A funny thing happened to Michael Oren on his way to Seattle. This month, he was scheduled to address St. Mark’s Cathedral, seat of Seattle’s Episcopal diocese. But he dropped out at the last minute. Now his only major appearance will be speaking to a “private” audience of Seattle Jews at Temple DeHirsch Sinai.
It’s instructive to learn how his St. Mark’s gig came about and then came not to be. A few months ago the local Jewish community leadership wrote to the Bishop asking that Ambassador Oren speak before the congregation. Wendy Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee was the official who made these arrangements. I find it odd that the Israeli government’s official representative in the Pacific NW books speaking engagements through American Jewish community leaders. It makes it appear as if American Jews are almost official extensions of the Israeli State itself.
At any rate, the Church agreed to have Oren speak there on June 8th. But the next thing they knew, he canceled his talk because he had an urgent matter to attend to in San Francisco. Perhaps someone in that fair city can tell us what’s so important that he had to cancel an event he’d lobbied the local Christian community to host. Some church members with whom I spoke had a sneaking suspicion that the Ambassador’s staff was worried that he would receive a less than stellar welcome into the bosom of St. Mark’s. After all, this is the same Church which hosted numerous programs promoting a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Among them several I participated in, including events on Islamophobia, the Mavi Marmara massacre, the Arab Spring and its impact on Israel. Clearly, the Israeli government and its representatives here see St. Mark’s as a hotbed of delegitimization. That’s why they’re eager (or are they?) to send their Ambassador into the lion’s den.
With the Israeli government supported lawsuit against the Olympia food coop for its support of BDS, Seattle’s shunning of an official Israeli LGBT delegation, the supposed pro-Palestinian activism of St. Mark’s Cathedral, and the presence of an especially aggressive local StandWithUs chapter, the Israeli government appears to see the Pacific NW as a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. That’s likely why the Ambassador is gracing us with his presence. That’s why SWU has announced that instead of the two Israeli hasbara interns who spent this year in Seattle pounding the hustings of local campuses and high schools searching out pro-Israel recruits, there will be TEN this coming year.
Set all this as a backdrop against Oren’s other appearance here in Seattle. On June 6th, the 45th anniversary of the start of the 1967 War, he will address hundreds of Seattle Jews at a “private” event (note contradiction) to which the entire community has been invited. There’s a catch though. You may not attend unless you offer private contact information and RSVP, which undoubtedly allows Israeli government security to vet those wishing to attend. The event will be at Temple DeHirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill at 7PM.
I am tweeting a series of questions of my own to the Ambassador which I’d like him to address in his talk. You can join the conversation at his Twitter feed. Let’s shower him with love and affection and truths he’d rather not face. If he doesn’t address them, perhaps those who do attend (haven’t yet decided whether I will) can remind him of the gaps in his hasbara talk.
Though Ambassador Oren’s talks have a history of drawing protest and controversy, one wonders why he or the local Jewish community leadership felt so paranoid that they needed to close the event to the public. What are they afraid of? Note also the irony of the Israeli government demanding that the local Christian community open a major forum for its representative to speak, but then closing off a Jewish venue to public access. Pro-Israel advocacy groups like StandWithUs are quick to denounce so-called violations of free speech when Ambassador Oren’s speeches are disrupted. But in this instance, the community has circled the wagons and shut off free and open debate. Their message: do as we say and not as we do.