In his new book, Ally, former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren presents his personal analysis of relations between the United States and Israel during the time he represented Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for over four years of the Obama Administration. Oren’s work exemplifies what a fine writer he is: he expresses personal and emotional experiences, which his previous, academic work did not exhibit. From describing the niceties of diplomatic life to exposing his own private experiences and family crises, Oren has a fine writing touch.
From Oren’s perspective, two key aspects of American – Israeli relations were repudiated in the years of his service. Specifically, Oren argues that the fundamental planks of “no daylight” and “no surprises” in the bilateral relationship were selectively discarded by the Obama Administration. Despite the repeated public pronouncements from the White House and the foreign policy establishment underscoring the unbreakable ties between the countries, Oren cites repeated examples in which he says this relationship was regularly undermined.
The publication of this book was likely timed to enable Oren to become part of the current conversation about the P5+1 deal with Iran on its road to nuclear weapons. The book’s appearance at this moment also gave the new Knesset member a marvelous opportunity to publicly position himself in the center of the debate — something a first-term member from the newly formed Kulanu Party might never have accomplished had he sought to join Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud Party list.
While he criticizes the Prime Minister under whom he served in his first-ever diplomatic position, Oren clearly wrote the book as a critique of what he presents as a calculated decision by the Obama Administration to change the nature of America’s role in the Middle East. He repeatedly contends that the President believes in ensuring the safety and security of Israel, but also emphasizes Obama’s equally compelling concern not only for the plight of the Palestinians but also for all Muslims. While the personalities and the human interaction between Netanyahu and Obama were hardly warm, Oren suggests that the President was determined to change the character of the relationship — to Israel’s detriment.
From the beginning, the book demonstrates how Michael Oren represents a unique phenomenon among those Americans who are making aliyah today. Whereas those moving to Israel were once Zionists of all stripes, today they are largely Modern Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox. Sixty-year-old Michael Oren came from a classic American Conservative Jewish home. Whether one agrees or rejects his analyses, he — and others like him— brought to Israel a challenging, exciting, and pluralistic element that permeated all aspects of Israeli life: political, religious, and social. The absence of more generations of Michael Orens may well affect the dynamic forces that the diverse American aliyah once brought to Israel. This will likely be a significant factor underlying Israel’s development and especially its relationship with the American Jewish community.
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