When last we heard from Michael Oren, he was giving an odd interview — suggesting that everything was just swell between the U.S. and Israel and decrying the “partisan” Republicans, who have stuck by the Jewish state while Democratic support has nosedived. Now, word comes that he was far more candid in private. Haaretz reports:
Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, painted a dark picture of U.S.-Israeli relations during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem last week. Israeli diplomats say Oren described the current situation as a “tectonic rift” in which Israel and the United States are like continents drifting apart. … Five Israeli diplomats, some of whom took part in the briefing or were informed about the details, said Oren described relations between the two countries in bleak terms. Oren, however, has denied making such statements. …
Oren noted that contrary to Obama’s predecessors – George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — the current president is not motivated by historical-ideological sentiments toward Israel but by cold interests and considerations. He added that his access as Israel’s ambassador to senior administration officials and close advisers of the president is good. But Obama has very tight control over his immediate environment, and it is hard to influence him.
“This is a one-man show,” Oren is quoted as saying.
While certainly less “diplomatic,” these remarks have the benefit of candor and accuracy. As for the flotilla incident, Oren reportedly said: “Even our close friends came out against us. … Only after some time, when video from the ship arrived and was aired by the American media, did public opinion begin to shift in Israel’s favor.”
One can sympathize with Oren. His job is to try, under the most difficult circumstances with a president more hostile to Israel than any other since the 1948, to keep the relationship between the two countries from rupturing. And yet, he is neither deluded nor dishonest, so he concedes — he thought, privately — that Obama is pulling the relationship apart, replacing a robust alliance based on shared values, interests, and, yes, affection with an arms-length, if not antagonistic, one, in which Israel is treated as an encumbrance to Obama’s foreign-policy objectives.
There is a weird bit of play acting going on. The Israeli government, the Obama team, and the American Jewish groups publicly declare that things are “much improved” between the two countries and that Obama is really, honestly, a stalwart defender of the Jewish state. But, in fact, none of them believe this to be so. Bibi’s government walks a tightrope, attempting to defend its country’s interests but wary of enraging the American president, who is all too eager to look for excuses to demonstrate to the “Muslim World” that he’s not four-square behind Israel. The Obama team thinks that a “charm” offensive will be sufficient, and looks to do the least possible in defense of Israel without provoking American Jewry. And Jewish leaders privately grumble and rage over Obama’s assaults on Israel, but dare not make their fury public — for they might lose access to the White House, as well as their liberal members.
The Kabuki dance, however, matters less than reality. Israel’s foes see the separation between the U.S. and the Jewish state. Iran sees Obama’s unwillingness to consider military force to thwart its nuclear ambitions. The Arab nations see that America is an unreliable ally, and consider lining up with the Iran-Syria axis, which is growing in prestige as ours diminishes. In sum, Israel’s foes and ours are not fooled; they understand all too well the “tectonic rift” between the U.S. and Israel. Perhaps, it is time, at least in the U.S., for Israel’s friends to be candid about the depth of the problem and to devise a strategy for challenging the president, whose foreign policy is so antithetical to Israel’s interests that its ambassador can only reveal his true sentiments in private.