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Ally My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide By Michael B. Oren

Review of: Ally
Michael Oren

Reviewed by:
On January 11, 2016
Last modified:January 11, 2016


Ally provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of diplomacy, Obama style. Something like watching a train wreck in progress. That the alliance survived, however bruised, is a credit to the tireless efforts of Israel’s American-born ambassador.



My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide
By Michael B. Oren
Former Ambassador of Israel to the United States

The flyleaf describes this book as a memoir. And so it is, beginning with Oren’s boyhood in a working class New Jersey neighborhood during the late 1960s. This portion of the memoir explains the author’s early desire to immigrate to Israel.

The only Jewish kid of the block, I rarely made it off the school bus without being ambushed by Jew-hating bullies…One morning my family awoke to find our front door smeared with racist slogans; one night our car’s windshield was smashed. Then, when I was a high school freshman, the phone rang with horrendous news; a bomb had blown up our synagogue…

In the post-World War II, WASP-dominated America in which I grew up, anti-Semitism was a constant. Hardly confined to my blue-collar neighborhood, it festered in the elite universities with their quotas on Jewish admissions, and pervaded the restricted communities and clubs.

The author writes that he tended lawns and shoveled snow so that, beginning at age fifteen, he could spend his summers working in an Israel kibbutz for nothing.

Oren’s feelings of exclusion not withstanding, anti-Semitism in America was never government led or approved, unlike Europe where it is endemic. Jews, among other groups seeking opportunity and safe haven in America, did not only ”overcome” the WASP culture, they excelled in numbers far in excess of their proportion of the population. Jewish food, humor, and even vocabulary are woven in the American fabric.

It was not until Oren obtained his BA and masters degrees in Middle East studies at Columbia College that he was able to make aliya.

“In Zionist parlance, one does not merely immigrate to Israel but rather goes up––makes aliya–– and in 1979, finally, I rose.”

Under Israel’s Law of Return, any Jew making aliya can almost immediately become a citizen. Like all Israeli citizens, Oren served in the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces. He also was part of a team dispatched to the Soviet Union to meet with members of the Zionist underground.

The training was cursory, the warning blunt: if you are caught you are on your own. You could be sent to the gulag, or simply disappear.

He smuggled Jewish books and items to trade for food. Refusniks ––
–– Jews who wanted to leave ––- were banned from their occupations and lived tenuously. Oren’s experiences, which included frequent arrests and KGB interrogations, provide absorbing reading.

Not so the author’s rather tedious account of his career prior to appointment as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. This reader was impatient to reach the “journey across the American-Israeli divide.”

Suffice it to say that the Orens returned to Israel in the mid-1980s and Michael Oren became a published historian. His book, Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East from 1776 to the Present, was a best seller. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was impressed with the author’s grasp of U.S. and Middle East history. Netanyahu was convinced of the importance of the past as a guide to the present. He offered Oren the post of Ambassador to the United States. A teenager’s dream had become reality.

Ambassador Oren
Although overjoyed, Oren was saddened by having to renounce his American citizenship, an American requirement. His love for the country of his birth was not diminished by the experiences of his youth. He would have much preferred the dual status of his American-born wife and their children.

Describing his ambassadorial duties Oren writes:

Maintaining relations between Obama and Netanyahu might be the least of my challenges … Responsible for the entire embassy and nine consulates nationwide, the ambassador had virtually no authority to hire or fire any of their hundreds of employees. The professional diplomats on the staff, moreover, tended to resent the appointment of an outsider to their most coveted post and often took their frustrations to the press. Answerable to both the prime minister and a foreign minister who were often from different parties, the ambassador could receive contradictory instructions…

Most dauntingly, the ambassador’s desk served as the intersection between the White House and the State department, 533 members of Congress, the Pentagon, the U.S. Intelligence and business communities, American Jews, church and ethnic groups, the international press ––all that and some 25 Israeli government ministers, 120 members of Knesset, the IDF and the intelligence services, the commercial sector, and the Israeli press.

Oren labored mightily to explain Israel’s policies to all of the above despite a leftist American media that often parroted the administration’s view that Israel was the cause for all Middle East problems. His most challenging task during his tenure, (2009-2013), was portraying the alliance as undamaged despite the U.S. President’s barely concealed antipathy for Israel’s Prime Minister. The media’s propensity to exaggerate for the sake of headlines could exacerbate tensions and further endanger the alliance. Oren worried about Obama’s long association with the anti-Semitic and anti-American Reverend Jeremiah Wright. He was concerned about Obama’s strong support for Palestinian demands and his frequently stated intention to reconcile with the Muslim world, a world widely opposed to Israel’s very existence. Yet, despite recriminatory speeches and private threats, Obama periodically reiterated his commitment to maintaining the alliance and he reaffirmed his belief that “Israel’s security is paramount.”

The author indicates being reassured and offers examples of supportive U.S. actions consistent with these pledges. A more cynical interpretation would be that the president’s motivations had less to do with keeping his word than with keeping Jewish voters in the Democrat camp.

Not that the course of American-Israeli alliance has always run smoothly. Strains occurred long before Obama. Dennis Ross, (Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israeli Relationship from Truman to Obama) describes Middle East policy as cycles of recurring erroneous assumptions. Prime among these is that Arab support is best generated by distancing the U.S. from Israel, and that resolving the Palestinian issue is key to settling other Middle East problems. Although these and other myths have consistently been refuted by historical experience, Obama is repeating them and doing so with an unshakeable belief in his own infallibility. His stubborn determination to ignore dissenting advice explains the recent rash of experienced foreign policy and military advisors’ resignations.

A major issue is Obama’s willingness to give way on every previously declared nonnegotiable issue in order to reach an agreement with Tehran. The author reveals Obama’s shamefully petty treatment of Netanyahu for refusing to compromise Israel’s security on the president’s assurances that a nuclear Iran can be trusted not to obliterate the Jewish state despite repeated vows to do so.

Threats and insults are de rigor in the Obama administration as political dissenters have attested. According to the author, crude language and lack of civility were frequent in communications from high-ranking White House staff. Inexplicably, Oren initially introduces such individuals as supporters of Israel. Then, only a page or even a paragraph later, their actions reveal a trail of deliberate lies and deceits. These disturbing contradictions may be a diplomat’s way to make a point he does not wish to put forth directly. Or it is evidence of an unresolved uncertainty about Obama, the man the author once described as “messianic.”

That having been said, Ally provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of diplomacy, Obama style. Something like watching a train wreck in progress. That the alliance survived, however bruised, is a credit to the tireless efforts of Israel’s American-born ambassador.


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