New Ambassador Needed

October 15, 2009 6:58 am

There’s a curious, fairly outrageous, brouhaha going on in the American Jewish community and particularly in the American Jewish community’s relationship with the current Israeli government. You may or may not have heard of J Street, a new pro-peace Zionist lobby recently established as a counterweight to AIPAC, which over the years has become more and more exclusively tied to the Israeli right.

Michael Oren is the recently installed Israeli Ambassador to the United States, who among other things wrote a very good history of the Six Day War. (Tom Segev’s 1967 is also a very good and very different book.) Prime Minister’s Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Oren was provocative in itself since Oren had already been quite critical of President Obama during last year’s presidential campaign. And he quickly set about pushing the envelope of what is normally considered acceptable in a resident ambassador by inserting himself into American domestic politics.In any case, a short time ago, J Street invited Oren to address its upcoming conference. Oren declined, while authorizing his spokesman to suggest that J Street is ‘anti-Israel.’

We published an article yesterday reporting the key facts of the case. The head of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami followed up with a public letter restating the invitation. And it appears Oren may now be reconsidering the refusal.

Now, in a related development, a member of Israel’s main opposition party, Kadima, today attacked Oren over his actions.

There are a few different issues here. One is that given his public profile Oren was probably a poor choice for Ambassador in the first place. But sitting ambassadors are expected not to publicly insert themselves into the domestic politics of their host country, which Oren is doing. But there’s a different level of this within the American Jewish community.

Israel remains very important to the American Jewish community as a whole. But the American Jewish community is extremely important to Israel. But here Oren is pretty clearly defining a whole slice of American Jewish opinion (probably a substantially larger slice than he and his government realizes) as anti-Israel, which is not only wrong on the facts but extremely shortsighted given the demographic trends within American Jewry.

I don’t expect him to be departing any time soon unless and until the Netanyahu government falls. But Oren should quickly rethink the J Street decision. And even if he does, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs should recall Oren and replace him with someone who represents the current government’s views without interfering in American domestic politics or damaging Israel’s standing among American Jews.

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