Michael Oren is learning the hard way that Israeli politics isn’t beanbag. Over the weekend his remarks to foreign ministry officials were leaked to Haaretz. The report suggested that Oren was candidly critical of Obama. Now Oren is scrambling to deny the remarks and erase the impression — which just about everyone knows to be true — that the Israelis have never faced an American president quite so antagonistic toward the Jewish state. His explanation isn’t all that compelling:
In an interview, Oren said that he had spoken of a “tectonic shift in American foreign and domestic policies” under President Obama and that “Israel has to adjust to that.” But he suggested that his description was much more benign than that reported by anonymous sources who heard his briefing, explaining that he was merely emphasizing that Obama is an ambitious change agent not satisfied with the status quo.
Oren said the briefing, given in Hebrew at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, was no different from what he often says to various groups. “I said shift, not rift, but that may be a subtlety that escaped the Israeli ear,” he said.
Shift, rift — is it all that different? One also wonders how the jibe at his countrymen (“a subtlety that escaped the Israeli ear”) is received. (Had the American ambassador to Israel said that, an apology would be in order.) Oren denied much of the rest of the story:
Oren on Sunday emphatically denied as “a lie” a report that he had suggested in the briefing that Obama operated out of cold calculation, not emotional attachment to Israel. But he confirmed that he did say Obama runs a very tight ship, with key decision-making done at the White House, not the State Department or other agencies.
These are trying times for Israel, and the most seasoned officials find it difficult to both preserve their credibility and avert a blow-up with the Obama administration. Oren is plainly striving to walk a very fine line and navigate through the thicket of domestic critics and rivals. He certainly has his work cut out for him, as does the entire Israeli government, which must figure out how (quite literally) the Jewish state is to survive the Obama presidency.