Hasbara at Work: Oren Promotes Fantasies

By Ira Glunts

Three years ago I heard the American-born Israeli Michael B. Oren promoting his new book Power, Faith and Fantasy:  America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present at a university near my home in upstate New York. 

Oren is a tall, good looking man who radiated a quiet confidence. His book had the truly fanciful goal of showing that the intense American involvement in the Middle East and especially our engagement with the idea of a renewal of Jewish sovereignty in the region was not a recent development. Oren claimed that both the Zionist idea and the friction between Americans and Muslims is an important and persistent narrative thread running through American history from very early times. For instance, he describes the military confrontations of a young American republic with the Barbary pirates as the first battles in what we now call the “War on Terror.” My own conclusion after reading his book, was that Oren’s role as a conservative Israeli think-tanker had completely subsumed any desire he may have had to be an honest American historian. I assumed that he believed that this was a good career move for someone for someone who simultaneously lived in Israel and taught at Yale University. At that point this apparently mild-mannered, obviously intelligent scholar seemed harmless enough. Of course, it was impossible to have known then that Oren would become Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ambassador to the United States.

Last week Michael Oren, as Israeli Ambassador to the United States, visited Atlanta in order to lay a wreath upon the grave of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. In addition to the wreath, Oren used his Atlanta visit to lay some of his country’s particularly odious hasbara (meaning public relations, some say propaganda) upon no doubt unsuspecting Georgians.

According to Martha Dalton of Atlanta radio station WABE, Oren exploited the ceremony honoring King by making a statement about the imminent danger Iran’s nuclear program presents to both Israel and the rest of the world. This is far from a universally accepted claim, but after having it repeated enough times in the U.S. media, most accept it as fact. The ambassador also expressed concern about fallout from the recent Wikileaks release of thousands of diplomatic cables, some of which were embarrassing to Israel.

In an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on November 26 entitled “A 63-Year Search For Mideast Peace” Oren took full advantage of the leeway American newspaper editors give to public figures and especially to pro-Israel columns. According to Oren, Israel has been engaged in a 63-year struggle to make its neighbors and those it expelled from its territory understand that all it has ever wanted is to peacefully share the land it claims for itself with its indigenous population.

The United Nations voted to partition what is now Israel 63 years ago into Jewish and Palestinian states. The wisdom of this decision, which was rejected by the region’s Arab governments and populations, is very much in question today. However to Oren, whose views reflect his own blind faith in Israeli power and a generous serving of fantasy, the partition decision (UN resolution 181) expresses the uncontestable truth that “[t]he Arab world was to welcome the Jews, after 2,000 years of exile back to their homeland.”

Surprisingly, at least according to Oren, the Arabs did not understand the imperative that they were morally obligated to welcome the Zionists and their proposed Jewish State on lands upon which the Palestinians had lived for centuries. A war ensued, in which according to Oren (repeating one of the favorite false claims of countless pro-Israel propagandists) “the weakly-armed Israeli defenders defeated the much stronger Arab armies.” This description is on its face false. Of course, the stronger army won, do you think it was God who made the Israelis triumph despite their weakness? (For a extensive and detailed description of the relative military strengths of both sides in the 1948 War see the Israeli historian, Benny Morris’ The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949.)

Continuing to mercilessly ladle on the hasbara (which literally means explanation in Hebrew), Oren writes that despite the Palestinians’ history of rejection of continuous Israeli goodwill, his government persists in reaching out with generous peace proposals. The ambassador points to examples of Palestinian recalcitrance in their refusal to accept the Israeli offers of “full statehood” in 2000 and 2008. The reader is not told how full statehood for the Palestinians is compatible with Israeli control of Palestinian water sources, no foreign policy, no army, and Israeli overflight rights among many other crippling limitations, which are conditions upon which the Israelis always insist. Oren also neglects to mention that this “generous offer” of statehood does not now include Gaza nor its democratically-elected government.

To this point Oren’s op-ed had been a rehash of the Israeli and pro-Israel lobby talking points. But suddenly and unexpectedly the mild mannered ex-historian turned diplomat seeks to incite his audience with an original gem of hasbara. Oren declares, “Hamas …[is a]… group dedicated to the murder of all Israelis – indeed all Jews worldwide.”

Hamas is a political party and a social service organization which was democratically elected to rule the Palestinian territories. It also is a liberation and resistance movement which has employed violence against the Israeli army of occupation, the illegal Israeli settler/colonists, and ordinary Israeli civilians. However, the general statement that Hamas is dedicated to the murder of all Israelis is as valid as saying that the Israeli occupation army is dedicated to killing all Palestinians. The second charge, that Hamas is dedicated to killing all Jews worldwide is as fantastic as Oren’s claim in Power, Faith and Fantasy that the American founding-fathers were proto-Zionists who spent inordinate amounts of resources fighting implacable Muslim enemies. Actually, Hamas explicitly rejects the use of violence against targets outside the occupied territories and Israel. Its behavior has reflected that policy.

Before Oren went to Atlanta he made an appearance at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in New Orleans. In addressing the assembly, Oren urged American Jews to make it a priority to ensure that US politicians continue to give Israel “bipartisan support” even if these same American Jews may believe that Israel’s policies are wrong. Oren insisted that it is not only the duty of American Jews to fall into line with Israel’s wishes, but he further declared, “we [Israelis] expect American Jews to refute” any criticism of Israeli policy.

Ambassador Oren wants American Jews to become hasbara agents who blindly follow Israeli government policy while simultaneously inciting them with false fears of being murdered by what for them is a totally imagined enemy. In assuming his new diplomatic role, Michael B. Oren has, unfortunately, been given the authority and platform to promote fantasies about which he could only theorize, three years ago, when I heard him merely urging his audience of college students to buy his book.

– Ira Glunts first visited the Middle East in 1972, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in southern Israel. He was a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces in 1992. Mr. Glunts lives in Madison, New York where he operates a used and rare book business, writes and is a part-time reference librarian. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: gluntsi[at]morrisville[dot]edu.

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