Israeli Ambassador Draws on American Roots

Historians in the News

FOR Michael B. Oren, the hardest thing about becoming Israel’s ambassador to the United States was giving up his American citizenship, a solemn ritual that involves signing an oath of renunciation. He said he got through it with the help of friends from the American Embassy in Tel Aviv who “stayed with me, and hugged me when it was over.”

Born in upstate New York, raised in suburban New Jersey and educated at Columbia and Princeton Universities, Mr. Oren considers himself genuinely American. But having lived most of his adult life in Israel — serving multiple tours in the Israeli Army, once as a paratrooper during the 1982 Lebanon war — he also considers himself genuinely Israeli.

“My decision to move to Israel was very much informed by my American experience,” Mr. Oren, 54, said over breakfast at his residence on a secluded, well-guarded street. “I felt a great deal of pride about being an American in Israel. I never thought there was any conflict in that.”

The state of Israel, however, does not allow dual citizens to represent it overseas. So when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Mr. Oren in the spring to be his man in Washington, he had to make a choice.

Now a foreign national in the land of his birth, Mr. Oren is drawing on his American roots to make Israel’s case, at a time when relations between the countries have been frayed by a dispute over the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Articulate, telegenic and steeped in American culture, he is a smooth spokesman. But he faces an increasingly skeptical audience.

This week, after President Obama voiced impatience with the lack of progress in peace talks while meeting in New York with Mr. Netanyahu and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Oren was on hand to give a raft of news media interviews.

“You had one gap narrowing between the United States and Israel,” he explained, “while another gap was opening and widening between the Israelis, the Palestinians and the United States.”...
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