Oren’s memoir highlights fundamental flaws in Israeli policy

Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren is getting some attention for his claim in a memoir to be published next week that President Obama “abandoned Israel.” Oren’s book will likely be a hot topic of conversation in our community this summer – and already it’s coming under fire for its looseness with the facts.

The US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, in a highly unusual move and using blunt, but appropriate language, has questioned Oren’s facts. “Michael Oren published an imaginary account of what happened,” Shapiro said in an interview with Army Radio. “I disagree with what he wrote. He was an ambassador in the past, but he is now a politician and an author who wants to sell books. Sometimes an ambassador has a limited point of view into ongoing efforts. What he wrote does not reflect the truth.”

Oren’s book also apparently contains an outrageous and incendiary attack on Jewish-American reporters who cover the conflict. According to Chemi Shalev of Haaretz, Oren argues that Jewish journalists are largely responsible for American media’s anti-Israel coverage and the ‘double standard’ it applies in its coverage of the Jewish state. Oren also writes that the antagonism towards Netanyahu shown by Jewish journalists such as Thomas Friedman and Leon Wieseltier resembles “historic hatred of Jews.”

Attacking the messenger seems to be the new tactic of the Israeli government. This week, it issued a preposterous cartoon portraying “clueless, gullible western journalists” covering Gaza. You can watch it here – it truly shows the pathetic depths that Israel’s “hasbara” has sunk to.

Israel seems blind to the fact that its problem is not poor PR or biased reporters or “self-hating Jews” or a “hostile” President of the United States. The problem lies with the policies of a government that wants to continue to build settlements, maintain and deepen the occupation and has no serious plan or intention to make peace with the Palestinians.

Oren’s book is another example of the way Israeli officials simply miss the point. His basic contention that the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship depends on there being “no daylight” and “no surprises” between the two nations does not stand up to scrutiny. In the past, as Peter Beinart demonstrates in an article in Haaretz, there has frequently been daylight between the President of the United States and Israel on key issues. And there have been plenty of surprises going in both directions.

The real, underlying strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship does not come from the papering over of disagreements or a determination to keep them private but on the common values that the two nations share which derive from their founding documents and core principles. To the extent that one or the other partner strays from these principles, the relationship is going to experience difficulties.

The current tension between the United States and Israel can be attributed to a fraying of those very values by a succession of right-wing Israeli governments. Specifically, the steady, inexorable expansion of settlements and the persistence of what has become an almost 50-year occupation of another people is slowly eroding and degrading the sense of shared values that binds Americans to Israelis.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has abandoned the two-state solution as a serious policy goal – if it ever was one for him – and most of his cabinet is on record as being vehemently against it. Israel is no longer seen as being serious about reaching peace with the Palestinians and seems content to rule them against their will indefinitely.

A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a fundamental American interest as well as the only means of guaranteeing Israel’s long-term security while preserving its Jewish and democratic character. An Israeli government that sincerely committed itself to that goal and worked to bring it about would see a sudden improvement in its relationship with the United States and as well as the rest of the international community. It’s either that or producing more silly, childish cartoons blaming reporters for all of Israel’s woes.

About the Author
Alan Elsner, a former Reuters journalist and author, is Vice President for Communications at J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group. He is the author of four books including two novels. Elsner is a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who lives in Rockville Maryland. His posts at Reuters included Jerusalem correspondent, Chief Nordic Correspondent, State Dept. correspondent, chief U.S. political correspondent and U.S. national correspondent.
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