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August 31, 2020 5:21 pm

Ambassador Michael Oren on His New Book and the Presidential Election

avatar by Ira Stoll

Opinion

Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren. Photo: The Israel Project.

Michael Oren is no longer Israel’s ambassador in Washington or a member of the Knesset.

But he’s managing to keep busy, Oren assures me in a phone interview to promote The Night Archer, his new book of short stories.

He has a novel, To All Who Call in Truth, coming out in November. He’s working on another collection of short stories. He’s an informal foreign policy adviser to a number of political figures. He’s raising money to finish a nonfiction book called Creation, about Israel’s founding and 1948 War of Independence. He’s coordinating “Israel 2048,” a manifesto outlining a vision for what Israel should look like on its 100th birthday. He’s learning French, keeping up with the Daf Yomi program of a page a day of Talmud study and enjoying five grandchildren.

“There’s no boredom here,” Oren says.

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The Night Archer is full of things that might be a bit surprising coming from a diplomat. There’s a Passover afikomen hunt that includes a searcher stumbling on his father’s porn stash. There’s a Holocaust survivor-turned-commercially-successful-writer-and-frequent-honorary-doctorate-recipient, having an affair with an unpaid intern young enough to be his granddaughter.

There’s another story about a Philip-Roth-like character in paradise. “Did I have fun writing that,” Oren says, acknowledging with a laugh that many stories in the book “would seem undiplomatic.” He emphasizes, in response to my question, that the Holocaust survivor character was not based on any one real individual but was rather “a composite.”

I had fun reading these stories.

In a brief, erudite introduction to the short stories, and in our phone call, Oren says that the short story, imagination constrained by the structure of brevity, is a characteristically Jewish combination of freedom and discipline.

“The freedom-limit paradox can be confounding but also intoxicating,” Oren writes in the introduction, telling the story of “a friend who was born Jewish but hated his heritage.”

The friend accompanied Oren to synagogue for Simchat Torah, the holiday “when Jews dance and sing while embracing the scrolls.”

The friend, Oren writes, “was flummoxed. ‘They’re celebrating a book that tells them all these things they can’t do?’”

Reports Oren, “unable to grasp the contradiction,” the friend “finally, in desperation…began to study the Bible and then the Talmud, and eventually became observant.”

Before Oren rings off, I ask him, as the former ambassador and the author of Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide, how he views the upcoming American election and its potential effects on US‐Israel relations.

“Both candidates running are very pro-Israel,” Oren says. A Biden administration might bring policy differences over “the Palestinian issue,” West Bank settlements and the Iran nuclear deal, Oren points out. He notes, though, that Trump has also offered to negotiate a deal with Iran. Oren suggests that Israel could help by spelling out clearly “what would be a good deal” with Iran.

The bigger picture, he says, is that “Israel depends on a strong and self-confident America.”

It was concerning instead to see what appeared like “a superpower that is not quite certain how to police itself, much less police the world,” Oren adds.

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