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Commentary :: International Relations
24 Nov 2004
Modified: 08:16:12 PM
This article counterattacks the best-selling author's recent op-ed claim that Israel's Right was unhappy about Arafat's demise. It points out his own left-leaning proclivities, and argues that it's the Left not the Right saddened by Arafat's death. It then questions what he's doing at the Israeli right-wing research institute, the Shalem Center.
Every once in a while, I read an op-ed piece and say to myself, "Wait a second, that's not true." I just read such a piece in the Jerusalem Post; "Neither rejoice, nor lament" by Michael B. Oren, the best-selling author of "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East," (OUP 2002). A longer version of his article ran on November 14, 2004, entitled "Arafat Without Tears," in the Washington Post.

What is it that Oren said that got me so disturbed that I would bother to write about it?

Commenting about the Israeli public's lackadaisical response to Arafat's recent demise, Oren wrote "Ironically, the only Israelis who regret Arafat's passing are those from the radical Right who believe that Arafat was Israel's greatest asset - the man whose intransigence relieved the Jewish state of the necessity of making any painful sacrifices. Yet the far Right need not worry. It seems highly unlikely that any Palestinian figure will be capable in the foreseeable future of marshaling the legitimacy needed to make peace with Israel, or the military power to impose that peace on the Palestinian terrorist groups that will certainly oppose it."

Pure Hogwash. An inversion of logic. Oren's skewed view of things outshines his "scholarship" on this one. According to Oren, the far Right wanted Arafat to continue killing Jews so that the "peace process" would be wrecked, it's a virtual blood libel.

Just after Arafat's death, Manhigut Yehudit (the Jewish Leadership faction within Likud) held their annual convention in Jerusalem. It was reported in the press that Manhigut Yehudit supporters raised a toast in celebration of the death of "PLO leader and arch-terrorist" Yasser Arafat. Manhigut's leader, Moshe Feiglin, asked the audience to be an island of sanity in a sea of madness and reversal of values, as reflected in the condolences expressed in the media on the death of the archenemy of the Jews, Yasser Arafat. Feiglin declared before 2,500 people, "We pray for the death of all of God's enemies."

Similarly, it was reported that an assorted group of "right-wing extremists" and "Kach supporters," drank a "L'Chaim" (a toast) in downtown Jerusalem a couple days earlier, when it was prematurely reported that Arafat had kicked the bucket.

During that two-week "dead, not dead" period before the official announcement, the Israeli media reported on several Rabbis and a rabbinical group who stated that celebrating the death of Yasser Arafat was the proper Jewish response.

For example, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner (Chief Rabbi of Beit El and the head of the Ateret Kohanim Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem) wrote, "Arafat is also a sort of Haman, who not only wished to kill Jews, but in practice killed many Jews, leaving many widows and orphans, and thousands of injured and suffering...On [the death of] Arafat, one should say, 'and song went out through the camp,' and one should say, 'at the death of the wicked, there is joyful song,'" (Proverbs ch. 11).

So too, the rabbis of the Pikuach Nefesh organization ruled: "[That] disease of the human race, that Amalekite, and that Hitler of our generation, none other than Yasser Arafat, may his name and memory be erased - his carcass is about to be thrown into a grave; and we will fulfill 'at the death of the wicked, there is joyful song.' And according to the [halachic] jurists, that day should be a joyful, happy day for all of Israel! ...'And so may all Your enemies perish, God.'" Their statement was signed by several rabbis; including Rabbi Yaakov Yosef (the son of the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef).

Right-wing Israelis were overjoyed with Arafat's demise, not regretting it as Oren claims. But why did Oren claim this?

It struck me as odd when I read his op-ed piece. My initial response was "another leftist trying to blur the facts and twist them around to attack the right." But, Oren's bio at the foot of the page said he "is a Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based institute for Jewish social thought and public policy. He is also the head of the Middle East history project," and I know the Shalem Center is a conservative think-tank, I was intrigued, so I did some research.

A few facts I found out about Oren include, he was born in 1955 in America, belonged to the far-left Marxist Hashomer Hatza'ir youth movement and, at the age of 15, spent a brief period in Israel on two kibbutzim, Gonen and Gan Shmuel. He moved to Israel in 1977, at the age of 22, and after a stint in the Israeli Army during the Lebanon War, returned to the United States. He went to Princeton University, where he did his Ph.D. in the history of the Middle East.

During a very favorable interview in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2002 (after the publication of his book), Oren admitted, "I did my doctorate in order to become a policy adviser, but when I returned to Israel, I decided not to join the Foreign Ministry. I wanted to get into the government, but they didn't accept me." He then worked on his post-doctorate at Sde Boker (the kibbutz David Ben-Gurion retired to). Oren still has an apartment there and returns there to write. "In 1992, I came back to Jerusalem as an adviser to Yitzhak Rabin, who I got to through Shimon Shetreet [a law professor and a cabinet minister in the Rabin government]."

In fact, he served as director of Israel's department of interreligious affairs in the government of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and as an adviser to the Israeli delegation to the United Nations.

So it's true, he has "solid" leftist credentials, and a personal reason (given his involvement in Rabin's administration) to skew the facts.

Oren's book, "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East," won him much acclaim. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak heaped praise on the book; and it was even reported that Vice President Dick Cheney was "staying up nights to plow through the 446-page tome." It was a New York Times and national bestseller, and won several awards including the "Washington Post Book World Best Book of 2002," the "National Jewish Book Award for best book of 2002," and the "Los Angeles Times Book Prize".

In his book, Oren claims that Nasser really didn't want a war with Israel in 1967, but to win a "bloodless political victory," in spite of his rants to "throw the Jews into the sea". In fact, according to Oren, in his earlier research that he did on the secret peace process between Egypt and Israel in the 1950s, he found that "between 10 and 15 years before 1967, Nasser was secretly writing letters to Israeli leaders and saying, 'Listen, I'd love to make peace with you, but if I do they're going to chop my head off, so I can't do it.'"

About the 1967 war, Oren feels, "it created a division with Israeli society that has widened over years, that really for the last 30 years, the major issue dividing Israelis has been the future of these territories almost to the distraction of any other issue--our economy, our society, religious, secular relations. And in that way the impact of '67 was deleterious and was injurious to Israeli society."

It's clear to me that Oren has an ideological ax to grind; his apologetics for Nasser, about the 1967 war more generally, the "peace process" and the Israeli Right.

When interviewed on National Public Radio's show "Fresh Air" on June 11, 2002 (during his US book promotion tour), Oren was asked, "Do you think that the Israeli incursions into the territories are an effective way of stopping the terrorist infrastructure?" Oren answered, "Oh. Well, first I don't think you can stop the terrorist infrastructure. I don't think anybody reasonably thinks that you can stop terrorists solely through military means..."

Oren clearly missed it, on that one. Israel has been reasonably successful in decapitating Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the other terror groups. Then he spewed the standard Israeli leftist line, "Obviously the only long-term solution to terror is a diplomatic political solution..."

Yes, let's have Oslo 3, Oslo 4, Oslo More More More...

Also, Ami Eden reported on the Forward's weblog of November 22, 2003: "This weekend I attended two lectures delivered by Michael Oren, author of Six Days of War. He made several interesting observations...Though Oren, a fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, leans right on some security issues [Eden's view], he is willing to rip the ideological excesses on that side of the political fence...He also seemed to come out in favor of dismantling isolated settlements in Gaza and the West Bank that lack anything close to popular support in Israel and serve no clear security purpose." So he's clearly a man of the center-left at best.

Which gets down to the real question, "What is Michael Oren doing at Yoram Hazony's right-wing research institute?"

When Oren was asked just that in his 2002 Haaretz interview, "How did you get to the Shalem Center?" he answered, "I discovered it four years ago: a young, developing Zionist institute consisting of Princeton graduates. I liked the place, and they were looking for someone to take charge of their Middle East project. They made me a senior fellow and made numerous resources available to me, including research all over the world. Without their support, I would never have produced a book of this scope within three years."

Oren found a group of fellow Princeton graduates to fund his research. But why would they help him (a former Marxist Hashomer Hatza'ir activist with a left-wing proclivity), considering that the Shalem Center has a national (right-wing) bent to it? Hazony, at one time proposed building the Shalem Center in the West Bank settlement of Eli, where he lived.

During that same Haaretz interview, Oren admitted that, "In fact, one of the Jewish critiques I received was that I am too sympathetic to Nasser. I am not complimentary to the IDF on a lot of subjects...There is a problem here. There is an historical affair that I want to understand, and what gets in the way are my views and opinions, the fact that I am a Zionist. If I want to reach understanding that is deep and balanced, I have to leap over those opinions. On every page, I stopped and asked myself whether I was writing in the most balanced way, and relatively speaking, I think I succeeded." So here Oren is admitting that his left-wing opinions force him to take a "balanced" approach.

What's interesting is that this "Post-Zionist" attitude of Oren's is exactly what Yoram Hazony attacked in his May 2001 book, "Jewish State: A History of Zionism and Post-Zionism".

According to his publisher, Hazony's book offered an in-depth analysis of the "new historians," the revolution in the new Israeli public-school curriculum implemented under Yitzhak Rabin and other issues. He wrote about the influence of post-Jewish ideals on Israel's culture and politics, examined Israeli academia and literature, as well as the media, the legal system, the armed forces and the foreign policy establishment. It's a pity his book came out before Oren's; Hazony might have included him in it.

Another fellow traveler of the left, on staff at the Shalem Center is associate fellow Yossi Klein Halevi. Formerly a follower of the radical right-wing Rabbi Meir Kahane (founder of the Kach Party), Halevi described his journey to the religious left in his 1995 book, "Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist: An American Story". He now regularly writes for the left-of-center "Jerusalem Report".

Has Hazony's own think-tank become one of those "corrupted" Israeli academies?

But Oren revealed his true intensions in his Jerusalem Post op-ed piece, when he said, "Yet the far Right need not worry. It seems highly unlikely [clearly moaning] that any Palestinian figure will be capable in the foreseeable future of marshaling the legitimacy needed to make peace with Israel, or the military power to impose that peace on the Palestinian terrorist groups that will certainly oppose it."

Truthfully, it is Oren (and others on the Left) that mourn Arafat's passing. They are saddened that he didn't live long enough to "make peace with Israel," or impose " peace on the Palestinian terrorist groups that will certainly oppose it." They still believe in their messianic pipe dreams.

My proof, the Israeli left-wing Yahad-Meretz Party just recently voted 17-14 to send condolences to the "Palestinian nation" on the loss of its leader, Yasser Arafat.

Maybe if Arafat had lived another 5, or 10, or 20 years?

Guess what, it wouldn't have helped. The same day Oren's op-ed ran, the Jerusalem Post published an article claiming that Arafat never intended to make "peace" with Israel. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based "al-Quds al-Arabi," said Arafat spoke to him when they met in Tunis, a few days before the PLO returned to the Gaza Strip. "I met with him in his office at around 3:00 AM," Atwan related. "The man told me, 'Listen, Abdel Bari, I know that you are opposed to the Oslo Accords, but you must always remember what I'm going to tell you. The day will come when you will see thousands of Jews fleeing Palestine. I will not live to see this, but you will definitely see it in your lifetime. The Oslo Accords will help bring this about.'"

Atwan claimed that Arafat created the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, because the Israelis and US sidelined him after the Camp David summit failure in 2000. "President Arafat was the one who established the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades in response to the attempt to marginalize him after the failure of the Camp David summit," he stated. "At the summit, he faced immense pressure from Israel, the US and some Arab parties to compromise on Jerusalem. Ironically, some Arab leaders, including Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz, called Arafat demanding that he display flexibility on the issue of Jerusalem." Atwan said Arafat rejected the offers Israel made at the summit "because he wasn't prepared to sign a final agreement with the Jewish state. He was well aware that such an agreement would make him go down in history as a traitor because he would have to give up the right of return for the refugees and most of the sovereignty over east Jerusalem."

So, there you have it, Arafat never intended "peace," just as the Israeli Right has claimed all along.

The problem with Oren (and those like him) is that they still don't want to admit they made a serious mistake with the Oslo Accords; bringing Arafat into Israel, setting up a mini-terror state, arming him and expecting him (like Rabin did) to terrorize his own people for Israel's benefit.

They still want to believe they were right, it doesn't matter about reality, they "need" to be right. If Arafat only lived long enough...but that isn't acceptable to say publicly in Israel, so, instead they blame the Israeli Right, it must be that the Right is unhappy about Arafat's death, because it will forestall progress in the "peace process". Anyone with half a cabbage upstairs knows that the whole "Oslo thing" was a major disaster for Israel, and the Right was thrilled that Arafat finally got it.

It just goes to show you, you could be a best selling author, receive critical acclaim (by saying all the "correct" Israel bashing things) and still not have any common sense.

Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites, in newspapers, and can be read at:

(c) 2004/5765 Pasko

READ AT: -- Part 1 -- Part 2

This work is in the public domain

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