Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, warned a gathering in Newark Dec. 6 that “once Iran gets the bomb, nuclear nonproliferation becomes an oxymoron. Everybody gets the bomb.”
Raised in West Orange, Oren spoke in the Parsonnet Auditorium at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center before proceeding to Whippany for the Super Sunday fund-raiser of the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ (see separate story).
Introduced by New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, Oren was the keynote speaker at the rededication of a statue at the hospital sculpted in tribute to victims of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. All 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed.
About 150 people — including physicians, local residents, and members of Oren’s family — were in attendance.
In both local stops, Oren delivered warnings about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the need for a coordinated global response.
“Iran has a missile system that can reach every town in Israel, and, by the way, can reach most towns in France,” he said in Newark. “The French are very nervous.”
He said the Iranian government might be inclined to share its nuclear weapons with such terrorist groups as Hamas and Hizbulla by smuggling them across borders in suitcases.
Once that happens, he said, “Egypt gets the bomb. Libya gets the bomb. Syria gets the bomb. Venezuela gets the bomb. It’s not just an Israel problem. It’s a Saudi problem. It’s a Jordanian problem. And ultimately, it’s an American problem.”
Such a grim reality, Oren said, has compelled President Barack Obama to place the issue “at the top of his agenda. He goes to China and it’s the first thing he talks about with the Chinese. It’s the first thing he talks about with the Russians. The Russians and Chinese cooperation are essential to the efficacy of the sanctions against the regime in Iran.”
Despite the aura of gloom he projected when speaking of Iran, Oren said reports from Israel were a mixture of “good news and bad news.”
“We’ve made some significant gestures” toward peace with the Palestinians by offering a 10-month freeze on expanding settlements on the West Bank, he said.
He spoke of Israel’s economic recovery, currently outperforming America’s, and, “knock on wood, since January, the safest year in Israel’s history.” He also said that in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, the economy is growing at a rate “between 7 and 11 percent.”
Oren, a writer and historian who was tapped this year as envoy by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is the son of Marilyn and Lester Bornstein, who still reside in West Orange. Lester Bornstein served as executive director, then president, of the hospital before it was sold to the Saint Barnabas Health Care System.
As he began his address, the ambassador compared his adopted nation’s struggles with those of “the Beth.”
“Just as close alliances can face strains, so too can medical centers,” he said. Citing the hospital’s establishment in 1901 to overcome the anti-Semitic ban on Jewish doctors in other Newark hospitals, Oren said Beth Israel was also the first in the city to hire African-American physicians, in 1957.
“In a region so often divided by strife, Israeli medical centers are oases of coexistence where Jewish patients can be treated by Arab doctors, and vice versa, and where Orthodox and secular freely mix.
“For me, going from ‘Beth Israel,’ the house of Israel, to the State of Israel was a natural progression,” he said. “In representing my prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to the first African-American president, Barack Obama — what a great accomplishment that is for me, coming from this community.”