Non­fic­tion

Ally: My Jour­ney Across the Amer­i­can-Israeli Divide

Michael Oren
  • Review
By – September 2, 2015

In his new book, Ally, for­mer Israeli Ambas­sador Michael Oren presents his per­son­al analy­sis of rela­tions between the Unit­ed States and Israel dur­ing the time he rep­re­sent­ed Ben­jamin Netanyahu’s gov­ern­ment for over four years of the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion. Oren’s work exem­pli­fies what a fine writer he is: he express­es per­son­al and emo­tion­al expe­ri­ences, which his pre­vi­ous, aca­d­e­m­ic work did not exhib­it. From describ­ing the niceties of diplo­mat­ic life to expos­ing his own pri­vate expe­ri­ences and fam­i­ly crises, Oren has a fine writ­ing touch.

From Oren’s per­spec­tive, two key aspects of Amer­i­can – Israeli rela­tions were repu­di­at­ed in the years of his ser­vice. Specif­i­cal­ly, Oren argues that the fun­da­men­tal planks of no day­light” and no sur­pris­es” in the bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship were selec­tive­ly dis­card­ed by the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion. Despite the repeat­ed pub­lic pro­nounce­ments from the White House and the for­eign pol­i­cy estab­lish­ment under­scor­ing the unbreak­able ties between the coun­tries, Oren cites repeat­ed exam­ples in which he says this rela­tion­ship was reg­u­lar­ly undermined. 

The pub­li­ca­tion of this book was like­ly timed to enable Oren to become part of the cur­rent con­ver­sa­tion about the P5+1 deal with Iran on its road to nuclear weapons. The book’s appear­ance at this moment also gave the new Knes­set mem­ber a mar­velous oppor­tu­ni­ty to pub­licly posi­tion him­self in the cen­ter of the debate — some­thing a first-term mem­ber from the new­ly formed Kulanu Par­ty might nev­er have accom­plished had he sought to join Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu’s Likud Par­ty list. 

While he crit­i­cizes the Prime Min­is­ter under whom he served in his first-ever diplo­mat­ic posi­tion, Oren clear­ly wrote the book as a cri­tique of what he presents as a cal­cu­lat­ed deci­sion by the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion to change the nature of America’s role in the Mid­dle East. He repeat­ed­ly con­tends that the Pres­i­dent believes in ensur­ing the safe­ty and secu­ri­ty of Israel, but also empha­sizes Obama’s equal­ly com­pelling con­cern not only for the plight of the Pales­tini­ans but also for all Mus­lims. While the per­son­al­i­ties and the human inter­ac­tion between Netanyahu and Oba­ma were hard­ly warm, Oren sug­gests that the Pres­i­dent was deter­mined to change the char­ac­ter of the rela­tion­ship — to Israel’s detriment.

From the begin­ning, the book demon­strates how Michael Oren rep­re­sents a unique phe­nom­e­non among those Amer­i­cans who are mak­ing aliyah today. Where­as those mov­ing to Israel were once Zion­ists of all stripes, today they are large­ly Mod­ern Ortho­dox or ultra-Ortho­dox. Six­ty-year-old Michael Oren came from a clas­sic Amer­i­can Con­ser­v­a­tive Jew­ish home. Whether one agrees or rejects his analy­ses, he — and oth­ers like him— brought to Israel a chal­leng­ing, excit­ing, and plu­ral­is­tic ele­ment that per­me­at­ed all aspects of Israeli life: polit­i­cal, reli­gious, and social. The absence of more gen­er­a­tions of Michael Orens may well affect the dynam­ic forces that the diverse Amer­i­can aliyah once brought to Israel. This will like­ly be a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor under­ly­ing Israel’s devel­op­ment and espe­cial­ly its rela­tion­ship with the Amer­i­can Jew­ish community. 

Relat­ed Content:

Inter­view

Read Yos­si Klein Halevi’s inter­view with Michael Oren here.

Dr. Gilbert N. Kahn is a pro­fes­sor of polit­i­cal sci­ence at Kean Uni­ver­si­ty in Union, New Jer­sey. He is a colum­nist for the New Jer­sey Jew­ish News and blogs reg­u­lar­ly at Kah­n­ten­sions.

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