Recent U.S. Israeli ambassador Michael Oren argues the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong — even if President Barack Obama does not have the “deep spiritual connection” Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had with the Jewish State.
Oren, who served as ambassador from July 2009 until stepping down in September 2013, is back in Israel now, where he is teaching and writing a book. While speaking to The Daily Caller by phone late last month, the distinguished historian opened up about his time as ambassador.
He also answered TheDC’s questions about the Obama administration’s relationship with Israel. Oren, who authored a history of America’s relationship with the Middle East since 1776, wasn’t particularly critical of President Obama, but he did argue that Bush and Clinton were “exceptions” among American presidents in their connection to Israel.
“Clinton and Bush had both grown up in churches in which they acquired a very deep appreciation for Israel. So it was deep rooted in their worldview,” he said.
Check out the interview below:
At the level of leader-to-leader — President Obama to Benjamin Netanyahu — how do you evaluate the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship in historical terms?
Well, I think the relationship is good. There were in the past Israeli prime ministers who had very close personal friendships with presidents but that was the exception, not the rule. [Founding Israeli Prime Minister David] Ben Gurion wasn’t a close friend of [Presidents] Eisenhower or Kennedy. So it is not the exception. What they do have is a very open relationship. Obama’s talked with Netanyahu more frequently than any other foreign leader in the world. They have had seven face-to-face meetings — that’s very high — many hours of call conversations, so they know each other very well.
There are issues … which the United States and Israel have had differences, particularly tactical differences, on how to achieve our common goal of preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, how to reach the common goal of two states for two people — the Palestinian state living side-by-side with the Jewish State. And we’ve had those differences. By the way, none of them are new. None of them are particular to the period of Netanyahu and Obama.
But there is an impression in many quarters that, unlike previous American presidents, Obama is not as pro-Israel on a visceral or emotional level. What do you say to that?
I think Obama has a deep commitment to Israel’s security, certainly to Israel’s identity as a Jewish State. I accompanied him here to his visit in Israel last year and he spoke about it again and again. But I think the question you asked is “visceral” attachment — I don’t know if the president has a visceral attachment to any foreign country. As close allies as we are, we are a foreign nation. Each president brings his own particular worldview and personality to the White House. Clinton and Bush had both grown up in churches in which they acquired a very deep appreciation for Israel. So it was deep rooted in their worldview.
I was present when Clinton used to tell the story about the Baptist minister, who was sort of a surrogate father. The minister got sick and was dying when Clinton was 16 and he called him to his deathbed and made Clinton promise that he would always stand beside Israel. There was a deep spiritual connection. But, again, these are not necessarily the rules. These are more of the exceptions. Again, Eisenhower didn’t have that deep connection, that spiritual connection.