American-born oleh Michael Oren, author of the critically acclaimed “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East,” removed his historian’s hat in 2009 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him ambassador to Washington. Upon returning to Israel in 2013, Oren donned a politician’s hat and was elected a member of the Knesset for the center-right Kulanu party. He is now a member of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.
He just published another book, but it is no longer clear which hat Oren is wearing as he publicizes the new memoir, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israel Divide.” According to some, his hat is white and pure. According to others, his hat is black and vindictive. But it just may be that it is the simple green of money.
In a series of prominent opinion pieces published at the same time as the book, Oren’s attack on the Obama administration raised a number of eyebrows. First, in The Wall Street Journal, Oren charged that the administration purposely damaged U.S.-Israel relations. In The Los Angeles Times, he critiqued Obama’s contention that Iran is a rational actor in the current nuclear talks. And in Foreign Policy, Oren traced the source of Obama’s failed outreach to the Muslim world to the influence of scholar Edward Said’s “Orientalism” and to Obama’s “personal interactions with Muslims,” including his abandonment by his mother’s “two Muslim husbands.”
In this country, reactions to the Oren charges seemed to fall along party lines. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and others have discounted Oren’s pieces as transparent efforts to hawk his book. And Oren’s nominal boss, Kulanu party leader and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, sought to distance himself from Oren’s writing and sent a letter of apology to Shapiro. But Netanyahu has remained silent.
Which begs the question: Why should anyone be forced to distance themselves from Oren’s analysis? The attacks by Shapiro and other Obama allies sound almost shrill, especially considering that this is an administration that has made no secret of its disdain for Netanyahu. At the same time, these kinds of attacks on a sitting U.S. president are highly unusual — all the more so when coming from a diplomat.
There is much blame to go around for the foundering of U.S.-Israel relations, and Oren is certainly entitled to his opinion. But we are troubled that nothing in his book appears to be designed to improve relations between the two countries. Add to that what has been described by others as Oren’s “amateur psychoanalysis” of Obama and his veering “into the realm of conspiracy theories,” and we are left with a work that is both undiplomatic and a-historical. All in all a disappointing turn of events for a respected historian and a former ambassador.