Lou Balcher served from 2004 - 2013 as Director of Academic Affairs to Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region. He also served as Education Director for Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem, PA, and as administrator and teacher for Gratz College's Jewish Community High School. He is a former Membership Director for the Philadelphia and Cincinnati regions of B'nai B'rith International. For three decades, he has coordinated post-college young leadership programs for Young Jewish Leadership Concepts. Additionally, he consults as National Director of the American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center, Rehovot, Israel which serves more than one million Israeli citizens.
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