May 4, 2009
Michael Oren Picked to Be Israel’s Next US Ambassador
Why did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu select Michael Oren as Israel’s next Ambassador to the United States?
That’s a question many among Israel’s political and religious right are asking in the wake of the Princeton-educated historian’s appointment to the country’s most important and high-profile diplomatic post.
Oren indeed supported Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and in a speech last month argued that Israel do the same from the West Bank.
“The only alternative for Israel to save itself as a Jewish state is by unilaterally withdrawing from the West Bank and evacuating most of the settlements.” he told an audience at Georgetown University in March, when he was a visiting professor there.
But while the appointment’s critic blast Netanyahu for the choice, they may also come to realize that he can be just what Israel needs about now: an articulate, appealing and highly intelligent public spokesman for the cause, as the country attempts to marshal American and international support to confront the existential threat that is Iran.
It was this subject that Oren focused on in his speech yesterday at the Aipac convention in Washington: ““Israel will not remain passive while a government that’s sworn to wipe it off the map acquires the means for doing that,” said Oren of the notion of a nuclear-armed Iran.
What understanding will Oren the historian bring to Oren the diplomat? I re-read an essay Oren sent The Jewish Journal to reprint on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War. He has written a masterful book recounting that war (and his book on The Yom Kippur War isn’t chopped liver either).
What Oren also brings to the table is a deep understanding of the history of American involvement in the Middle East. His book, “Power, Faith and Fantasy” is an essential primer on how oil, religious fervor, romantic Orientalism and plain ignorance compelled so much American involvement in the region.
The book is the first comprehensive history of American involvement in the Middle East. Its title gives the central thesis away: Our involvement has largely revolved around the quest for financial, military and diplomatic power, the impact of religion and the pull of fiction and fantasy…
After reading the book, I called Oren, who had written for The Jewish Journal in the past, to discuss some of the implications of his research for American policy. Re-reading now what he told me then—in light of his appointment—may offer some clues into the approach of Israel’s newest, and most important, diplomat:
To read Michael Oren’s essay on the importance of Israel’s Jewish identity, click here.
To read Michael Oren’s essay on the lessons of the Six Day War, click here.
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