New York Times best-selling author Michael B. Oren's memoir of his time as Israel's ambassador to the United States - a period of transformative change for America and a time of violent upheaval throughout the Middle East - provides a frank, fascinating look inside the special relationship between America and its closest ally in the region.
Michael Oren served as the Israeli ambassador to the United States from 2009 to 2013. An American by birth and a historian by training, Oren arrived at his diplomatic post just as Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton assumed office. During Oren's tenure in office, Israel and America grappled with the Palestinian peace process, the Arab Spring, and existential threats to Israel posed by international terrorism and the Iranian nuclear program. Forged in the Truman administration, America's alliance with Israel was subjected to enormous strains, and its future was questioned by commentators in both countries. On more than one occasion, the friendship's very fabric seemed close to unraveling.
Ally is the story of that enduring alliance - and of its divides - written from the perspective of a man who treasures his American identity while proudly serving the Jewish State he has come to call home. No one could have been better suited to strengthen bridges between the United States and Israel than Michael Oren - a man equally at home jumping out of a plane as an Israeli paratrooper and discussing Middle East history on TV's Sunday morning political shows. In this fast-paced book, Oren interweaves the story of his personal journey with behind-the-scenes accounts of fateful meetings between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, high-stakes summits with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and diplomatic crises that intensified the controversy surrounding the world's most contested strip of land.
©2015 Michael B. Oren (P)2015 Random House Audio
"Michael Oren is going to be the talk of Washington and Jerusalem.... I'm not sure that in the annals of diplomatic history there's ever been anything quite like this astonishing account of Oren's four years as Israel's ambassador in Washington. It's an ultimate insider's story told while all the players save Oren are still in place." (New York Post)
As a native born American and a naturalized Israeli citizen Mr. Oren is in a unique position to explain Israel to the U.S. and to explain the U.S. to Israel. He is an excellent narrator and I feel I learned a lot about what it is like to serve as Ambassador to the United States. What also comes through loud and clear is how important the ties are between Israel and the United States. I enjoyed the audiobook very much and recommend it to anyone who cares about the relationship between the United States and Israel.
The reading by the author is engrossing so that I could not put it aside until finished. He was there for many of the events of both Israel and U.S. Interactions that I felt like a participant. His vantage gave his views high credibility. I was surprised by his reports of NY Times bias in reporting. I assumed the NYT was uncritically supportive of Israel.
Former Ambassador Oren gives an excellent account of recent American-Israeli relations, Middle Eastern affairs, and, in particular, the Iranian threat. But, to some extent, I feel that he pulls his punches with respect to the Obama Administration, although he is certainly far from uncritical. Given his former position as Israel's ambassador to the US, he undoubtedly felt himself under some constraints in that respect.
Thorough, incisive and accessible. Oren lived history and recounts key events that will influence U.S. foreign policy for a generation or more.
Snarky joke of a headline out of the way, I'll open this review with some praise for this book. I like audiobooks narrated by the author, and this one was very well done, other than some retakes (I assume) where his volume and tone suddenly would change for a sentence or two. Oren's voice is perfectly clear, understandable, and even if inadvertently (but always of big importance to me) still retains its clarity and emotion when playing at 1.25x or even 1.5x speed. The book is very well-written (he notes early on that writing, even when struggling in school as a child was one of his strengths) and I enjoyed his anecdotes about political work. I'm becoming a fan of political autobiographies, and this one has interesting insight into the work of an ambassador. For these reasons alone, the book is recommendable. If you share this interest, you will probably like the same things about it that I did.
Doubtless it's obvious after that recommendation and seeing my rating, that I take issue with the author's politics. It's one thing to disagree, but I'm not even close to alone when I say that I find the idea of the "special relationship", a term you'll hear a lot, dangerous to America. Another phrase you'll hear a lot with regard to the relationship between these countries is "unbreakable and unshakable". Instead of admirable and inspiring, these terms are ominous. Why is the relationship unbreakable and unshakeable? It's certainly special - for decades the USA has been giving at least $3B annually to Israel, enormous military support, and coming to its defense repeatedly in the media and in world government organizations. Repayments include Israel being a large spy threat to its benefactor, selling its secrets abroad, bribing American media outlets to publish pro-Israeli points of view, urging America into costly wars against Israel's enemies and negatively affecting America's worldwide reputation when it is found guilty of war crimes and human rights violations. Now some of these can be, and always are being argued over, but others are plainly undeniable.
My problems begin in the foreword by the author, describing the relationship as the "deepest bilateral friendship" that either country has been part of since 1948. As a Canadian living less than an hour's drive from the longest undefended international border in human history, I find this debatable at best, and some others might find it outright offensive. Also debatable is the word bilateral, due to many reasons with only a few named above, and the author's next paragraph describing Israel as America's partner in democracy, and as a stable, loyal and militarily proficient asset. All points are very arguable, and there's no point in bothering to do so here.
It's probably a good idea to note that I'm not one of those people opposed to Israel's existence, which is often assumed from reading any criticisms of Israel's struggles. While the author's arguments for its formation are dubious (claiming it as the Jewish people's birthright based on their religious beliefs) and its continued presence on Palestinian lands (the author is "uncomfortable with the word occupation - a people cannot occupy its own homeland") make me less sympathetic to their special US relationship, it is a nation with millions of innocent people like any other, and I don't want harm to come to its cities or its people. Some things, however, are indefensible and at the least, I would agree with many that the special relationship should turn into a normal one.
For more reading on the subject, I would check out Jimmy Carter's book, Peace Not Apartheid (a title considered very inflammatory) which was also narrated by the author and also gives some insight into the life of a prominent politician. Another, although strongly denounced by the author in this book, is The Israel Lobby by Walt/Mearsheimer. Oren describes the essay it was originally based on as "devoid of archival sources and tainted with innacuracies", however when mentioning the book version, does not repeat these charges. The book, decently narrated in the audio version, constantly cites public and easily verifiable evidence to make its points and directly addresses early critics of the essay. Like myself, the authors, while wanting to be wary against inevitable harsh criticisms and personal attacks, very simply have concluded from historical evidence that the relationship is much more one-way than is commonly publicized.
Many topics that I've heard described in great detail in other sources are addressed from the author's point of view in mere words, his mentioning of them evidently enough to make his point: (paraphrasing "many groups even accusing Israel of a war crime") while usually not even attacking the charge, just assuming the reader will take his side and not look into the incident being referenced. He claims the United Nations as anti-Israel in mid sentence and just continues on as if it were the most obvious thing in the world and doesn't merit discussion. Despite my constant head-shaking at the very politician-like one-sidedness, there were also several moments that he concedes various points that made me like him more. There are areas where I absolutely agreed with his points, such as his description of a sham of a 60 Minutes interview. However hearing him a short time later describe as "ungrateful" those Jewish Americans who publicly criticize Israel, I had to shake my head again.
Overall I enjoyed this book, especially as an autobiography, and I hope this review is taken as I intend it - as my personal opinion on the subject matter only. I deliberately chose this book based on the author's politics. When reading on one side of a subject, I like to read opposing viewpoints afterwards. When I find one in the form of an audiobook narrated by the author, a major political figure, it's impossible to resist. I enjoyed this book, particularly a later chapter discussing Netanyahu in detail, but the overall premise is dangerous in my opinion, and I urge readers to make sure they hear more than one side to this incredibly complicated issue.
Michael Oren's other history books were powerful. Having previously wrote a 200+ year history of America's involvement in the Middle East, his account of US-Israeli relations during his time as Israel's ambassador to the U.S. is rich and enlightening. Without whining or grandstanding he shows you how US support for Israel, while strong, is filled with blind spots and double standards that often discourage the other side from moving towards peace. Very balanced, fair and sober.
anguished account Israel's first american-born envoy to the united states. expresses the closeness and complexity of the interpersonal and diplomatic relations between the two countries. includes a painful and stinging indictment of the Obama administration's handling of the US Israel Alliance, but also accounts of genuine and close cooperation between an Administration that is genuinely committed to Israeli security but fundamentally at odds quit Israel's strategic Outlook
This is an excellent audiobook about the complex USA-Israel relations. It is read by the author who is passionate about the subject. It is also very personal and the author is an excellent story teller. Very informative.
A remarkable work that should be required reading for anyone who cares about Israel or America. This book was captivating, eye-opening, and inspirational. I will be re-reading it myself, and gifting it to my loved ones.
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