The Greater MetroWest Jewish community had plenty of reasons to kvell when Michael Oren was named Israel’s ambassador to the United States in 2009. A Middle East scholar and analyst of the highest rank, he grew up in West Orange and graduated from West Orange Mountain High School. He made aliya in 1979 but returned to New Jersey later to earn a doctoral degree in Near East studies from Princeton University in 1986. His parents, Marilyn and Lester Bornstein, have deep ties to the local Jewish community and its network of philanthropies.
As Israel’s envoy in Washington, Oren brought his familiarity with American political culture to bear during a tense period in U.S.-Israel relations. While partisans made much of the “strained” relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Oren remained a calming and — yes — diplomatic presence, defusing the tension. When Israel was attacked on campus or misrepresented in the media, Oren responded coolly and logically, disarming opponents with facts, not rhetoric. Oren also had to smooth divides between many American Jews and Israelis, who often disagreed on politics, the role of religion in Israel, and the settlements.
In all of these dealings Oren was, as Secretary of State John Kerry put it on Friday, “unfailingly candid.”
Kerry, eager to revive talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, lauded Oren after hearing last week of the envoy’s intention to step down. “He’s certainly been a terrific partner in our efforts to help the parties find a way back to the table,” said Kerry.
Ron Dermer, another American-born Israeli and Netanyahu’s longtime adviser, has been named Oren’s successor. He inherits a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, and an engaged partnership between American Jews and Israel, all smoothly navigated by Michael Oren. As President Obama wrote earlier this year, “Michael, your life of service embodies the bonds between our nations — not bad for a kid from Jersey.”