Israeli ambassador Michael Oren has had an awkward relationship with J Street. Despite much tender wooing by the group’s director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Oren stayed away from its first national conference. This was viewed as a something between a slap in the face and a slap on the wrist for the Jewish peace lobby, which often disagrees with the views of the current rightist Israeli government.
Writing in The Forward, Josh Nathan-Kazis reports that Oren has not only taken the gloves off, he’s taken leave of truth:
Addressing a breakfast session at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s biennial convention December 7, Ambassador Michael Oren described J Street as “a unique problem in that it not only opposes one policy of one Israeli government, it opposes all policies of all Israeli governments. It’s significantly out of the mainstream.”
…This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion,” Oren said. “But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion.
This is patently a lie. And Oren certainly knows this. But the fact that he somehow believes that American Jews interested enough in J Street or what he has to say about it will not know it is a lie, indicates he is beyond cynical.
We should add to this that an inside source informed me that Israel’s consul general in San Francisco, Akiva Tor, told a prospective major local donor they should not give to J Street because it is supported by Arab extremists. When I queried him, the consul general flatly denied the charge and told me anyone making it was lying. Which is interesting because the person who informed me, heard this directly from the prospective donor. So in effect, Tor is accusing the prospective donor or his confidant of lying.
On a different subject, Oren again engaged in sophistry when asked his opinion about a Conservative Jewish woman arrested at the Kotel for removing a Torah scroll from the handbag she was carrying. The Orthodox mafia controlling the Kotel insisted that she be arrested for violating an agreement that found women could not read Torah or carry it at the Kotel. Here is Oren’s response:
“It is not a perfect situation.” Oren said. “We in Israel have to strike a balance between our respect for pluralism and our respect for tradition.”
What is disingenuous in this response is that the Conservative movement represents Jewish tradition just as much as the Orthodox mafiosi do. So to presume that “tradition” is only represented by the Orthodox sets up a false dichotomy between the latter and Conservative Judaism.
In this statement as well, Oren dissembles:
Oren said that original reports stating that Frenkel had been arrested were mistaken, and that she was simply led away from the Kotel area.
Actually, Haaretz (and Nathan-Kazis in this article) confirms she was detained by Israeli police and taken to a police station and questioned there for an extended period. Frenkel herself wrote in The Forward of her detention at a police station. She may not have been arrested. But much more was done to her than leading her away from the Kotel.
How does it look when the Israeli ambassador, supposedly a well-respected academic expert on Israel-U.S. relations before his appointment, has such an elemental disdain for truth and facts? To me, this signifies his basic disrespect for American Jews and our intelligence. I have no problem with an Israeli diplomat disagreeing with my views or those of liberal groups I support. But I expect at the very least an accurate depiction of what those views are before expounding on our differences. Oren can’t even give us that respect.