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26 Jun 2015 00:00
The release of politician Michael Oren's book has strained the relationship between Israel and the US. (Uriel Sinai and Mark Wilson, Getty)
A peculiar feature of the United States’s relations with Israel is that more than a few senior diplomats posted from Jerusalem to Washington were once US citizens.
The present Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, was born in Miami Beach and carried a US passport until he renounced it in 2005 in order to serve as the Jewish state’s economic envoy in Washington DC.
When Dermer lived in the US, before moving to Israel two decades ago, he was a Republican Party operative. There is a view in the White House that he remains one as ambassador, after he colluded with Republican leaders to embarrass President Barack Obama, most notably by engineering an extraordinary foreign intervention in US politics with the Israeli prime minister’s controversial speech to Congress to denounce the president’s Iran policy.
Dermer’s predecessor as envoy in Washington, Michael Oren, has created his own diplomatic uproar with a remarkable attack on Obama that appears at least partly rooted in his disillusionment with the president as leader of the land of Oren’s birth.
Oren, a New Yorker and US citizen until 2009 when he became ambassador, has stirred outrage by suggesting the president is not a loyal American.
He has also drawn accusations of “psychobabble” for arguing Obama’s alleged hostility to Israel is because abandonment by his Muslim father drove a craving to be accepted by his father’s “co-religionists”.
In extracts from a book published on Tuesday, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide, Oren accuses the president of policies that “imperilled Israel”, not least over Iran.
Oren wrote of how disturbed he was that Israel’s “closest ally had entreated with our deadliest enemy on an existential issue without so much as informing us”.
Soft on terrorismOren, a member of Israel’s Knesset, writes that Obama is soft on terrorism, a claim open to challenge from those on the end of US drone attacks. He considers Obama’s advisers infected with “neo-Marxist ideas” from studies at US universities.
Ambassador to the US until 2013, Oren has promoted the book with a blitz of opinion pieces and interviews, including one in the Wall Street Journal under the headline, “How Obama abandoned Israel”.
He describes relations between the US and Israel as “in tatters” in part after the president dared to demand Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu halt the inexorable expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, which has done so much to undermine the prospects of peace and a Palestinian state.
Tellingly, Oren says in an interview about the book with the Times of Israel that the creation of a Palestinian state is unrealistic but that Israel should keep up the diplomatic pretence of supporting one. That is widely considered to be the true position of Netanyahu, who promised voters before this year’s Israeli election that he would not permit the creation of a Palestinian state but, under US criticism, claimed to have altered his position after he was re-elected.
Oren writes that he has tried to understand why the president acts as he does and came to the conclusion that it is because Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism. That leads the former Israeli ambassador to perhaps his most incendiary charge, that the president is somehow disloyal to the US.
“More alarming for me still were Obama’s attitudes towards America. Vainly, I scoured Dreams from My Father [Obama’s first book, published in 1995] for some expression of reverence, even respect, for the country its author would someday lead. Instead, the book criticises Americans for their capitalism and consumer culture, for despoiling their environment and maintaining antiquated power structures. Travelling abroad, they exhibited ‘ignorance and arrogance’ – the shortcomings the president’s critics assigned to him,” writes Oren, according to an excerpt released to right-wing news website Breitbart.
Hard on IsraelOren drew more fire over a recent article in Foreign Policy, which said that Obama has been hard on Israel and more sympathetic to the Arab world in part because both his father and stepfather were Muslim.
“I could imagine how a child raised by a Christian mother might see himself as a natural bridge between her two Muslim husbands. I could also speculate how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their coreligionists,” he wrote.
Yair Lapid, former finance minister and leader of the Yesh Atid party, told Israel Radio that Oren’s claim of Muslim influence on the US president was “utter nonsense” and “pseudo-psychological analysis not based on anything”.
The official welcoming ceremony for US President Barack Obama on his arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel on March 20 2013. (Uriel Sinai, Getty)
Abe Foxman, head of the strongly pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League, accused Oren of veering “into the realm of conspiracy theories”.
“With an element of amateur psychoanalysis he links US policies in the Middle East to the president’s personal history of having a Muslim father. Then, taking it a step further by suggesting this ‘world view’ of Muslims and Islam has driven the president to embrace the Muslim world at the expense of both Israel and US national security interests. This results in borderline stereotyping and insensitivity,” said Foxman.
Deep tensionsOren offers an insight into how deep the tensions between Obama and Netanyahu were, and also how powerless the White House was to influence the Israeli leader. The former ambassador reveals an incident in which the then US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, threatened to withdraw Washington’s unswerving support for Israel in the security council unless Netanyahu stopped the relentless construction of Jewish settlements, which is a major factor in preventing a peace agreement.
“If you don’t appreciate the fact that we defend you night and day, tell us,” admonished Rice.
The Israeli government has sought to distance itself from Oren even though there is little doubt that his book reflects the betrayal some of its leaders feel toward Obama. It has said that the former ambassador largely played a “public diplomacy” role in Washington and was out of the loop on many of the more important negotiations with the US.
The deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said Oren only represents himself, not the government.
“The United States is a true friend of Israel and every attempt to harm the relationship between the two countries by resorting to personal attacks will not succeed,” she told the Israeli website Walla News.
Haaretz reported that the US ambassador in Tel Aviv, Dan Shapiro, took Oren to task over the book. It said Shapiro appealed to Netanyahu to issue a public statement repudiating Oren’s claims but that the Israeli prime minister had refused.
Oren defended the book to the Times of Israel as “a cri de coeur [cry of the heart] … for an alliance that should be in a better place than it is”.
Perhaps to avoid giving more publicity to the book, the White House has so far declined to comment. – © Guardian News & Media 2015
A United Nations inquiry into the Gaza War of 2014 accuses Israel and Palestinian factions of multiple potential violations of international law, including suspicion of war crimes.
Calling on Israel to “break with its lamentable track record” and hold perpetrators responsible, a UN commission laid most blame for the violations at the feet of the country’s political and military leadership. The commission said the leadership should have been aware as the war progressed that its failure to change course was leading to huge civilian casualties.
In a hard-hitting report, with which Israel refused to co-operate and which it has denounced as biased, the UN Human Rights Council accuses Hamas and the Israeli military of breaches of international law in the way they fought the conflict.
Hamas and other Palestinian factions are accused of using indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire and of murdering alleged Palestinian collaborators.
“The use of rockets in the possession of Palestinian armed groups, indiscriminate in nature, and any targeted mortar attack against civilians constitute violations of international humanitarian law, in particular of the fundamental principle of distinction, which may amount to a war crime,” the report’s authors conclude.
For its part Israel faces charges in the report’s findings that it potentially breached international law in multiple areas of conduct of the war.
These include almost every major aspect of Israeli tactics: the targeting of residential homes with precision, the excessive use of artillery in civilian areas, and the loosening of troops’ rules of engagement during periods such as the use of the Hannibal Protocol in Rafah. – Peter Beaumont © Guardian News & Media 2015
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