Michael Oren: A Leftist Who Works at a Conservative Think Tank

Historians in the News

Ariel Natan Pasko, at enterstageright.com (11-29-04):

Every once in a while, I read an op-ed piece and say to myself, "Wait a second, that's not true." I just read such a piece in the Jerusalem Post; "Neither rejoice, nor lament" by Michael B. Oren, the best-selling author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, (OUP 2002). A longer version of his article ran on November 14, 2004, entitled "Arafat Without Tears," in the Washington Post.

What is it that Oren said that got me so disturbed that I would bother to write about it?

Commenting about the Israeli public's lackadaisical response to Arafat's recent demise, Oren wrote "Ironically, the only Israelis who regret Arafat's passing are those from the radical Right who believe that Arafat was Israel's greatest asset - the man whose intransigence relieved the Jewish state of the necessity of making any painful sacrifices. Yet the far Right need not worry. It seems highly unlikely that any Palestinian figure will be capable in the foreseeable future of marshaling the legitimacy needed to make peace with Israel, or the military power to impose that peace on the Palestinian terrorist groups that will certainly oppose it."

Pure Hogwash. An inversion of logic. Oren's skewed view of things outshines his "scholarship" on this one. According to Oren, the far Right wanted Arafat to continue killing Jews so that the "peace process" would be wrecked, it's a virtual blood libel.

Just after Arafat's death, Manhigut Yehudit (the Jewish Leadership faction within Likud) held their annual convention in Jerusalem. It was reported in the press that Manhigut Yehudit supporteras raised a toast in celebration of the death of "PLO leader and arch-terrorist" Yasser Arafat. Manhigut's leader, Moshe Feiglin, asked the audience to be an island of sanity in a sea of madness and reversal of values, as reflected in the condolences expressed in the media on the death of the archenemy of the Jews, Yasser Arafat. Feiglin declared before 2,500 people, "We pray for the death of all of God's enemies."

Similarly, it was reported that an assorted group of "right-wing extremists" and "Kach supporters," drank a "L'Chaim" (a toast) in downtown Jerusalem a couple days earlier, when it was prematurely reported that Arafat had kicked the bucket. ...

Right-wing Israelis were overjoyed with Arafat's demise, not regretting it as Oren claims. But why did Oren claim this?

It struck me as odd when I read his op-ed piece. My initial response was "another leftist trying to blur the facts and twist them around to attack the right." But, Oren's bio at the foot of the page said he "is a Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based institute for Jewish social thought and public policy. He is also the head of the Middle East history project," and I know the Shalem Center is a conservative think-tank, I was intrigued, so I did some research.

A few facts I found out about Oren include, he was born in 1955 in America, belonged to the far-left Marxist Hashomer Hatza'ir youth movement and, at the age of 15, spent a brief period in Israel on two kibbutzim, Gonen and Gan Shmuel. He moved to Israel in 1977, at the age of 22, and after a stint in the Israeli Army during the Lebanon War, returned to the United States. He went to Princeton University, where he did his Ph.D. in the history of the Middle East.

During a very favorable interview in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2002 (after the publication of his book), Oren admitted, "I did my doctorate in order to become a policy adviser, but when I returned to Israel, I decided not to join the Foreign Ministry. I wanted to get into the government, but they didn't accept me." He then worked on his post-doctorate at Sde Boker (the kibbutz David Ben-Gurion retired to). Oren still has an apartment there and returns there to write. "In 1992, I came back to Jerusalem as an adviser to Yitzhak Rabin, who I got to through Shimon Shetreet [a law professor and a cabinet minister in the Rabin government]."

In fact, he served as director of Israel's department of interreligious affairs in the government of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and as an adviser to the Israeli delegation to the United Nations.

So it's true, he has "solid" leftist credentials, and a personal reason (given his involvement in Rabin's administration) to skew the facts.

Oren's book, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, won him much acclaim. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak heaped praise on the book; and it was even reported that Vice President Dick Cheney was "staying up nights to plow through the 446-page tome." It was a New York Times and national bestseller, and won several awards including the Washington Post Book World Best Book of 2002, the "National Jewish Book Award for best book of 2002," and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

In his book, Oren claims that Nasser really didn't want a war with Israel in 1967, but to win a "bloodless political victory," in spite of his rants to "throw the Jews into the sea". In fact, according to Oren, in his earlier research that he did on the secret peace process between Egypt and Israel in the 1950s, he found that "between 10 and 15 years before 1967, Nasser was secretly writing letters to Israeli leaders and saying, 'Listen, I'd love to make peace with you, but if I do they're going to chop my head off, so I can't do it.'"

About the 1967 war, Oren feels, "it created a division with Israeli society that has widened over years, that really for the last 30 years, the major issue dividing Israelis has been the future of these territories almost to the distraction of any other issue--our economy, our society, religious, secular relations. And in that way the impact of '67 was deleterious and was injurious to Israeli society."

It's clear to me that Oren has an ideological ax to grind; his apologetics for Nasser, about the 1967 war more generally, the "peace process" and the Israeli Right.

When interviewed on National Public Radio's show "Fresh Air" on June 11, 2002 (during his US book promotion tour), Oren was asked, "Do you think that the Israeli incursions into the territories are an effective way of stopping the terrorist infrastructure?" Oren answered, "Oh. Well, first I don't think you can stop the terrorist infrastructure. I don't think anybody reasonably thinks that you can stop terrorists solely through military means..."

Oren clearly missed it, on that one. Israel has been reasonably successful in decapitating Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the other terror groups. Then he spewed the standard Israeli leftist line, "Obviously the only long-term solution to terror is a diplomatic political solution..." Yes, let's have Oslo 3, Oslo 4, Oslo More More More....

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