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March 10, 2016 3:58 pm

Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Rejects Obama’s Middle East Policy Claims Made in ‘Atlantic’ Interview

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Former Israeli ambassador and Kulanu MK Michael Oren. Photo: Wikipedia.

Former Israeli ambassador and Kulanu MK Michael Oren. Photo: Anne Mandelbaum.

President Barack Obama’s recent claim about the real meaning of his 2009 Cairo speech “is patently unsubstantiated by the text,” former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren told The Algemeiner on Thursday.

Oren, today a member of Knesset with the centrist Kulanu party, was responding to statements Obama made in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the just-released April edition of The Atlantic.

“My argument was this,” Obama told Goldberg, “Let’s all stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel… We want to work to help achieve statehood and dignity for the Palestinians, but I was hoping that my speech could trigger a discussion, could create space for Muslims to address the real problems they are confronting — problems of governance, and the fact that some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrines to modernity.”

Oren said that the speech in question, which Obama delivered at Cairo University during his first official visit to the region, “nowhere mentions that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not the core of the Middle East’s other conflicts.” On the contrary, Oren emphasized, “It actually implied the opposite.”

In fact, explained Oren – author of the international best-seller, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide – “The Cairo speech is the foundational document of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, and it is based on linkage: that everything in the region is linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and therefore if you solve it, you will solve the region’s problems.”

Oren, who served as Israel’s key envoy to Washington from 2009-2013, said that he “used to hear that linkage mentioned every single day. Even former National Security Adviser James Jones said that if God came down and asked to solve one problem, it would be the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was doctrinal.”

Furthermore, Oren added, “The Cairo speech, which was twice as long as Obama’s first inaugural address, gave Israel legitimacy based on the Holocaust – the same as the Arab narrative about why the Jews were given a state – and didn’t even mention the Sunni-Shi’ite divide or Iranian-Arab enmity, for example.”

Oren also had strong words about another passage in Goldberg’s article:

…as the Arab Spring gave up its early promise, and brutality and dysfunction overwhelmed the Middle East, the president grew disillusioned. Some of his deepest disappointments concern Middle Eastern leaders themselves. Benjamin Netanyahu is in his own category: Obama has long believed that Netanyahu could bring about a two-state solution that would protect Israel’s status as a Jewish-majority democracy, but is too fearful and politically paralyzed to do so. Obama has also not had much patience for Netanyahu and other Middle Eastern leaders who question his understanding of the region.

In one of Netanyahu’s meetings with the president, the Israeli prime minister launched into something of a lecture about the dangers of the brutal region in which he lives, and Obama felt that Netanyahu was behaving in a condescending fashion, and was also avoiding the subject at hand: peace negotiations. Finally, the president interrupted the prime minister: “Bibi, you have to understand something,” he said. “I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.”

“Really?” asked Oren. “Netanyahu is one of Obama’s ‘deepest disappointments’ as a Middle East leader? More disappointing than [Syrian President Bassar] Assad? Than [former Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad? Than [ISIS chief Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi?”

Why, then — if Obama’s doctrine all along has been to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the rest of the region’s woes (and to hold Netanyahu largely responsible) — did he choose the present moment to say that this is not what he had intended at the beginning of his presidency?

“A more important question here might be to ask why Goldberg didn’t challenge him on it,” Oren said, adding that the interview was “illuminating,” in that it shined light “on the relationship of the press with the president.”

But urged to give an answer about the timing and meaning of Obama’s claims, Oren concluded, “Maybe because his whole vision of and for the Middle has completely collapsed.”

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  • Juan Leon

    Palestinians have begun to act in the style of Islamic been paralyzing any civilized solution.

  • Holy Shirt

    Like their gods Barry, Bernie and Hillary, Liberal J Street “American Jews” may identify with movie stars Chico, Harpo, Zeppo and Groucho as much as bagels and lox, but religion for Karl Marx’s followers is Marxism, not Judaism. Until Israel is more than a faraway, exotic vacation destination on their radar, they will toss Israel—and America—under the bus, all the way to the showers. Israel (and the Constitution of the United States) are as alien to most of the American diaspora as Talmud Torah is to most of Israel.

  • Ami Pemper

    Obama’s recent interview to Godfrey Goldberg

    I recall the presidential candidate Barack Hussein Obama addressing AIPAC and the promises he made to Israel in general and regarding Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish nation in particular.Right after his election he diverted from his promises 180 degrees.Should I say,could I say Mr Barak Hussein Obama wasn’t sincere in the address he delivered to AIPAC,to say the least??
    In Israel we were all outraged and could not believe our ears.Honestly,in Israel,we felt USA was letting us down.(At that time Mr Obama was encircled by some Jewish advisers Rahm Emanual the most prominent one).
    During a meeting with Barack Hussein Obama in the WH in 2011 Benjamin Netanyahu was lecturing him about the dangers and conflicts the ME was confronting.All what Benjamin Netanyahu predicted in that lecturing meeting with Barack Hussein Obama came true. Obama dares not admitting his foreign policy has been a complete flop. Obama dares not admitting he lied when he was addressing AIPAC about Israel and about Jerusalem. Benjamin Netanyahu could not bluntly mention to Barack Hussein Obama about his speeches and promises delivered at AIPAC conference back in 2008 so implying his wrong foreign policy in the ME Benjamin Netanyahu lectured about the forthcoming dangers. Barack Hussein Obama is now bashing Netanyahu telling us he felt insulted being Afro-American and having managed to win the election. In fact virtues qualifying Mr Obama for deep understanding of world’s situation especially the one so complex as the one in the ME. Well they say one picture is worth more that 1000 words. In fact we can see the disaster when we look at the pictures coming from Syria, pictures of the numerous casualties in Iraq a result of Islamic terror,pictures of the Islamic invasion to Europe.No wonder Barack Hussein Obama felt insulted for Benjamin Netanyahu told him “The king is naked”!
    Wishing you all a pleasant and joyful Shabbat.

  • Rebecca M

    Sam Vaknin’s views on Obama may be revealing:

    Sam is not a clinical psychiatrist. He is a brilliant analyst, however, and HAS accumulated more data on NPD than any clinician. Those unfamiliar with the narcissistic personality (like myself) are often boggled when encountering a real live one and its effects on loved ones. see google or amazon and Sam Vaknin.

  • Thomas Clark

    Respect for Michael Oren, a humble man who did a great job as ambassador.

  • Jacob S. Rand MD

    I think many forget that during the Barak administration the Palestinians under the rule of Arafat were offered a two state solution, but they turned it down. I think it is because they want the whole pie.

    Why has not Abbas sat down and directly negotiate with Netanyahu? Because,if he does he might be assassinated, as was Sadat for reaching peace between Egypt and Israel.

    Another point: If 20% of the population of Israel is Arab Muslim, should there not be reciprocity that some Jews may live in Palestine, in the so called “settlements”?.If not,Palestine will become “Judenrein” and another Gaza Strip, governed by terrorists.

  • Al Sheeber

    Goldberg is the disgrace, a real disappointment, for a freak who served in the IDF guarding in the Negev terrorist to a brown nosing “reporter”, an aspiring nominee for a position in Hillary’s foreign policy team, he is nothing short of a Soviet like Izvestia staffer, a clever scribe who has his way with access and words, but when it comes to putting facts in true historical context he is AWOL0-if he decided to make Aliyah his new place of employment will be Haaretz where history is changed daily under the supervision of the Odious Shocken clan. Years ago I realized that this creepy, unctuous, oily character was simply desperate to get a government job, if the Republicans give it away-he will be among the “new deciders”! I fully agree with the eminent Amb/M/K Oren!

  • Steve

    Obama is well-meaning but misguided. He equates the Palestinian situation with America’s civil rights movement. However, African Americans fought for equality with whites. Not for their destruction. The Palestinian leadership, especially Hamas, doesn’t want equality. It wants to wipe out Jews and Israel. Yet, the US never calls this out, which only enables Hamas and Abbas more.

    • Steve,

      He is not well meaning. As Rubio frequently said, Obama knows exactly what he is doing. He detests Israel; views it as an interloper in the M-E.

      Was it “misguided” for him to shut down Ben Gurion Airport during the last Gaza War?

      Was it misguided to tell Goldberg in the article that he doesn’t see why Israel should have a qualitative military superiority?

      Was it misguided to sit for 20 years in the pew of a church run by a virulent anti-semite and listen to the anti semitic diatribes spewing from that minister’s mouth?

      Was it misguided not to say a word about the poor American-Israeli teen who was kidnapped until after the boy’s body was found?

  • Evan Grantham-Brown

    The speech in question:

    There was a section about Israel and Palestine, but it was one topic among many; in no way did it come across as the central thrust of the speech. And in that section, one of Obama’s comments was, “The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems.” Overall, Obama’s interpretation seems more credible than Oren’s… which makes sense, considering it’s Obama’s own speech!

    As for Netanyahu being a disappointment compared to Assad and Ahmadinejad: Disappointment is about failing to live up to expectations. Does Oren seriously believe no more should be expected of Netanyahu than of a brutal dictator or a theocratic demagogue?

  • Laura Berman

    I understand what Oren is saying. However, I have to say
    that there is some truth to Pres. Obama’s claim that
    if there could be peace and a two state solution the
    whole region would be better off. Maybe the problem
    is that there has never been the right time to acheive
    this. I believe that our president has always had the
    best intentions toward Israel and its people. It hurts me
    as an American and someone who loves Israel that this
    is often not recognized by Israelis. Laura Berman

    • I don’t disagree with you that if there could be peace between Israel and the Arab world, including the Palestinians, the region would be better off.

      However, to say that that conflict is somehow “central” is extremely inaccurate (at best).

      The conflicts between Sunni and Shi’ite, Alawite, Ahmadiy’ya, and other “sects” within Islam has been going on for a very long time. Those conflicts, along with the artificial borders imposed by the League of Nations, UN, British, and French after WWI, are at the core of the extreme unrest and violence in the area.

      Add to that the deep Islamist hatred for the concept of a Jewish state, and there is no possible way to conclude that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the root of violence, hatred, and Islamist expansion in the region. The truth is that these things would be going on today even if Israel had never existed. The only difference is that no one would care.

      As for Obama having the best intentions for Israel, I, personally, do not believe that. His intentions are to create a “legacy” by solving an essentially unsolvable problem, and his solution is to bully, blame, berate, and pressure Israel to accept things they simply cannot accept, especially given the volatility of the region, the inability and unwillingness of the Palestinians to ever accept the existence of Israel, and Obama’s own unwillingness (and arrogance) to try to understand that Bibi has ONLY Israel’s welfare and survival as his charter.

      Obama’s attitude toward Bibi has been one of hostility and condescension since day one, and it has tainted any chance of a relationship they might have had.

    • Tod Zuckerman

      Ms. Berman: Sadly, there is no doubt in my mind that you would vote for Jeremiah Wright’s ex-mentoree ( a guy who lionized Wright for 20 years, and who , in 08, refused to repudiate Farrakan’s support ) a third time if given an opportunity. You are the kind of Jew who is oblivious to reason – after seven plus years of unprecedented hostility to Israel, you still insist that Obama is Israel’s friend ? I wish I could say I am surprised.

    • Samuel Asher

      I think your regard for President Obama may be coloring your view of him. I am an Egyptian born Jew. I, for one, was horrified when Obama gave his first speech in Cairo, that he did NOT ONCE, mention anything about the horrible treatment of Jews by Arab governments, including Egypt.
      It was my first glimpse at the bias that he has since proved over and over. His initial mistreatment of Netanyahu was just another example.

    • StewartK

      If there could be peace, the region would certainly be better off.
      But on what basis do you think a 2 state solution would contribute to peace? Especially as the Arabs themselves state that a 2 state solution would only be a milestone on the way to destroying Israel.

  • jakob wasi

    Oren is blowing smoke out of his pie hole. He should resign, monger of hate that he is.

    • Thomas Clark

      Micahael Oren, a hate monger??
      You are an idiot.

  • Michael Kaplan

    Barack Obama, now in his last year in office, will continue down the same path he was on from the first day of his first campaign for office. Create a narrative that is closer to fiction than fact. Doubt that at your peril. Look for a future leader and let the man fade out of office.

  • Terri Granot

    What does being the son of African American or single mother have to do with the understanding of the Middle East? Obama abandoned all US allies as Mubarak and Bibi. It was his plan…..November won’t be here soon enough.

  • Franklin Delano Paskutnik

    Just goes to show what a two-faced politician Obama really is.His Cairo speech defined his presidency’s policies on the Middle East – he can’t very well backtrack now.I wonder what Obama thinks about Iran having just test launched two long-range missiles adorned with Hebrew writing glorifying Iran’s plan to “wipe Israel off the face of the map”? I think he couldn’t care less. If Israel exists or not doesn’t worry him – it’s his Great Legacy Achievement of the rotten,extremely dangerous Iran nuclear “deal” that motivates him now.Yet America’s Jews still foolishly vote for the Democrats like sheep!

  • Peter Joffe

    What Rubbish is this? Obama as a Muslim knows that the Quran is cast in stone and any attempt to update it or modify it is against the ‘laws’of Islam. Death is the penalty for almost anything that challenges Islam and their ancient faith of death and destruction. The God of the civilized world is praised with so many different acts of wonder, healing, love and peace. What good does “Allah” do other than direct hatred and death to all ‘infidels’??? Allah has no acts of love and peace.

  • Mika K

    Mr President is trying to defend his policies and work. In same manner he’s blaming Europe for Lybia chaos. Not only to defend his Noble prize but also to clear path for Hillary as a college in presidential race. This could be the reason to claim it now.

  • stevenl

    Goldberg a Jewish mouthpiece for Obama and the far left. He never challenged BHO as far as I can remember.

  • Dorothy S. Wigod

    The PBS segment tonight on the Obama interview conveyed the same misrepresentation. That Cairo speech — who can forget it?
    Always good to read what Ruthie Blum has written.

  • President Obama’s vision for Middle East peace is clouded by his neo-liberal ideology. The resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict won’t bring peace to the region. Totalitarian Islam is not interested in peaceful coexistence, but desires a global caliphate.

  • Sharon Greenburg

    Oren is so right. President Obama has not firmly supported the right of Israel to be there and has unfairly blamed Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu for the region’s hatred of the West. It is outrageous that so many American Jews are supportive of his views. How ironic that the Jews are scapegoated for problems rooted in Western colonialism.!

  • Jonas

    Bravo Oren, Do you think Obama has a reason for hanging half of worlds problems on the neck of Israel because the refusal to let it be slaughtered by there fine peaceful neighbors???

  • Eran

    Oren is right! Obama sentementality for Islam clouds his understanding of the Middle East conflict.

  • gregg solomon

    Oren is right.
    Obama’s Atlantic interview is Obama revising his history.

  • Yoel larry

    May the L-rd protect Israel from Obama Yimach Shemo.

  • ART

    Obama is rewriting history and the media is assisting him. Hillary was going to use her server to control her legacy.

  • Herb Glatter

    This will have the same effect Tom Hagen had on the Senate committee investigating Michael Corleone. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Oren can add Turkey’s president Erdogan or whatever he decides to be these days as one of his BFF’s. Obama unbound is more dangerous than ever – Cuba, Islamic Republic of Iran – Next he has to take care of Israel – not in a good way.

  • Jerome S Zacks MD

    I’m not sure Michael oren’s comments moved anyone closer to peace.

  • Noahnoah

    Obummer has proven to be a huge mistake, he’s a thoroughly incompetent, delusional president

  • Juan Vegajuan

    Ambassador Orem is too polite not to call Obama on outright lies and deceit while favoring Iran. His presidency has imperiled Israel’s survival perhaps soon. History may judge Obama harshly as the facilitator of the next and perhaps final solution that eluded Hitler. It has nothing to do with his race but about his character, upbringing and core beliefs .The Jewish love affair with the Democratic party and socialism has created the same dilenma we Catholic face with current leftist policies. It is not about faith and social responsibility but about power of the state over the individual.

  • Barry

    Obama has always disappointed me and of course his words rang hollow then and do today as well.

    As to why Jews were given a state, Obama always misses the point but I would expect Oren to have understood.

    This is the real story, so read carefully and absorb!

    The Jewish people were given the right to a homeland (the word state was not used but implied) in 1920 after WW1. This right, given at San Remo Italy, was ratified by the League of Nations in 1922. Without a doubt this is the only legal document under International Law that dealt with a homeland for the Jewish people. And it is still the law today!!!!

    What happened in 1948 was an attempt to partition the land. Our side accepted, theirs didn’t. We know the rest. However, if you want to know the true legal foundation as to our state, it’s not 1948 but 1920.

    This is so fundamental yet so often overlooked. It should be the basis of any pro Israel argument because it is true, real and still in effect under International Law.

    So why doesn’t Mr. Oren mention that? Obama was way off to suggest WW2 was the basis for a Jewish state. It wasn’t.

  • Elise

    Goldberg didn’t press Obama on his statement, because Goldberg not only carries water for Obama, but agrees with him on his view of Bibi and Israel.