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Obama, J Street and the American Jewish Divide

Former Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren is a native of West Orange, New Jersey best exemplifies the special relations between the two allies, Israel and the U.S. Ally-book cover jpgWith the publication of his memoir, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide (2015), he has another best seller. Previous ones were Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2003) and Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present (2007)Having read Ally, I concur with praise from two pundits: Bret Stephens, the Tuesday Wall Street  Journal columnist of note, and Vic Rosenthal, a former resident of Fresno, California, now a Jerusalem resident whose Abu Yehuda blog  posts are a must read about an American  living in Israel.

Bret Stephens’ opening stanza in his June 29, 2015 WSJ column “The President Against the Historianexplains why Oren’s memoir is a must read:

Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, has written the smartest and juiciest diplomatic memoir that I’ve read in years, and I’ve read my share. The book, called “Ally,” has the added virtues of being politically relevant and historically important. This has the Obama administration—which doesn’t come out looking too good in Mr. Oren’s account—in an epic snit.

Vic Rosenthal in his July 2, 2015, Abu Yehuda blog post, Michael Oren is tired of American Jews, and so am I, addresses  the yawning  divide between Israel and American Jews, another of Oren’s themes in Ally:

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is offended by Michael Oren, on behalf of (non-Orthodox) American Jews. These Jews, like America’s “first Jewish president,” turn out to be very easy to offend: just suggest that Israelis are more qualified than they are to decide the future of their country.

Oren’s new book has offended both Yoffie and the Obama Administration, which has launched an all-out media blitz against him (as far as I know, Obama spokespeople haven’t called him a ‘chickenshit’ yet, but give them time).

Yesterday morning, I dialed into an Israel Project  (TIP)sponsored presentation by Oren. He told the listeners ,unlike the daylight between Obama and Netanyahu over the Iranian nuclear nightmare threat, that there is no daylight across the political divide in the  obsessive democratic cockpit of the Knesset. As Oren tells it, whether Likud, Zionist Union and even Arab parties, all Israel is united that Iran achieving nuclear breakout is “a very bad deal”. Further, he said while some  in the media, the Obama claque of  “senior officials’ and former aides have excoriated him for the early publication  of his memoir, he was heartened that they haven’t addressed the facts of what the Administration has perpetrated. Listen to this recorded  TIP presentation by Oren and the following Q&A.

Oren’s memoir has a lot to say about President Obama and his Administration acolytes isolating Israel over Iran and  Netanyahu’s vigorous defense of Israel  sovereign right of Israel to warn America and the untrusting world about Iran’s nuclear  threat and the very bad P5+1  deal. Perhaps  a  deal about to be announced in Vienna in a few days. Or if not simply kicked down the road.  All while Iran’s  Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei  and Mahdist acolytes of terrorism perfect the means of taking out the “little Satan”, Israel ,with one bomb and the “big Satan”, the  US, with a nuclear tipped ICBM.

Oren clearly takes pride that his well honed skills as a Columbia and Princeton educated historian who earned his PhD in Middle East Studies with the venerable Bernard Lewis.   Not bad for a pudgy dyslexic , pigeon toed 15 year old who shook the hand of the late Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, when the latter was  Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the US.  He exclaimed on that memorable occasion that some day he would be Israel’s Ambassador.  A late bloomer in high school Oren fulfilled his quest, slimed down hardened through rowing .  Equipped with his backpack he made aliyah to Israel to go through  grueling  paratrooper training  earn his coveted red beret along with an oath taken  to defend Israel on Masada with his IDF comrades.  He ends up in combat and later as a reserve officer during the Second Lebanon War as a military spokesperson to the foreign press.  Along the way he  meets his  American wife Sally Edelstein, a  Jersey girl, dancer and former San Francisco hippy groupie when she makes Aliyah to Israel and they ultimately form their Israeli family.

Ally  depicts what it was like for an American-Israeli to fulfill his dream as his adopted country’s Ambassador in Washington  Israel’s  interests in the byzantine politics of the Obama era from 2009 to 2013. After leaving Washington, Oren turns home to Tel Aviv to lecture, teach at Harvard and Yale and write his memoir.   Oren is now a member of the Kulanu party headed by former  Likud Communications Commissioner and economic reformer Moshe Kahlon.  Oren is a thinking liberal and  both he and the family are members of a Reform synagogue.  His memoir culminates on a dramatic note when he  and Sally attend  a  Bar Mitzvah celebration for 13 year olds at  Kibbutz Na’an, with one of his former Washington Embassy aides, Lee Moser, mother of  one of the bar mitzvah candidates when a red alert sounds, sirens wail and they scurry for shelter. He writes:

I held Sally’s hand and glanced over my shoulder over my shoulder just as two Hamas rockets roared in. Then with twin booms that rattled the tin overhang  and shook the ground below, the missiles exploded. Iron Dome interceptors, developed by Israel and funded by the United States, scored perfect hits. For moment afterward, as we emerged into the uncertain night, the glow of those bursts hovered over us, beaming like kindred stars.

All  of which brings  us to why he has frosted the J Street  fawning rabbinic leadership of the Reform Movement in America and  earned  both Vic Rosenthal’s and my admiration. This came on the cusp of having orchestrated a  recent viewing and panel discussion of the Americans for Peace and Tolerance documentary, J Street Challenge with Pensacola pro-Israel colleagues; Rabbi Eric Tokajer of Brit Ahm synagogue, Mike Bates, 1330amWEBY general manger of “Your Turn host and Florida State Representative Mike Hill, a U.S. Air Force Academy grad.

Vic Rosenthal notes a similar experience in his Fresno in his Abu Yehuda column:

We tried to bring the local Jewish community – the organizations, the synagogues and individual Jews – along with us. With a few exceptions, mostly people like us who had lived in Israel or had relatives there, we had to drag them kicking and screaming. Most of our pro-Israel events drew the same few supporters.

The local Reform temple was probably the most frustrating. A film critical of J Street, followed by a discussion? Absolutely not, it would be ‘divisive’! The Jewish Federation and Hadassah were better, but it was always easier to organize an event about Jewish culture than Israel.

Is Oren right that American Jews are more interested in helping others than their own? Certainly they were far more upset about terrorism in Charleston than Jerusalem, and far more ready to criticize our Prime Minister than their own Administration. The Reform rabbi threw himself into activities to help the poor and homeless. He is seen on TV on panels with the Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center. He is an outspoken advocate of liberal causes, but he did not give a sermon in favor of PM Netanyahu’s speech about Iran before the Congress.

In preparation for the recent J Street Challenge  Pensacola event, we culled excerpts from Oren’s Ally about his views on J Street  and its defenders inside the Obama Administration, illustrative of what  concerns Vic Rosenthal.

On J Street’s inclusion in Major American Jewish organizations meeting with Obama in 2009 p. 78

He promised to be more evenhanded in asking all parties, not just Israelis, to make sacrifices for peace. Yet the meeting would be remembered as a turning point in the administration’s approach toward the Jewish State.

Included for the first time with the mainstream Jewish leaders were the heads of Americans for Peace Now and the newly founded J Street, both organizations stridently critical of Israel and its traditional American supporters.  Their presence rattled the other participants, many of whom had been personally slighted by these parvenus.

The President concluded, “When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines and that erodes our credibility with the Arabs”.

Commenting on the discussion, J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami cited Obama’s ability to connect with the Muslim World and his immense standing in America and the World. “He was very clear that this is a moment that has to be seized and he intends to seize it.  By contrast the other American Jewish leaders emerged from the meeting concerned about Obama’s departure from the long standing principle of “no daylight” in U.S. –Israel relations.

On J Street’s promotion of the Goldstone Report that Maligned Israel in Operation Cast Lead in 2008 – 2009 p. 102

Though J Street refrained from formally endorsing the [Goldstone Report], activists in the organization escorted Goldstone to Congress for meetings with progressive members.  Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner told the UNHRC of America’s disappointment with the document’s double standards. But he also cited Goldstone’s ‘distinguished record of public service” and called on Palestinians to investigate Hamas abuses. This, for Israelis, was tantamount to asking al-Qaeda to investigate 9/11.

On the contretemps between the Israeli Embassy and J Street P. 107

Irksome was the embassy’s continued imbroglio with J Street. Unlike my predecessor, Sallai Meridor, who had shunned the lobby, I initially engaged it in a dialogue.  I had no illusions about the group, which received funds from anti-Israel contributors, supported every legislator critical of Israel, and stridently attacked mainstream American Jewish leaders. Though J Street defined itself as “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace”, its logo bore no connection to Israel whatsoever, not even the color blue, and portrayed other pro-Israel organizations as anti-Israel. Before becoming Ambassador, I chanced to meet one J Street board member and asked him why he had joined. “I’m uncomfortable with the special relationship,” he told me. “I want to normalize U.S.-Israel ties.”

Outrageously, J Street members hosted Goldstone in Congress and lobbied  against sanctions on Iran. These actions were deeply deleterious to Israel’s security – “they endangered seven million Israelis,” I said –and made interacting with J Street virtually impossible. Both the Prime Minister [Netanyahu] and the foreign minister [Avigdor Liberman] vetoed my participation in its annual conference.

On the Obama White House relations with J Street p. 108

J Street… fashioned itself as the Administration’s wing in the American Jewish Community. Obama acknowledged that fact by sending his National Security Advisor [former Marine General] Jim Jones, one of Washington’s most powerful officials to greet the organization. “I’m honored to represent President Obama at the first national J Street conference.  And you can be sure that this administration will be represented at all other J Street conferences…” Obama’s newly appointed advisor on anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, an early J Street supporter, issued her first denunciation not of anti-Semites, but rather of me for boycotting the summit.

Michael Oren’s Ally might be considered a 21st Century version of Emile Zola’s J’accuse.  Oren , like Zola in the fin de siècle Dreyfus affair,  addresses the calumnies of President  Obama, nurtured  in Muslim Indonesia, creating daylight isolating Israeli PM Netanyahu over nuclear Iran and recognition of a Faux Palestinian State.  Daylight promised  to Obama’s  Chicago anti-Israel confreres, Rashid Khalidi, holder of the Edward Said Endowed Chair on Modern Arab Studies  at Columbia and Ali Abunimah , editor of The Electronic Intifada blog, that he wouldn’t forget them. Oren chronicles how Obama delivered on that promise.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of President Obama and former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, July 2009. Source: White House Photo

Paris Synagogues Attacked by pro-Palestinian Protesters

Sunday in France witnessed protests by thousands of Palestinian supporters  with  small groups attacking  the police and two synagogues in Paris.  The marchers were protesting Israeli Operation Protective Edge against the Hamas blitz of hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza against Israeli populated areas including major cities like Ashkelon, Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

paris synagogue

Paris synagogue. Photo courtesy of the Jerusalem Post.

Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have launched more than 715 rockets, while Israel’s Iron Dome system has intercepted and destroyed 160 rockets. The Palestinian death toll has reached 168 and over 1,000 injuries. Two elderly Israelis died of heart failure responding to Code Red alarms, while several IDF troops were slightly injured with shrapnel from fallen rockets and a raid  early Sunday morning against a launching site in northern Gaza.  Prime Minister Netanyahu on FoxNews Sunday said: “We face a very brutal enemy. We use our missiles to protect our people, they use their people to protect missiles”.

Here are excerpts from the AFP report on the large protests and synagogue attack in Paris and Lile, “Clashes in Paris as thousands march against Israel offensive”:

Clashes erupted in Paris on Sunday as thousands of people protested against Israel and in support of residents in the Gaza Strip, where a six-day conflict has left 168 Palestinians dead.

Several thousand demonstrators walked calmly through the streets of Paris behind a large banner that read “Total Support for the Struggle of the Palestinian People”.

But clashes erupted at the end of the march on Bastille Square, with people throwing projectiles onto a cordon of police who responded with tear gas.

The unrest continued early Sunday evening as police announced six arrests had been made.

A small group tired to break into two synagogues in central Paris, a police source told AFP.

Riot police dispersed the group, with two members of the Jewish community and six officers slightly injured in the ensuing scuffle, the source said.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the attempted synagogue stormings “in the strongest possible terms”.

“Such acts targeting places of worship are unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

– ‘Profoundly shocked’ –

“I am profoundly shocked and revolted. This aggression towards the Jewish community has taken an absolutely unacceptable turn,” Joel Mergei, president of the Israelite Central Consistory of France, told AFP.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called for “calm in the face of tensions” in the Middle East.

In the northern city of Lille, meanwhile, between 2,300 and 6,000 people protested peacefully, according to differing figures provided by the police and organizers.

[…]

“I came to say no to this massacre,” Amid Hamadouch, 30, told AFP at the Paris protest while it was still peaceful, with a sticker reading “Boycott Israel, Racist State” on his jacket.

“They are bombing innocent people. There are missiles being launched by Hamas, but the Israeli response is disproportionate. They are attacking the civilian population and not Hamas officials.”

The crowd, very young, shouted slogans such as: “We Are All Palestinians!” and “Only One Solution, End the Occupation!”.

Earlier today, former Israeli Ambassador Michel Oren on CNN promoting a proposal for a cease fire modeling on the Chemical Weapons destruction in Syria that would entail having international force to secure and destroy the current rocket and missile inventories of both Hamas and the PIJ.  That proposal was floated yesterday in Israel by a number of experts including former Israeli Chief of Staff, Gen. (ret.) Shaul Mofaz and others.  Amb. Oren in an Israel Seen, op-ed,  “A Smart Way out of the Gaza Confrontation, ” said:

The next stage would apply the formula with which the United States and Russia successfully removed chemical weapons from Syria. American inspectors can locate Hamas’ rocket stockpiles and ship them abroad for destruction.

Cessation of the Gaza rocket war against Israel would be only the first step in an orchestrated program to permanently end the threats from Gaza  to the Jewish nation. Ultimately those rockets have to be destroyed and the Hamas PIJ leaders brought to justice.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the New English Review. The featured photo is of demonstrators protesting in Paris to denounce the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip, July 11, 2014. Photo by AFP.