Ambassador Michael Oren gave a curious interview to the Jerusalem Post this week. In some respects, we got the unvarnished and deliciously candid analysis we have come to expect from him:
Asked about J Street’s influence on the White House or its sway in Congress, the ambassador said, “I don’t think that they have proven decisive on any major issue we’ve encountered.”
Oren said J Street was fundamentally different than the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
“AIPAC’s mandate is to support the decisions of the democratically elected government of Israel, be it left, right or center,” he said. “J Street makes its own policy and does not necessarily, to say the least, accept the decisions of the policies of the government of Israel.”
“Listen, I represent the democratically elected government, and that government reflects the will of the people of Israel, and what they perceive as the interests of Israel,” he said, adding that J Street was an organization “taking issue with that, and that in itself is a source of disagreement.”
But he is also a diplomat, one trying to hold the tenuous U.S.-Israel relationship together. So he feels compelled to say things such as “the tone changed within a week” after Obama’s display of rudeness toward Bibi Netanyahu. Listen, at that time James Jones was holding meetings on an imposed peace plan and leaking it to the media. Obama more recently has not exactly been the stalwart partner for Israel during the flotilla incident. And Oren unfortunately goes well beyond the needs of diplomatic niceties when he declares:
“Bi-partisan support for Israel is a national strategic interest for us, and I’m sometimes in the difficult position of having to tell some of Israel’s most outspoken supporters to be aware of this,” Oren said.
“I’m concerned about the drift toward partisanship, and while the American people remain overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, pro-Israel, when you break it down by party you get a more nuanced picture, and for me a more troubling picture,” he said.
Oren advised Israel supporters against “ad hominem attacks on the president as if he is anti- Israel. Barack Obama is not anti-Israel, he has different policies than some of his predecessors, but he is not anti-Israel. You can debate the relative value of his policies toward us, but let’s not couch it in saying someone is pro-Israel or anti- Israel.”
Wait. Shouldn’t he be concerned not about the vocal supporters of Israel, but about the significant drop-off in Democratic support for Israel? Israel has become a partisan issue because so many on the Democratic side — the president included – have junked the bipartisan tradition of support for the Jewish state. It doesn’t seem productive to chide those who are standing resolutely with the Jewish state (and pressuring those who aren’t) to take a swing at Israel’s friends for “partisanship.”
As for Obama’s anti-Israel sentiments, I sincerely doubt whether Oren and his government think Obama is pro-Israel. Oren and others in the Bibi government are all too well aware that Obama’s policies toward Israel are “different.” For example, we haven’t had a president who condemned Israel or questioned Israel’s ability to investigate its own national-security actions. This is the burden of diplomats — to pack away one’s candor and sincerity for post-governmental revelations. One cannot but despair that Obama forces Israel’s supporters and its representatives to be so disingenuous, to praise the un-praiseworthy, and to stifle their candid assessments so as to not arouse the angry president whom they fear will lash out again.
Truth is the first casualty in war, they say. Well, honesty is the first casualty in surviving Obama’s Israel policy.