A day after leaving his post as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren insisted Iran’s diplomatic overtures be treated with caution.
“Not only should the sanctions against it not be let up, but they have to be intensified and linked with a credible military threat,” said the West Orange-raised Oren, speaking Oct. 1 at Manhattan’s Park Avenue Synagogue.
“No country has a greater interest in a diplomatic solution than Israel has,” said Oren. “We have more to lose; we have more skin in the game. But we will not be led into a situation where an Iranian nuclear bomb will be dangling literally over our heads and the entire Middle East will be transformed into a nuclear neighborhood.”
Oren’s remarks came during dialogue with Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow writer and Israeli immigrant, also originally from the United States.
Their conversation before an audience of some 1,100 people was interspersed with the informality of two men who have been friends for 25 years.
While the two had come together to discuss Halevi’s newly published book, Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, they also touched on Oren’s four-year tenure as historian turned Israeli diplomat.
“Much of your work, Michael, was directed toward the American-Jewish community and getting them to understand that while religious pluralism and Women of the Wall and all these other issues are important, we are in an existential moment,” Halevi said. “We need to get the balance of priorities right. I sensed from you that you weren’t getting your message across. It seems to me it is one of the few failures of your service.”
“Yes, it has been frustrating,” the former ambassador acknowledged. “But one of the successes was to get rabbis from different movements — from Reconstructionist to haredi — to sit around the same table. What came out was that rabbis were unwilling to talk about the Iranian nuclear threat because it was controversial. When rabbis would say that, I would almost lose it. I would say, ‘Iran provided rockets to Hizbullah. They are denying the Holocaust. You’re not going to talk about that in your sermons? Shame on you.’”
Halevi’s book is the story of seven paratroopers who fought in the battle for Jerusalem during the Six-Day War — and the divided society they came to symbolize.
“My goal in writing this book was to restore the Left and Right to the same story,” said Halevi. “Some of the leaders of the settlement movement and the leaders of the peace movement all came out of the same tent. They shared the same military experience.”
Among the IDF paratroopers who reconquered eastern Jerusalem from the Jordanians was Hanan Porat, a founder of the first West Bank settlement, Kfar Etzion.
Another was Avital Geva, a left-wing kibbutznik who later became a founder of Peace Now.
The two wounded paratroopers from Brigade 55 reached totally opposite conclusions.
“If I had any message in this book to a deeply divided American Jewry today…it would be: ‘Keep your politics, but embrace both Avital Geva and Hanan Porat,’” said Halevi.
Oren, himself the author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, suggested that the character Halevi most identified with in Like Dreamers was Udi Adiv.
Oren said that Adiv, a paratrooper, “came out of the Six-Day War so far left that he joined a minuscule anti-Zionist group called Matzpen.” The Brooklyn-born Halevi, on the other hand, had been a teenage member of the Jewish Defense League, Jewish radicals on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Adiv.
Halevi described his first encounters with Adiv. “When I first visited him I told him, ‘Everything you stand for is reprehensible, but I connect with your radical personality,’” said Halevi, who later went on to moderate his own views. “That won his trust for me. I was upfront with him and I deeply identified with the radical persona that wants to break all the rules.”
The evening at the Conservative synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was hosted by New York Jewish Week and moderated by the newspaper’s editor and publisher, Gary Rosenblatt.