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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 12/26/2010

Interview with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren (Part 2)

By Jennifer Rubin

On Friday, I shared the first half of my interview with Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

In the remainder of the interview, Oren discussed the onslaught Israel now faces -- not on the battlefield, but in the court of public opinion and in international bodies. In recent years, efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state, that is, to challenge its legitimacy as a state and ability to act in its own interests, as does every other country, have increased dramatically.

The most visible platform on the international stage for defamation of Israel is the UN Human Rights Council. Oren observed: "Israel has been more frequently condemned by the Human Rights Council than all of the other countries combined. The council is the only UN entity which in its charter -- article 7 -- is specifically committed to condemning and investigating Israel." He cited some of the recent anti-Israel actions of the UNHRC, including the Goldstone Report and the flotilla investigation, as evidence of the body's distorted mission. Should the U.S. leave? Oren declined to offer the U.S. advice, saying only, that "while the [Obama] administration has made robust effort to defend Israel, there has been no change in the Human Rights Council itself."

We then to turned to the subject of non-governmental organizations with shadowy funding that challenge the legitimacy of Israel. A bill in the Israeli Knesset to require that groups operating in the country disclose their funding set off a firestorm of protest from Israel-bashing groups and some European governments, which have been shown to provide funding (directly or indirectly) to groups seeking to undermine Israel's legitimacy. Oren said, "The question is whether they are operating as foreign agents. We have freedom of expression. Members of the Knesset can be anti-Zionist. Professors can say these things. Public employees can say these things." He contended, however, that it is legitimate for Israel to determine if groups that are acting in ways "inimical not to the politics but to the polity of Israel are being funded by foreign governments."

I asked him if he was frustrated with media coverage of Israel. He responded: "I have been dealing with the press in the Middle East for 30 years." In some ways, there has been improvement, he asserted: "There is a greater level of expertise now. There is also a greater attention to details. That's also because American has been so deeply involved in the Middle East." He observed, "Words that were alien then -- 'jihad,' 'Wahhabi,' 'Sunni,' 'Shi'ite' - are now part of every reporter's vocabulary."

Clearly, however, not all trends are positive. There is, he said, "deepening polarization" in the American media, as in the political environment as a whole, so that "the same incident is reported in two completely different ways." But even that is not the root of his concern.

The real worry, he said, is "the insinuation into journalistic discourse of themes that would have been deemed unacceptable or racist only a few years ago." He said that he used to be asked if the "Israel Lobby" existed. Now, "I'm asked what the Israel lobby thinks. And they're not talking about AIPAC. They are talking about some shadowy group of bankers and people who control the media." He continued, "I'm not a Middle East media watch person," but there were "one or two cases where reputable journals crossed that line" and he felt compelled to pick up the phone to call the outlets. Can Israel put the genie back in the bottle? He sighed and paused. "I don't know," he said quietly.

His aides pressed him to move to his next appointment, but he waved them off. "I'm on my last answer!" he shouted. I ended by asking him about his transition from private citizen to ambassador. Many friendly observers in Israel and the U.S. wonder whether the role has turned out to be more taxing than he could have imagined. He asked playfully, "So you mean not having opinions but positions?" He said he learned in the military that "every time you put on the uniform," you leave your views aside. He did acknowledge, though, that there are "few jobs as complex and multifaceted" as the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.

He pointed across the room, "You see that desk? That's the interface for 535 members of Congress, the State Department, the White House, the intelligence community, commerce and trade -- there is lots of that, the Pentagon, the American Jewish community in all of its diversity, all of the American press, other diplomats and churches. That's just in America. In Israel, there are 120 members of the Knesset, 30 ministries, the IDF, the Israeli press, Arab governments. All of this is happening on this desk. It is infinitely fascinating and monumentally challenging." He added, "And all of that is on an ordinary day. Then there is a forest fire and everything drops. We spend 72 hours getting firefighting equipment there. That's all it was about."

Knowing what he knows now, would he have prepared differently or done things differently? He smiled and paused. "Everyone makes mistakes." But he said that from his scholarship of diplomatic history, "I had a pretty good understanding of the job." He said he made an effort to speak with every former ambassador, but "there was zero prep time. Then you are just thrown in there. There is no time for a learning curve." He conceded that "2010 was a very challenging year."

Oren's aides finally prevailed upon him to move to his next appointment. He nevertheless lingered at the office door, chatting. He is in that respect very much the expansive intellectual and historian whom many Israelis and Americans admired long before he took the ambassadorship. But he has also -- one suspects, painfully -- learned the skills of a diplomat. He has mastered the pose of restraint and caution. He avoids saying anything directly critical of the U.S. administration. He is, after all, charged with keeping relations between the countries on track. And during the Obama administration, that can be very challenging.

By Jennifer Rubin  | December 26, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Israel  
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Comments

I cannot fault Michael Oren for his failure to reverse what has become an international campaign to demonize, delegitimize, and ultimately destroy the Jewish State of Israel and exterminate the Jewish People. This process has been fermenting for decades long before his term as Ambassador.
Most of the anti Israel funding and incitement has come from the oil rich Arab states. But much of Europe and far too many international organizations like the UN have been happy to join them in their destructive and genocidal quest against Israel.
Tragically Israel has also played a significant role in despicable process. Israel has behaved weakly and inconsistently in the face of unprovoked Palestinian violence. Israel has routinely failed to convincingly present it's case for it's rights and it's need for security. Israel has often acted as if it were indifferent to fate of the Disputed Territories and Jerusalem. Israel has made dangerous and irreversable unilateral territorial concessions to the terrorist organizations the PLO and Hamas.
And worst of all, Israel has continued to negotiate with the PLO terrorist organization which publicly and routinely calls for Israel's destruction and the extermination of the Jewish People. Unfortunately for Israel and the Palestinians, should the Palestinians achieve statehood without a binding treaty guaranteeing Israeli security and borders, Israel will sooner rather than later have to use her powerful military in defence of her security and demographic interests.
This should be the last thing that any serious observer would want.

Posted by: Beniyyar | December 26, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: Beniyyar

That's an excellent post above,(far above the propagandistic limitations of our hostess). The only point I would add is the conflict of interest that Israel's best friend is impaled upon "Most of the anti Israel funding and incitement has come from the oil rich Arab states." As well as the funding for "Terrorist" activities including 9/11. The US believes that it can be the best friend to Saudi Arabia & Israel at the same time. LOL And the Cultural Conservatives like Jennifer believe that bombing Iran into the stone age will solve this inherent contradiction in our NE policy.

Posted by: rcaruth | December 26, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

In addition to her usual concerns,one wishes that Jennifer would opine outside her comfort zone:

"Defining Israel by what it is not
No to Arabs, no to Jews, no to the world; no to foreigners and no to settlement freezes; no to the bomb and no to the peace initiatives; no to ending the siege and no to Syria. That's a frighteningly thin vocabulary - a one-word national dictionary."
By Gideon Levy
"The State of Israel can be defined in the negative: no to Arabs, no to Jews, no to the world; no to foreigners and no to settlement freezes; no to the bomb and no to the peace initiatives; no to ending the siege and no to Syria. That's a frighteningly thin vocabulary - a one-word national dictionary. Among the overabundance of "no," the word "yes" has disappeared. Sixty-two years after its establishment, nobody knows where the state is headed. What does it want? What are its leaders and citizens seeking? What sort of state would we like to see?"
http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/defining-israel-by-what-it-is-not-1.332976?localLinksEnabled=false

Posted by: rcaruth | December 26, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Yes we should all get out of our comfort zones, by that doesn't mean we must enter the comfort zones of these virulent leftist Israelis, who curry favor with the international left by slandering their countrymen and women. Anyone familiar with Israel, with its enormous growth in terms of economic productivity and cultural freedom over the past couple of decades in the face of demented enemies, knows that Israel, in its very existence, is a giant YES to life. That's why the nihilists hate it so (and those who hate it reveal themselves to be nihilists). And maybe Levi says what the Palestinians, the Syrians and the BDS movements have been saying "yes" to.

Posted by: adam62 | December 26, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: adam62
So Adam,all Jews are equal,but some are more equal than others.

Posted by: rcaruth | December 26, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

"An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there."
http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/richman/385057

Again, a big so what to the above. The premise of so much of American Conservative Comments on Israel is that somehow the Palestinians don't/shouldn't have the right to make decisions that are,in their opinion,in their own best interests,if those Palestinian interests are seen as contrary to Israel's best interests. In my opinion,the Palestinians not having their own state is the primary cause of the instability there,and,if I were the Consultant to Palestine,I would advise them to declare themselves a nation,and put together all the Diplomatic infrastructure post haste,and begin to be a Nation.

Posted by: rcaruth | December 26, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

"Posted by: adam62
So Adam,all Jews are equal,but some are more equal than others."

This is unintelligible--I'm not advocating taking away Gideon Levy's rights, so in what sense is he less equal?


"In my opinion,the Palestinians not having their own state is the primary cause of the instability there"

If so, the effect has long overtaken the cause, as the Palestinians have had over 15 years to create a state pursuant to the Oslo Accords and are not much closer to it now than the day they signed them. Not to rehash too much, but I wouldn't mind them taking your advice--there would be plenty of advice to give to Israel in that case as well. It is interesting that you put the diplomatic infrastructure first, since that is probably all they could put together--an interesting way to think about nation-building!


Posted by: adam62 | December 26, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

most civilized people would want a sign of a stable government that controls violence that is NOT dependent on one personality as the first step in becoming a nation-state.

Abbas is in the 72nd month of his 48 month term. Fayyad was appointed by Abbas. Hamas will never have another election.
A nation with a diplomatic infrastructure and no government is a recipe for endless war, which is what the Palestinian Muslims have chosen for more than one hundred years. If they need a homeland, air lift all of them to the Dasht-e Lut where Iran can claim they have solved the dilemma of the eternal refugees of the Levant.

Posted by: K2K2 | December 26, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2

"A nation with a diplomatic infrastructure and no government is a recipe for endless war, which is what the Palestinian Muslims have chosen for more than one hundred years"

It doesn't help when a group of colonialists steals your land and drives you from your territory.


"If they need a homeland, air lift all of them to the Dasht-e Lut where Iran can claim they have solved the dilemma of the eternal refugees of the Levant."

Well said Helen Thomas.

Posted by: AndreDeAngelis | December 27, 2010 12:52 AM | Report abuse

"I cannot fault Michael Oren for his failure to reverse what has become an international campaign to demonize, delegitimize, and ultimately destroy the Jewish State of Israel and exterminate the Jewish People. This process has been fermenting for decades long before his term as Ambassador."

The process has been in place becasue of Israel's criminal behavior.

There has never been ANY territory legally annexed to Israeli sovereignty. NOTHING outside of Israel's declared borders of May 14th 1948 is Israeli. Israel's failure to recognize it's OWN boundaries in the vain hope of achieving a Greater Israel, has put Israel OUTSIDE OF the law, OUTSIDE of it's legitimate sovereignty.

Israel has always argued that it does not need to abide by international law and and respect for human rights, which are 2 of the pillars which define legimacy. Israel only has itself to blame.

Posted by: AndreDeAngelis | December 27, 2010 12:56 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: Beniyyar

"Israel has behaved weakly and inconsistently in the face of unprovoked Palestinian violence. Israel has routinely failed to convincingly present it's case for it's rights and it's need for security"

So what you're saying, is that Israel hasn't killed enough women and children for your tastes, is that it?

Israel isn't concerned about security so much as territorial expansion. in 2008 for example, Israel chose to violate a 4 months ceasefire with Hamas (chosing the day of the US elections to attack Gaza), and deliberately exposing Sderot to repercussions.

As Tzipi Livni explained, "a long ceasefire is not in Israel's strategic interests".

"And worst of all, Israel has continued to negotiate with the PLO terrorist organization which publicly and routinely calls for Israel's destruction and the extermination of the Jewish People."

I wouldn;t complain about that too much if I were you. Israel was founded on terrorism and even elected 2 terrorist leaders to the highest office in the land. Israel is the only state that has celebrated the 60th anniversary of a terrorits attack in it's name.

Were it not for terrorism, there wouldn't be an Israel.

Posted by: Beniyyar | December 26, 2010 10:55 AM

Posted by: AndreDeAngelis | December 27, 2010 1:10 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: adam62

"If so, the effect has long overtaken the cause, as the Palestinians have had over 15 years to create a state pursuant to the Oslo Accords and are not much closer to it now than the day they signed them."

Would those be the same accords that Netenyahu baosted about sabotaging on video?

It also doesn't help when the US is there to veto all motions to recognize the Palestinian state, as has been done by over 100 countries.

Posted by: AndreDeAngelis | December 27, 2010 1:27 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: adam62 | December 26, 2010 1:08 PM

"Anyone familiar with Israel, with its enormous growth in terms of economic productivity and cultural freedom over the past couple of decades in the face of demented enemies, knows that Israel, in its very existence, is a giant YES to life."

For a fascist aparheid state, it's done pretty well, though it's economic productivity is not suffieitn it seems to allow Israel to be self sufficient, not relying on loan guarantees from the US, rediculouosly one sided favourable trade
agreements with the US, or pay for it's own weapons.
apparelt

"That's why the nihilists hate it so"

Sure. I mean the hatred woudl have nothing to do with:

1. The brutal 43 year miliatry occcupation,
2. ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
3. routine home demolitions and home evictions
4. military atatcks on all it's neighbors
5. Flouting of international law and the Geneva Conventipomns on human right.

Posted by: AndreDeAngelis | December 27, 2010 1:35 AM | Report abuse

All of DeAngelis's vitriol doesn't change the fact that the Palestinians are incapable of establishing a state alongside Israel, in large part because they don't want to establish a state alongside Israel, in large part because they want the freedom to keep killing Israelis and hope to ultimately destroy Israel; and, that, in large part, is because their friends keep encouraging such attitudes by demonizing and de-legitimizing Israel. Israel, however fascist it may be, must proceed in full awareness of such realities.

Posted by: adam62 | December 27, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: adam62 | December 27, 2010 10:45 A

"All of DeAngelis's vitriol doesn't change the fact that the Palestinians are incapable of establishing a state alongside Israel"

It's difficult when the state your trying to estasblish is under minitary ocucpation and the territory being stolen from you.

"Israel, however fascist it may be, must proceed in full awareness of such realities."

Proceed to do what? Steal more land, ethnically cleas and kill more Palestinians? demolish more homes and evict more Palestinians?

Why must Israel proceed to do this?

Posted by: AndreDeAngelis | December 28, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

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