The Oren Outrage: A round-up

Why is Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington, launching his vicious attack against President Obama now?

Oren says he asked his publisher to go ahead and publish his new book “Ally” in order to influence the debate in the US over the deal that Washington and its international allies are negotiating with Iran. Some, including Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic, buy Oren’s explanation.

I don’t. Had Oren sought to weigh in on the Iran debate, he could have done so without an ugly ad-hominem attack on President Obama, without the outrageous attacks on Obama’s aides (particularly the senior Jewish aides), against American Jewish journalists and against the American Jewish community at large, as he did in his book and in his Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy and Los Angeles Times articles.

As former Middle East envoy and US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk observed in a televised debate with Oren, these attacks do very little to impact the Iran deal. Conversely, they are further exacerbating the crisis in US-Israel relations, which Oren’s book and article so fiercely bemoan. In what way would offending the media and taking chap shots at America’s largely-progressive Jewish community advance the efforts to defang Iran, or contribute to mending relations between Jerusalem and Washington?

The explanation for Oren’s move is different. It’s publicity. Like every other author, Oren wants to sell books. He moved up the publishing date of the book because he thought that the Iran deal deadline would focus attention on the rift between Jerusalem and Washington, the main topic of his book, and would generate free publicity for him as he markets his book.

Does Oren only want to sell books? No, there definitely is another explanation in play here. Oren is a historian-turned-politician. He is a member of Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, a smallish party that focuses on a domestic socio-economic agenda, and is a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Oren was not elected in primaries but rather chosen by Kahlon to be his foreign policy maven.

Oren lacks an electoral base. He has no grassroots constituency and hardly any name-recognition among Israelis. Someone like him, who has just jumped head-first into Israel’s tumultuous political waters, needs to gain recognition and compete with politicians who are experts at populist pandering. Oren is not, and is not built for red-meat pandering. His way of establishing notoriety is publishing  a tell-all book and a series of articles that blast President Obama. The President is unpopular in Israel, and politicians who are perceived as standing up to Obama get extra points from right-wing voters.

With that in mind, to read more about the Oren outrage, please see the following links to selected articles:

Noah Efron in Haaretz, July 6, 2015: Michael Oren’s ‘Ally’ – a profoundly un-Zionist book
Leon Wieseltier in The Atlantic, June 28, 2015: On Jewish Dissent
Jonathan Broder in Newsweek, June 27, 2015: Sound and Fury: Michael Oren's Anti-Obama Memoir
Philip Gordon in The Washington Post, June 26, 2015: Bibi’s man in D.C., still spinning for the boss
Jane Eisner in The Forward, June 24, 2015: Michael Oren, You Hardly Know Us at All