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A Very Strange Argument From Israel's Ambassador to the United States


Michael Oren is upset that a U.N. fact-finding mission found Israel (and Hamas) guilty of war crimes during the Gaza confrontation. As Oren has often done during his long career as a writer, he took to The New Republic to pen an angry rebuttal that first goes a bit too far, and then goes much too far. In particular, it says, "the report does not only hamstring Israel; it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents – as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed." It's seriously nutty stuff. A few years ago, it could have been dismissed as just another rant from Oren, a professional polemicist. But Oren now serves as Israel's ambassador to the United States. That makes this more than a simple overreaction: It makes it an official overreaction.

It's also evidence of one of the weirder quirks of the debate over Israel's policy. Serious critics of Israeli policy don't liken Jews to Nazis very frequently. But serious defenders of Israeli policy constantly claim that critics are likening Jews to Nazis -- as Oren does in this case, with laughable results. It's a strange attempt to turn Godwin's Law into a rhetorical weapon capable of being used offensively, and it almost never works.

In any case, if you want a more sober take on the U.N. report, Jessica Montell, the director of B'Tselem, has you covered. As a post-script, I saw Oren on PBS a few weeks ago explaining that Israel does everything in its power to avoid killing innocent civilians. But it was in Israel's power to not launch an unnecessary war against Gaza, and if it was going to launch an unnecessary war against Gaza, to use a strategy other than aerial bombing of a crowded urban center. Oren's point is a bit like saying, sure, I played football on the freeway, but don't worry, I tried to dodge the cars.

Photo credit: By Mahmud Hams – Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

By Ezra Klein  |  October 7, 2009; 12:28 PM ET
Categories:  Israel/Palestine  
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No, I make the Palestinian children play football (soccer) on the freeway and tell them to avoid the speeding cars.

Posted by: srw3 | October 7, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

And he's back. I was waiting, just waiting for the usual anti-Israel posts. It took awhile, but they have arrived! You breezily say that the Gaza war was unnecessary, and this from someone who never had to defend his nation, or indeed fight for anything except a better table at one of the fancy restaurants you frequent.

Posted by: truck1 | October 7, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

"But serious defenders of Israeli policy constantly claim that critics are likening Jews to Nazis -- as Oren does in this case, with laughable results."

"Contantly claim"? Could you please cite some examples? If Israel's "serious defenders" apparently "constantly" claim this, there must be dozens of examples you could have linked to. Please show us.

Posted by: TheFingerman | October 7, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

So if Gaza was an "unnecessary war" how would you have gone about stopping terroists from launching rockets into Israel, trying to kill as many civilians as possible? I'm sure if Mr. Klein simply went over to Gaza personally, he could have politely asked the terrorists to stop trying to kill people and they most certainly would have obliged.

Posted by: octopi213 | October 7, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

I've always wondered what would happen if the residents of Delaware were forced to abandon their homes so that a pure Islamic community could be established.

Shortly (two days) before his death, then-president Franklin Roosevelt sent a
letter (dated 5 April 1945) to then-King Ibn Saud reassuring the Arab leader that the gates of Palestine would not be forced open. Once reports of the holocaust reached Washington (on the day of Roosevelt's death), American guilt dictated a change in policy. The decision to create the nation of Israel resulted, creating the mid-east turmoil which haunts the U.S. to this day.

WaPo writer Michael Dobbs may have additional information from the November, 1998, resurrection of the matter.

Posted by: rmgregory | October 7, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

We finally managed to tamp down stupid arguments from American conservatives that criticizing American foreign policy is anti-American, can we please get past this point with regards to Israel? Disagreeing with military actions taken by the government does not make a person anti-Israel. Stop arguing this nonsense.

As to Ezra's actual statements, the "unnecessary" aspect is clearly his opinion, but latching on to his conclusion is, I think, to ignore his point: that in arguments such as these supporters of the actions of Israel's government argue that there critique of the government's actions is to be anti-Israel, as if the actions taken by the Israeli government were the only conceivable options.

Posted by: MosBen | October 7, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Well nobody is stopping Mr. Klein from posing the other options on the table; it is after all, his blog.

But if someone is shooting at you, what would you do?

a) Hide
b) Politely ask them to stop
c) Shake your fist at them
c) a & b
d) shoot back

Judging from his posts on the subject, it seems that Mr. Klein advocates strategy c).

Posted by: octopi213 | October 7, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse


a) Hide
b) Politely ask them to stop
c) Shake your fist at them
d) a & b
e) Shoot back

Mr. Klein's implied choice is d).

Posted by: octopi213 | October 7, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

A. Israel's critics say Israel does bad things.
B. Israel contains Jews.
C. Therefore Israel's critics say all Jews do bad things.
D. Nazi's did bad things.
E. Therefore Israel's critics say that all Jews are Nazis.

Seriously, If you cannot dispute this logic. If you do, you are actually saying that all Jews are Nazis.

Posted by: zosima | October 7, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

"Jessica Montell has you covered"? come on, this woman is notorious in Israel as being one of the most pro Hamas voices around. Also, weirdly, though she is said to be American, she cannot write decent English. If you look at her screed you will see such made up words as "denouncement" (instead of denunciation) and other misuses of the language so odd as to suggest she gets her talking points direct from the Gaza strip.

Posted by: truck1 | October 8, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

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