Michael Oren speaks

Michael Oren is the distinguished Israeli historian, American-born and -educated. Oren moved from the United States to Israel in the 1970’s. He is the author of works including Six Days of War and, most recently, Power, Faith and Fantasy. He is also Israel’s ambassador to the United States. At the time he was appointed to serve as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Commentary coincidentally published Oren’s piece on the seven existential threats facing Israel.
I met Oren when he spoke at the Jewish Community Center in St. Paul in November 2002 in support of Six Days of War. I met up with him again in Jerusalem at the Shalem Center in the summer of 2007. My impression of him is that he is something of a natural teacher who does not gladly suffer the usual platitudes spouted about Israel and the Middle East.
Perhaps apposite to the moment, I recall that when he spoke in St. Paul in November 2002 a member of the audience asked asked Oren about Abba Eban. Eban was the famous former Israeli foreign minister during the period including the Six Day War. Eban had just died. In his book on the Six Day War, Oren reports that Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol referred to Eban in Yiddish as “the learned fool.” Somewhat to my surprise, Oren spoke with great warmth and admiration about Eban.
Lee Smith has now interviewed Ambassador Oren for Tablet. It is an extremely interesting interview that warrants reading in its entirety. Speaking as a diplomat, Oren is subject to some constraints that are evident in his comments. Oren’s comments suggest that Israel is being pressured to give up the blockade of Gaza and that discussions on the subject are ongoing. The concluding passage of Smith’s account addresses Israel’s Gaza war of 2008, but also bears on current events:

[I]f Israel’s adversaries believe that they can put Israel on the defensive by shaming it in the court of public opinion through the use of human shields, Oren says, they may have miscalculated. For if the Jewish state is condemned when it plays by the normal rules of warfare that apply to the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, then maybe Israel will stop trying to figure out how to satisfy the capricious dictates of the international community and act to defend itself and defeat its enemies.

“Our critics don’t get it,” Oren said. “In Jenin, we went house-to-house and sent 23 soldiers to their death. But if we’re going to be called war criminals no matter what we do, then maybe that changes our thinking.”