Michael Oren is an excellent historian and former Israeli Ambassador to the USA (2009-13). He comes from New Jersey and at an early age was a committed Zionist. He moved to Israel when he was still a teenager, joined the IDF as a “lone soldier” (i.e. having no family in Israel) and after seeing combat in Lebanon became media spokesman for the IDF. He returned to the USA to study and received a PhD from Columbia University. After that he returned to Israel and became an advisor to PM Netanyahu during his first term in office. When Netanyahu was re-elected he chose Oren as his Ambassador to the US. Oren is now a Member of the Knesset for the Kulanu Party and sits on the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Constitutional Committees.
Oren spoke at the New Synagogue (McDonalds) on “Crossing the American-Israeli Divide: A diplomatic and personal perspective.” This was based largely on his recent book “Ally: My Journal Across the American-Israeli divide.” Oren is an excellent speaker, he is relaxed, coherent and well informed. His main message was that Israel and the USA are two countries that share a unique bond of culture democracy and religion, and that ultimately need each other. Israel needs the power and economic support of the USA and the USA needs a reliable and stable ally in the Middle East, there is no other alternative for each country.
Notwithstanding the current BDS movement and the increasing anti-Israel bias on US campuses, over 70% of Americans continue to support Israel. Given that there are ca. 35 million Evangelicals in the US as well as ca. 6 million Jews this helps to add to that number, but cannot totally explain it. The fact is that the support for Israel in the US is deep, wide and multi-faceted. However, it is not immutable.
But, when it comes to the current leadership there could not be a greater divide. When they came into office in 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu was an experienced politician with a strong right wing bent, while Barack Obama was an inexperienced Senator (2 years) with no foreign policy experience and a left wing bent. They simply did not hit it off. There were two cornerstones of the US-Israel relationship “no daylight and no surprises.” Obama completely ignored these principles, at their first meeting he criticized Israel’s settlement policy to Netanyahu and then immediately went out and did so publicly. When he went to Cairo in 2009 and gave his famous speech, Israel was not informed in advance. Everyone knows by now he is not a friend of Israel, and since his term is not up yet, he may well be planning a surprise, since being a “lame-duck” does not apply to foreign policy. He might even withdraw the US veto against an anti-Israel resolution at the UN Security Council, although today the US denied they would do this.
With regard to the Palestinians and the Middle East their views are totally at odds. Obama believes in the “two-state solution” and regards Netanyahu’s policies as being the main impediment to achieving this. Whereas Israel regards the Iranian regime as irrational and untrustworthy, Obama believes they are rational and that the US needs to engage with them. Hence the huge difference over the Iran nuclear agreement. Oren himself prefers to call the current status a “two-state situation,” rather in line with my formulation that such a situation does not have a “solution” but rather an unexpected resolution in time. Given that President of the PA Mahmud Abbas is neither legitimate nor supported by the majority of his people and is 82 years old, some changes can be expected in the near future.
In conclusion, Oren was not too optimistic about the near future. Israel can defeat any military challenge, but hopes it will not come to that. The climate of opinion in the US is moving leftwards to a more critical view of Israel and that is especially true among non-Orthodox Jews. How to confront this changing climate is unclear.