Diplomats Michael Oren and Daniel B. Shapiro were very much on the same page during their conversation at the JFNA General Assembly.
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It was almost as if they were the same person.
Sharing the stage at Monday’s plenary session of the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., and Daniel B. Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, conversed in an escalating pattern of agreement—perhaps conveying their sense of how seamless they consider the current relationship between the two countries to be, despite ongoing Jewish community debate on the Obama administration’s Israel policy.
“At the end of the day, Dan and I, we wear the same pins,” Oren said.
Shapiro said Israel and the U.S. “are as coordinated and closely aligned as we’ve ever been, on the big issues,” including the threats posed by a nuclear Iran and the Arab Spring, and the need for direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians rather than unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood through the United Nations.
Disagreements between the U.S. and Israel are acceptable, Oren said, as long as the aforementioned “big issues” are agreed upon. A career historian before rising to the ambassador ranks, Oren said that “people don’t have a historic perspective” of the U.S.-Israel relationship. The relationship is the “deepest” America has had with any country since Word War II, given Israel’s place as the only democracy in the Middle East and the countries’ strategic and commercial ties, Oren said—citing $80 billion of American investment in Israel and $55 billion of Israeli investment in America during the past decade.
Nevertheless, as close as the two countries are, Oren explained that they have different cultures and interpret international events differently. While Israelis couldn’t comprehend that Americans likened Arab displays in Tahrir Square, Egypt, to the American Revolution in Lexington and Concord, Americans didn’t understand the steep price Israeli’s were willing to pay for the rights to Gilad Shalit, Oren said.
Both ambassadors spoke about how their Zionist backgrounds influence their current roles, Shapiro saying “it certainly is a way of connecting” and Oren explaining how his connection to Israel “had this miraculous side” because of his awe for living in an era when Jews have a state to call their own.
“I couldn’t believe I had this good luck, and I’d be darned if I wasn’t part of it in some way,” Oren said.
Oren and Shapiro said they shared the dream of a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, with Shapiro identifying “getting real negotiations for peace launched and sustained” a major challenge that lies ahead, in light of the “unfortunate detour” of Palestinian UDI.
Oren called the Israeli summer’s social protests on housing “emblematic of Israel’s democracy” because nobody was killed or injured, and all of the sentiment expressed was “pro-Israel.” Shapiro said the Israeli protests presented a significant “contrast to what was happening elsewhere in the region” during the protests of the Arab Spring.
Asked about “where we will be” next year on key Middle East issues, Oren provided a coy response that drew laughter from the GA crowd.
“I’m a historian, and I have enough problems predicting the past,” he said.
Jacob Kamaras is the Editor-in-Chief of JNS.