Michael Oren still 'enjoying every minute' as Israel's envoy to U.S.

Historians in the News

WASHINGTON, D.C. - His office in the embassy - with the picture of Israel's president hanging above the desk, a statuette of appreciation from the Nahal Brigade behind it and a long row of books - is probably not too different from the offices of ambassadors the world over. But the tasks confronted by Israel's top diplomat to the United States, Michael Oren, are entirely different. Since taking over the job in May, he hasn't had a moment of peace and quiet. Nonetheless, he says, "There are no dramas," adding that, "There's not much time to sleep either, but I'm enjoying every minute."

He landed in Washington in the midst of a conflict between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. After Netanyahu's announcement that he was going to give approval to continuing construction in the settlements, and the White House's response, in which it made clear that the U.S. administration found that unacceptable, the new ambassador needed all his powers of persuasion to explain that there is no crisis in relations between Israel and the United States. "The White House did not condemn the decision, it expressed regret, and the announcement ended with a constructive statement." He also wants to emphasize that he was not "called in for a clarification" at the U.S. State Department, but came "for a friendly and polite conversation."

"There was tension, but we understand their internal complexities and they understand ours. There may be a fear of an erosion in the U.S. commitment to maintaining Israel's qualitative military advantage, which had already begun during the Bush administration, but America renewed the guarantees, and we also reached an understanding about the Arrow missile [defense system]."

Michael Oren is not among the prime minister's close circle of friends. But the fact that he is a historian and was, until recently, a research fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem (a research and educational institute with a neoconservative orientation that is funded by Sheldon Adelson and Ron Lauder, among others), his American origin and his frequent appearances in the foreign media served as an excellent calling card for him. His appointment as ambassador "did not surprise me," admits Oren. "Netanyahu was looking for someone who is familiar with the U.S., who would know how to decipher and explain the Israeli situation to the Americans and the American situation to the Israelis. There's a new administration here, which relies partly on the support of sectors with which we had no connections in the past - the African-American and Hispanic communities - and it has a new worldview, in which Israel's place is different...
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