Monday, May 04, 2009

Israel's Next Ambassador to the United States

SAVE THE DATE -- SHMUEL KATZ

May 31
Sunday
Shmuel Katz hazkara
The Begin Center
6:30 PM

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Monday - Our man in Washington


On Monday, August 21, 1995, a Hamas suicide bomber blew up the No. 26 bus in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol. Among the dead was Joan Davenny, a Connecticut schoolteacher here on sabbatical.

Some thought of her as soon as the news broke that Michael Oren was about to be appointed Israel's ambassador to the United States. For Joan's sister, Sally, is Michael's wife. This is a small country, and Oren is one of us - in every way.

Our new man in Washington, who will be giving up his American citizenship to take the job, made aliya at 15 from New Jersey. After serving in the paratroops, Oren returned to the US to take degrees from Columbia and Princeton universities. A senior fellow at The Shalem Center, Oren is a best-selling historian whose books include Six Days of War: June 1967, The Making of the Modern Middle East and, most recently, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present. He's also an accomplished polemicist with scores op-eds and television appearances to his credit.

As recently as Operation Cast Lead, Oren voluntarily donned his army uniform to work in the IDF Spokesman's office. He has diplomatic experience too, having served in Israel's UN Mission.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman jointly made the selection, which will take effect in time for Oren to accompany the premier to Washington for his May 18 meeting with President Barack Obama.

THE Washington ambassadorial job is arguably Israel's most important diplomatic posting.

Naturally, it entails representing our government. But it also requires the ambassador to ensure that the prime minister understands which way the wind is blowing at the White House, Foggy Bottom and on Capitol Hill. Moreover, the ambassador is the face of Israel to the American people.

Even in an era when Obama can Blackberry and Netanyahu can Twitter, a flesh-and-blood ambassador - one with a reputation of enjoying the complete trust of his prime minister - is an essential conduit. Though it behooves Oren to remain in Lieberman's good graces, his number one client is Netanyahu. Hawk or a dove, or the epitome of an independent thinker, Oren must now put loyalty to Netanyahu above any personal or political consideration.

There's a sense among some in the US pro-Israel community that while Oren is a fine appointee in terms of public diplomacy and hasbara, he still needs to master the art of the "Washington insider" - someone who can work behind the scenes to enable American decision-makers to understand what Netanyahu wants, and why.

Here, Oren could take a leaf from David Ivri, the air force commander who oversaw the 1981 Osirak raid and became our ambassador at the beginning of the second intifada. Ivri kept a low media profile, but achieved much behind the scenes.

Plainly, the Obama administration will not be spun or won over by Oren's rhetoric. With them, he will need to speak authoritatively for a premier who, we trust, will have a clear agenda - foremost on Iran and the Palestinians.

Still, Oren's appointment is heartening for a pro-Israel community that has at times in the past seen the posts of ambassador to Washington, the UN, and consul-general in New York go to individuals who, whatever their talents, do not excel in the media. Clearly, Israel needs articulate and knowledgeable diplomats like Oren, capable of bolstering those in the US who care about Israel.

Here at last is a figure at ease on the public stage, someone who knows what he's talking about and can speak to Americans in their own language.

We at The Jerusalem Post take pride in the appointment of a fellow Anglo, a reconfirmation of what immigrants can achieve in Israel. For in Oren we have an American who came here, served in an elite unit, and then worked tirelessly to improve the way the world understands our country and the region.

However, an ambassador, no matter how eloquent or well-connected, cannot be compelling if the policies at the top are jumbled or lack resonance. Oren will be at his most effective if Netanyahu can articulate a foreign and security policy that is coherent and sensible.

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