Yeah, I know, I recommend a lot of books. But you really must read Ally by Michael Oren, formerly Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., now a member of Israel’s Knesset, and native of New Jersey. He joined me in studio Thursday, and we talked enough to save some for Monday’s show as well. But even a long conversation cannot convey how incredibly central to understanding U.S.-Israeli relations going forward as this historian-turned-diplomat-turned-politician (and future minister?)’s memoir is.
HH: Do not go anywhere for the next hour and a half. We have got an extraordinary treat for you. Dr. Michael Oren, former ambassador of Israel to the United States, now a member of the Knesset, author of the brand new book, Ally: My Journey Across the American Divide, is in studio with me. Dr. Michael Oren, welcome, it’s great to have you on the program.
MO: It is delightful to be here finally to see you face to face here. Usually, I’m sitting in some battlefield and talking to you from 7,000 miles away.
HH: I talked to you in a tank once on the outside of Gaza in 2009, I think.
HH: You were getting ready to do that, and you were the ambassador, and you went with the troops. Welcome, it’s good to have you.
MO: Great to be here.
HH: This is a great book. It is linked at Hughhewitt.com. I want everyone to go and get many copies of it for a bunch of reasons. It’s the most education a non-Jew can get about Israel that I think is in American terms, because you are an American before you were an Israeli. You gave up your passport, obviously. But you’re from New Jersey.
HH: You wore a banana tux to the senior prom like I did. And what did you call that, lamentable?
MO: The lamentable banana tux.
HH: Yeah, well, same years. We should forget the 70s. But you’re a New Jersey kid, and I wanted to divide this into a few parts – your life, and how you got to be ambassador, President Obama, your tenure as the Israeli ambassador, the Iranian regime and your future. But I want to start with the second, the most controversial stuff about Ally. President Obama, you’re very fair to him in this book. I was talking to you off air. I’ve seen some negative coverage of Ally. But you went out of your way to talk about his 2013 visit in which he showered praise and revoked the reason Israel exists is the Holocaust. I mean, you really did go out of your way to be fair.
MO: And why not? It’s a fair book. I set out to write the most honest book I possibly could within the bounds of, keep in mind, we’re dealing with some classified material. This book was vetted by the Mossad. And so what’s there is what I can disclose. But I think that the purpose of the book is to tell and honest, candid story, to bring my reader into the White House, into these discussions, and to show exactly how policy was made, and how mistakes were made. And sometimes, the mistakes are made by Israel’s side. In my particular case, I think that there were decisions made on the side of the White House which had far-reaching ramifications for Israel and the Middle East. We’re seeing it now in the peace, the talks with the nuclear deal around Iran.
HH: Let me tell the audience why this one is better than the other ones. Dr. Oren is a masterful historian, so he knows the art of the narrative description. So for example, when Netanyahu retreats into the Oval Office with Obama, you’re stuck in the Roosevelt Room looking at battle flag ribbons.
HH: And deciding what an Israeli counterpart would be. That’s narrative history. It’s beautifully written.
MO: No, it wouldn’t happen. We wouldn’t have flags that say you know, the Battle of Sanai or the Battle of Jerusalem. But the flags in the Roosevelt room have Iwo Jima, have Gettysburg, right, Okinawa. That would be unthinkable for an Israeli. And Israelis are very…
MO: Why? Because we don’t celebrate our military history in that way. Listen, the entire White House is bedecked, festooned with pictures of the President and his family. I mean, you’ve been in the White House.
HH: Yeah, oh, I worked there, yeah.
MO: If you ever walked into the prime minister’s office and saw pictures of Benjamin Netanyahu all over the place, the Israeli public would riot.
HH: Oh, you’re kidding.
MO: It’s a cult. There would be a personality cult. If they hung battle ribbons on the Israeli flag, it would be militaristic. The best one, what Israelis find most incomprehensible walking into the White House is that its walls are decorated with two motifs – one, Native Americans, and the other is buffalo.
MO: What is that telling you?
HH: Yeah, that’s the kind of detail, though. Also, the Israeli embassy, which I have not been inside of in Washington, D.C….
HH: It doesn’t sound like I’ve missed much.
MO: No, you haven’t. It looks like an early 1970s mall, right?
HH: You brought that across. So it’s wonderfully written, but I want to go back to the President. The most controversial stuff, but you follow that after you introduce people to a 2008 paper called Strategic Leadership: Framework For A 21st Century National Security Strategy by a guy no one in the audience will now – Jim Steinberg. I know who he is…
MO: Later became deputy secretary of State.
HH: And this paper, I’ve never heard it until I read Ally, now I have to go read it, because it makes a little bit of sense out of what’s happened.
MO: And it wasn’t just Jim. It was several people who would soon occupy prominent positions in the foreign policy establishment of Washington. Anne-Marie Slaughter, for example, who became the head of policy planning for the State Department, was also a co-author. And I gave myself a course when I came to Washington in 2009. There was a president who wasn’t well known. Who knew? He hadn’t been involved in public life that much. He’d run in a campaign. But his policies weren’t well known, and his personality wasn’t all that well known, so I sat down and gave myself a course that I called Obama 101, where I read everything he had written, certainly about himself, his interviews, his speeches, tried to get a sense of his policies. And it led me to this paper. Now this paper is, comes out of academia. I’d spent years teaching on American campuses. I knew the ideas that really governed political thinking on these campuses, and there was nothing in this paper that surprised me. But here was the first time where campus ideas moved from the university into the White House. And the Obama administration probably had a higher percentage of professors than any administration since Kennedy. And what are those ideas? First of all, America’s not the world’s policeman anymore. America is going to work with other countries in a sort of collegial way. It’s going to work with international institutions like the U.N., by the way, institutions that are not always so friendly to Israel, a recoiling from military force. This was interesting. The President said something once at a non-proliferation conference in 2010. He said whether we like it or not, America is the world’s leading military superpower. And that was an extraordinary comment. I mean…
HH: Whether we like it or not.
MO: Imagine Kennedy saying that. Imagine Bill Clinton saying that.
HH: Or Ronald Reagan.
MO: Or Ronald Reagan, really.
MO: Certainly, it’s a wonderful window into his looking…
HH: Yeah, it is.
MO: …the way he perceives the world. Now this was my duty as ambassador.
HH: And the paper did not list Israel as a strategic ally?
MO: It did not.
HH: That’s amazing to me.
MO: And the paper also says that there’s only one issue in the world, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, where the United States has to be the leader. That was only one. So that is telling you an awful lot, and the President is coming from Columbia, Harvard, Chicago, from these urban universities where these ideas are the dominant ideas.
HH: And he has friends, although you leave it a little ambiguous. I talked about this with my colleague, Dennis Prager, this morning. I said the only note I made in the Ally manuscript is you said he may have been friends with Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi. Look, we know he was, but you kind of left that ambiguous.
MO: I didn’t, I didn’t want to get involved in the discussion. First, I don’t know what their relations were. There was a lot of, I’m a historian. I’m going to hew to the facts, Hugh.
MO: And no pun intended, but I am. And so I don’t know what the depth of their relationships were. I know there’s a lot of speculation. What I want to do as a historian is look at the text. What has he written? So the President writes a book well before he’s president, in the 1990s. He writes Dreams From My Father.
HH: And very, a window on his soul. I listened to it, by the way. When he reads it, it’s different than…
HH: …when you’re, it’s very interesting to listen to.
MO: I probably should have done that, because I’ve read it so many times, I have this dog-eared copy.
HH: Listen to it sometime, yeah.
MO: And what have I learned from this book? First of all, that he has a cold-blooded side. I describe in my book, in Ally, how as a 7 or 8 year old in Indonesia, he watched his step-father decapitate a chicken. And the blood is spurting up, a very vivid and grisly recounting of this decapitation of the chicken. And as, if I were a kid, if I ever saw this, it would be traumatic for the rest of my life. But the young Barack Obama thinks this is the coolest thing he’s ever seen.
MO: He thinks he’s incredibly lucky.
HH: Useful, you say, dealing with terrorists, this kind of cold-bloodedness, but not necessarily when you’ve got, when you’re on the wrong end of it.
MO: That was my conclusion, and the conclusion I reached in the book. He doesn’t have anything nice to say about America. Now a person who is thinking of someday leading this country, you’d think he’d want to say something positive about America. It has great criticism of America, and that Americans are arrogant and ignorant and capitalist, and there’s a whole string of less than savory terms that he applies to Americans. And he talks at great length about his family connections, about the feeling of loss from his father.
HH: Let me quote the most controversial line in your book. Perhaps to his rejection by not one, but two Muslim fathers, figures, informs his outreach to Islam. That’s the most controversial line in your book.
MO: It’s amazing, and I never would have thought for a second that that was going to be controversial, because later in the book, there is a profile of Benjamin Netanyahu, and I explore his relationship with his father.
MO: And believe me, trust me, if you want to know about who I am, you have to explore my relationship with my father.
HH: Yeah, ditto everyone listening.
MO: And so I think it was a fair question for an ambassador to ask. I think it’s actually a necessary question to ask. What’s going on? People have rather short memories. And 2009 can sound like ancient history. But in the President’s first inaugural address, in his first interview with foreign television, which was with an Arab television station, his first journeys abroad to Turkey and Egypt, in every single one of these forums, he talks about his Muslim family ties. And he portrays himself as someone who’s reaching out from a place of understanding. In the Cairo speech of June, 2009, he says I have known Islam on three continents before encountering it in the land in which it was revealed. And that’s a quote. I’m not making this up. Now if you’re an ambassador trying to understand this president and try to understand how this president’s view of the world is going to impact the state of Israel, and we are a small state in a very terrible neighborhood, that’s your duty. What does that mean when he talks about his Muslim family ties? It wasn’t meant to be incendiary, it wasn’t, I’ve been accused of, I don’t know, all sort of things, cultural stereotyping. Not at all.
HH: That’s why it’s important for people to know Obama fans will find a lot to like in Ally. Obama critics will find some jarring things I don’t really want to read. I don’t want to read how he, the first thing he said upon landing in Afghanistan when Israel is on fire is did Israel get its planes.
MO: It’s the truth.
HH: That’s a, I mean, you tell this story.
HH: And so when we come back from break, Dr. Michael Oren, member of the Knesset, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, will be here.
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HH: Steven Pressfield sat in that chair and we talked about Lion’s Gate. Did you break your headphones?
MO: No, they’re…
HH: I’m going to bill the government of Israel.
MO: They’re not working.
MO: They’re not coming in.
HH: Steven Pressfield was here, and he talked about the Lion’s Gate, one of the most moving books ever. And I said I don’t think I’ll ever get the 1967 war again like I got it here. And I don’t think I’ll ever get Israeli-American relations like I did with Ally, including this insight. Obama, you write, Dr. Oren, admired and idealized Israel, not the Israel of the settlers and their right wing backers, a state that was part of the solution, not the problem, repulsed by the colonialist legacy he encountered in Kenya. He may also have shared the sense of identification felt by some African-Americans, among them, Condoleezza Rice, with the Palestinians.
MO: It was a quote.
HH: That actually, that’s a quote from the President in ’98.
MO: Yeah, his quote from…
HH: That’s actually, it changed how I understood how he might understand Israel. It’s idealized. It’s not real.
MO: Well, he recently said, he was speaking at a synagogue in Washington that the Israel which so inspired him as a young person was the Israel of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan. And that was an Israel that existed 50 years ago. And I think it’s an idealized vision of Israel, because Israel today is in fact much more liberal, much more open, much more democratic than it was before 1967 when it was a very closed society. But that’s the Israel he admired. That is not an Israel that conforms with the reality of Israel today, which is much more complex.
HH: In fact, one of the recommendations you make in Ally is that Israel has to bring non-Jewish Americans to Israel to see that it’s a real country, not a Hollywood set, that it’s full of real debate and real interest groups, and completely confused politics so that Americans stop thinking of it, what, one-dimensionally, two-dimensionally?
MO: Maybe half-dimensionally. We are a normal country caught up in thoroughly abnormal circumstances. I’m in Knesset now. I’ll tell you a quick story. We have a debate in a committee.
HH: Knesset is the congress, is the legislature…
MO: …is the parliament of Israel.
MO: And we had a debate about whether the state of Israel should grant benefits to small industries in the Israeli towns and cities along the Gaza border. Now these cities have been shelled, rocketed, almost without let up for years, last summer in a war. Who would say no? Why wouldn’t we give benefits to the people around Gaza? So various NGOs show up, and said wait a minute, how do you define around Gaza? It turns out the definition is 7 kilometers from the Gaza border. So someone says well, what if I have a factory that’s 7 kilometers and three meters from the Gaza border? Do I get the benefits? I’ve been shelled like everybody else. Someone else says what about people in the north, in the Galilee, which was shelled by Hezbollah from Lebanon. Do we get those benefits? Someone else comes and says hey, what if a man owns a factory near the Gaza border, but lives in Tel Aviv? And it’s a very lively debate, and it’s inspiring, because you’re in the Middle East. But all of a sudden, you stop and think we are having this discussion about a thoroughly abnormal situation in which human beings are under rocket fire for months, if not years. And suddenly, you recall that here we are, this democracy, we’re only a two hour drive from ISIS, two hour drive. The distance from where we’re interviewing now to downtown L.A.
HH: Isn’t it closer? Aren’t they on the Golan Heights?
MO: It’s two hours. Two hours from Jerusalem.
HH: Oh, from Jerusalem.
MO: Two hours.
HH: It’s like one minute from Israel, right, because I drove up on the Golan Heights, and I said that’s it? And I could throw a rock, and I can’t throw.
MO: And I think there are two remarkable things. One is that this debate is happening in a Middle East that is unraveling before our very eyes. And the other remarkable thing is that I’m the only person in that debate who thinks this is remarkable. Everybody else says of course, we’re debating this.
HH: Yeah. Now does the Knesset have rules of engagement like the British Parliament? I mean, do you shout your way to the top of the crowd? How does it work?
MO: Well, you’re allowed to shout. But certainly things, you’re not allowed to say, as in Great Britain, and you have three warnings before you’re escorted out by ushers.
MO: You get a first warning, second warning, third warning. But it’s like the prime minister goes up there and people scream at him. The conventional wisdom, if the chairs weren’t screwed down, they’d be throwing them. There’s lots of histrionics. There are dramatic moments. But it’s fascinating, because almost none of it is personal. People walk outside…
HH: Even all the stuff they throw at Netanyahu in the Israeli press, that’s not personal?
MO: Among Knesset members, you walk out of the Knesset plenary, and everyone’s having coffee.
MO: And it’s, it can be very congenial and very interesting. I mean, we have the, we have Christians in the Knesset, we have Druse.
HH: You have Arabs.
MO: We have Arabs. We have people from across the political perspective. And again, this is not to be taken for granted. This is a little gem of a democracy. We are a part of a very select group, Hugh, of countries that have never known a second of non-democratic governance. Now think about this. It’s Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, never known a second of non-democratic governance. Most countries have lapsed into something less than democracy periodically, particularly if they’re under the pressures of war. So we’re part of this very select crowed that has never known any non-democratic governance, but we are the only member of the select club that has never known a moment of peace, either. So I…
HH: And you’re one of America’s two strategic allies. There’s Great Britain, and there’s Israel, always with us, maybe not in 1956, same capabilities. We have, I don’t count France, because France has got an independent nuclear deterrent that they use, you know, who knows what the French would do? Australia and Japan are good allies, but they’re not like Israel and Great Britain. They’re not on the front lines with us.
MO: I think Israel’s certainly the only country in the Middle East, I don’t know about in the world, but certainly in the Middle East, is the only country where if God forbid American forces, tens of thousands of American service people would have to land within 12 hours, and not just be tolerated, but hailed and billeted and supplied, would be in the state of Israel.
HH: You know what I found surprising in Ally, and we’ll get back to your biography in a second here, is that you go out of your way to give President Obama and his team credit for Iron Dome financing. In fact, you end your book with Iron Dome. Throughout it, you talk about Iron Dome. But I hadn’t quite got that they believed in security, no daylight diplomacy, daylight, it doesn’t make any sense, but you articulate fairly, I don’t know if Ben Rhodes or any of the other people have read Ally, yet. They can’t say you weren’t fair to their representation of their point of view, can they?
MO: I always went out of way to make sure my reader is understanding the way the situation looks from the President’s point of view, from the White House point of view, so they understand the essence of our problem with some of those point of views. The great example would be, again, the Iran nuclear talks. The President has gone on record saying he believes that Iran is a rational country, even though it’s anti-Semitic, it’s rational. It can be a responsible, regional power. It can help work to reconcile Sunnis with Shiites, all of this. It’s not North Korea. The Israeli position? That Iran is profoundly irrational. Sometimes, irrational states can take rational steps to reach insane goals. That’s what Hitler did when he conquered Poland and Czechoslovakia.
HH: And it’s millennialist. It’s end times-driven.
MO: Yeah, they think they’re talking to the, they’re getting instructions from a hidden imam.
HH: Right. In a well, yeah.
MO: They are the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. They’re actively seeking to kill not just Jews and Israelis, but they’re seeking to kill Americans. I talk about a foiled Iranian terrorist plot in Washington, D.C.
HH: To kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador coming from Mexico.
MO: And also blow up our embassy.
MO: This is right in the middle of America’s capital.
MO: So we don’t think they’re rational. We think…
HH: Do you think, are the Quds Forces, in your opinion, and we have a minute to the break, are they acting independently of the Supreme Leader?
MO: No way. No way.
HH: So when Suleimani shows up outside of Tikrit, he’s there because the Supreme Leaders wants it? Who replaces the Supreme Leader when he dies? He’s been alleging dying forever, and you probably know more than I do about this. But who’s number two?
MO: Oh, there’ll be a struggle for power there. But it could be…
HH: Could that go the right way? Is Obama betting on an evolutionary, you know, Mao to Ding Xiaoping kind of thing?
MO: He is, there is this notion of Nixon going to China.
MO: And they’re, in the White House, in that circle, it is certainly not a gamble that Israel can take. We’re not going to get into that game of oh, we’ve got to build up the moderates. There are moderates there. You don’t know. The president, Rouhani, was hand-picked by the Supreme Leader. And you’ve got to assume he was handpicked for a reason.
HH: More coming up with Dr. Michael Oren.
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HH: I want to talk about you. I want to ask, though, about the first Netanyahu trip about which there’s so much, he snubbed Netanyahu. This is where people who think you’re hard on Obama have to go and read the book. You actually credit him with coming back downstairs, which I never heard of before.
HH: You say it’s a working meeting. It didn’t happen. It wasn’t a snub. But they only gave you crackers. I mean, you’re not happy with the crackers.
MO: Not happy with the crackers. No.
HH: But it wasn’t what it was represented to be.
MO: So here was the question. The spin was that the President left us to cool our heels and went up to have dinner with his wife and two daughters. But his wife and two daughters were in fact not in the White House that night. So and yes, we got the crackers, but it was a working meeting that had been set up the day before. It wasn’t a state visit. There were not big photographs. We stayed, we worked until 2 or 3 in the morning. The President came back down at 11:30 at night. Now the next day, I learned that we had been snubbed. It begs the question, and I beg it in the book. Who spun it? Was it an Israeli spin? Was it an American spin? In whose interest was the snub, because as I point out, by the time, the relationship had so far deteriorated that the usual dynamic, when an Israeli prime minister falls afoul of an American president, usually, the prime minister’s popularity goes down. But President Obama had lost the trust of the Israeli people so much that when it appeared that he was snubbing Netanyahu, Netanyahu’s popularity went the other way, went up.
HH: Did your party in Knesset lose seats because of the March speech and the President’s obvious attempt to submarine Netanyahu’s government? You got ten seats, right?
MO: We got ten seats, yes.
HH: What’s the name of your party?
MO: It’s Kulanu. It means the everybody party.
HH: Okay, that’s a nice party.
MO: Yeah, it sounds rather 1969.
HH: Yeah, it sounds PBS’y to me, Sesame Street. But okay, the everybody party has got ten seats. But did Netanyahu prosper because the President was mad at him? Or was it the play that he made at the end against the two state and the alleged racist comment?
MO: It was more to do with probably the comment, and our party, and I was the architect of this, we came out and had a very strong criticism of that comment. And Netanyahu later apologized. It’s interesting, and I also say in the book that I worked with Netanyahu very closely for close to five years, and I never once heard him say, even in half jest…
HH: You say that.
MO: …a prejudicial comment. So it was very much out of character, and I was glad that he did apologize.
HH: Now has the coalition remained at 61? Is it only 61?
MO: Only 61.
HH: And so how can you be out of the country?
MO: Don’t, let’s not talk about this, at least not loud.
HH: Okay. So is there someone going to come and make it a stronger government, because here’s my key question.
HH: Doesn’t it make sense for Israel to turn the table over on these Iranian negotiations, to do something that would stop them from culminating in a path to a nuclear weapon, which is what they’re going to be?
MO: Well, it depends if the agreement is signed. We were talking at the break how I’m not sure about this July 7th deadline. The Iranians have learned since 2009 that the window of diplomacy never closes. It is in fact never a window. It’s actually, it’s a permanent aperture. And the administration has many times said oh, we’re not going to negotiate forever. But they’re always at the table. So what’s the lesson for the Iranians? That the longer you negotiate, the more concessions you get. So July 7th? Why not August 7th? Why not October 3rd? It can keep going on and on. And as long as no one in Washington is saying okay, what’s on the table is on the table, and you’ve got to agree to it or it’s over, or there’s a price to pay. The next deal is going to be a worse deal for you, instead of the next deal is going to be a better deal for you. I’m not a businessman, but to me, this is Business 101. The Iranians are likely not to sign.
HH: And the Iranians negotiated Jimmy Carter until the last minute of his administration, so they might do the same with President Obama. But what about the Israeli interest in turning the table over, doing something, whether it’s a preemptive strike, whether it is assistance of the non-announced allies of Saudi Arabia and Jordan against ISIS? Why don’t they move the agenda?
MO: Well, first of all, not to talk about classified material on nationally syndicated radio.
HH: Not that…good radio.
MO: Radio, very good, but Israel is making its interests heard. This book was supposed to come out in October, and I rather shamelessly pressured my good publishers at Random House to bring it out now in June, and so that this would be part of the discussion so we could get Israel’s point of view across about the Iranian nuclear program and about the whole context of this discussion, which is Israel’s relationship with the United States during the Obama years. Israel will always reserve, Hugh, always reserve, as a sovereign state, as a sovereign state with a particular tragic history, the Holocaust, we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves. We have the right, we have the duty, we have the capability. We don’t have America’s capability. We don’t have B-2 bombers, we don’t have aircraft carriers, but we have an army that’s more than twice as large as the British and French armies combined.
HH: If the rifles don’t fall apart in your hands.
HH: You write about the 2006 war with Lebanon when you were deployed into the warzone and your rifle fell apart. 40 seconds to the break, is that fixed?
MO: It is very fixed. And look, I made it.
HH: Well, you made it, but it was a stunning description of the 2006 war. Nothing worked. You say in the book, Israel will never be in that position again.
HH: How did it, well, that’s for after the break. All right, I don’t understand that. The New Jersey kid who became Israel’s ambassador to the United States and a member of the Knesset, some people say a future prime minister is in my studio. We’ll come back and talk with Michael Oren. His book, Ally, is linked over at Hughhewitt.com.
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HH: That’s of course, The Boss, and Bruce Springsteen is singing because the ambassador grew up going to see…
MO: Going down to Asbury Park to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
HH: You see, I find that amazing.
MO: At the Stone Pony.
HH: But you would also go into Manhattan and beg the kibbutz representatives to let you go as a 14 year old to Israel.
MO: I did, and I was well below the minimal age, but I wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so I went off to Israel when I was basically in junior high school, and became, I worked in the fields, I was a cowboy. I learned to ride horses and gather up cattle.
HH: It’s a remarkable story, because you say on Page 6, “Because Israel was young and righteous and heroic, I fell in love with it. I had a keen sense of history and awareness that I was not a lone Jew living in the late 1960s America, but part of a global Jewish collective stretching back millennia. I fell in love with Israel because I was grateful, but also because I was angry. The only Jewish kid on the block, I rarely made it off the school bus without being ambushed by Jew-baiting bullies.” Your front door was smeared with anti-Semitic…
MO: Yeah, and my synagogue was bombed.
HH: That’s, oh…
MO: That’s a big one.
HH: That is a big one. And so I actually don’t, you’re nine months older than me. I don’t remember this. I don’t remember anti-Semitism.
MO: Read the paper. It depends on where you grew up. My wife grew up in San Francisco. She never once encountered anti-Semitism. When I heard that, I was stunned, because anti-Semitism was a feature of life for us in where I grew up. I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood. I was the only Jewish kid in that neighborhood, and it could be rough. I learned to fight. I still have little scars on my knuckles from various teeth that came into contact with my knuckles, because I had to learn to defend myself.
HH: When you went into the Israel Defense Forces, though, you were so poor, this will, I will never forget this image. You washed your clothes while you took a bath. You collected leftover socks from Bivouacs.
MO: That’s so true.
HH: Nobody in Israel, I mean, it’s good writing, but it’s, the image of your socks in the bathtub, I don’t like it so much.
MO: It’s so true. I was what’s called a lone soldier. The Israeli army is completely different than the American army. I also say in the book that my father was a career soldier. He landed on Normandy Beach. He fought all through World War II. He was in the Korean campaign as well. He’s 90 years old, still going to his reunion. He’s amazing.
HH: Oh, God bless him. Where is he, in New Jersey?
MO: He’s in the same house I grew up, the same house I grew up, and he was just honored with Colin Powell and General Dempsey at the annual Memorial Day ceremony in Washington, D.C.
HH: Oh, God bless him. What’s his first name?
MO: His name is Lester.
MO: And he’s a hero. The guy, you know, you can look him on the military channel. He stopped a German tank at ten yards at the first day of the Battle of the Bulge with a bazooka. He’s a tough guy, and still tough, and playing tennis every day. But I moved to Israel. I went into the paratroopers. By the way, he wasn’t very happy about that.
HH: I was going, it’s one of my questions. What did they think about this?
MO: My mother, they thought I was crazy. You know, I just grew up with a sense I knew I was going to do this, and I had to volunteer to try out for the paratroopers. The tryouts put me in the hospital for a week, and I was an athlete. I had trained for years for this. I’d run marathons. I have rowed on the crew.
HH: You’re still rowing, right?
MO: I’m still rowing. I have a scull.
MO: But I was in great shape. Just the tryouts broke me, completely physically. And then you go into 17 months of basic training, and I figured around the tenth day, all that training, that’s about as far as it was going to get me, that tenth day, so it was very tough. But it was also, this is the 1970s. This is an army that doesn’t have a lot of food, doesn’t have a lot of clothing. It’s cold. They don’t do your laundry. You go home on the weekend. If you don’t have parents to do your laundry, you’ve got to do your laundry yourself. There’s no central heating. To get heating, you have to line up with two Jerry cans at a gas station and fill them up with kerosene to come home and light a stove. And if you come home from the paratroopers and you haven’t been to sleep in four or five days, and you’re beat up in a way that you can’t walk, honestly, you can’t walk, who’s going to cook for you? Who’s going to wash your clothes? Who’s going to wash you? And especially since there’s not enough hot water to do both. And so I talk about…
HH: This is amazing.
MO: …taking a bath in my uniform and sort of like swishing around to get the suds going, and then hanging them up.
HH: So when you met Sally Edelstein on the road of the profits or whatever it is in Jerusalem, did you smell bad? How did she, how did you get…
MO: Yeah, I had a bad haircut. I had a military haircut at that point. No, the funny story is that you know, because my father was in the military, I knew in the American military, you go to a base and they give you military socks, military underwear, military T-shirts. I showed up at my induction wearing socks and underwear, but not having any extras. And it turns out in Israel, the army doesn’t provide that.
HH: They don’t do it.
MO: So here I am stuck on this base for three or four weeks without socks, without underwear, and I learned, as you were intimating very quickly, that if you’re living in tents, we always lived in Bivouacs, and when they moved the Bivouac, under the tent, there’s always a lot of socks and underwear lying around. Pick them up with a stick, put them in a plastic bag, bring them home, boil them in a big pot so that by the time I get out of the army, I have 40 pairs of socks. And some of them, I still have to this day.
HH: You have three children. I assume they all served in the IDF.
MO: They did.
HH: And is it different as a, you were a paratrooper. You saw combat in Lebanon and in Gaza and in the West Bank. Is it different as a parent of a soldier than being a soldier?
MO: Yes. You know, if you’re young, you think you’re immortal, nothing’s going to happen to you. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t terrified in war. I was terrified in war, but not as terrified as when my kids went to war. My daughter was in the second Lebanon war, and my son, both my sons were in Special Forces, and one of them was going on operations every night against Hamas. And I simply, Hugh, I didn’t sleep. I used to walk around the neighborhood all night long, and I finally, finally, he was shot and wounded at close range. It’s described in the book what it is to walk into emergency room and see your son’s…
HH: Which one is this?
MO: This is Yoav, my oldest son.
HH: Okay, Yoav.
MO: And to see your son’s uniform full of bullet holes bloody on the floor, and I saw, I spoke to the doctor. Though he was shot at close range by a Hamas commander, by the way, who was using his own kids as human shields, and had blown up two buses the previous day, sent suicide bombers into Israel, when the doctor told me it wasn’t life threatening, that he was going to be okay, I went home, and for the first night, I slept.
HH: Now is this the same son that said to you, Abba, I buried more people that I’ve been to bar mitvahs?
MO: Yes, because he, you know, my Israeli journey was not an easy journey by any means, and in addition to being in war, my sister-in-law, Sally’s sister, was killed by a suicide bomber.
MO: And I discuss what that trauma is like. I had to identify her, too. I figured I had been in enough wars, I knew what these things looked like. And I didn’t want anybody else to have that trauma. It’s bad enough that I had it. But starting in the 1990s, the suicide bombers came, and many of them hit in downtown Jerusalem where our kids were in school. And my eldest son, Yoav, kept on going to funerals. And at some point, he said to me Abba, I’ve been to more of my friend’s funerals than I’ve been to bar mitzvahs. And that was quite a line.
HH: Do they, 30 seconds, do they long for New Jersey?
MO: Not at all.
HH: Has any one of them ever said…
MO: Not at all. They said to me the opposite. Sometimes, we’ve said to them, have we done something terrible by raising you here? They said to me unequivocally, mom, dad, raising us in Israel was the single best thing you could have done for this.
HH: This is a taste of Ally, Michael Oren’s brand new book. It’s in bookstores everywhere. It’s riveting, especially if you’re like me. If you’ve got no ties, well, my kids are one-eighth Jewish, but that doesn’t count. If you have no ties to Israel and you want to understand Israel, go get Ally, all right?
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HH: Ambassador Oren, you made an important point in this book. In his first speech in Cairo, President Obama talked about the Holocaust being the reason that Israel existed. He amended that in 2013 when he made his visit to Israel. Talk to the audience why that was such a significant change, and why it was such an amazing error when he said what he said in Cairo.
MO: Okay, to understand that, Hugh, you’ve got to go back, believe it or not, to February, 1945. The meeting between Franklin Roosevelt and Ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi dynasty, on an American destroyer in the Suez Canal, and Roosevelt says to Ibn Saud, why don’t you accept these Zionist Jews? Why can’t they have a state? And Ibn Saud says to Roosevelt, a bunch of Europeans killed a bunch of European Jews. And now you want to dump those survivors in our backyard and we have to live with them. We had nothing to do with the Holocaust. That, basing Israel’s justification, its legitimacy on the Holocaust is the Arab narrative. Our narrative, the Israeli Zionist narrative?
HH: Is the tunnel next to the Temple.
MO: Is three thousand years we’ve been here.
MO: Three thousand years. It’s not because of the Holocaust.
HH: Right. It’s your land.
MO: And actually, it’s the other way around. If there had been a Jewish state, the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened, and there would have been a place for Jews to go to. So it’s just the opposite. When the President goes to Cairo and embraces, makes the Arab narrative the American narrative, think about what it does to the peace process. Why do Arabs want to make peace with an alien, non-legitimate state? Why? Now I think eventually, the President understood that this was a problem, and he began to walk it back. He began to walk it back already in November, 2011, in his speech to the General Assembly at the U.N. He began to talk about the three thousand year Jewish connection to the land of Israel. And by the time he came in the beginning of 2013 to Israel, it was not only in every speech, it was in every gesture. He went to the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written by Jews…
HH: He said he was moved by that.
MO: And I think he was. I mean, you’re looking at the oldest Bible known to humanity. It was written by Jews two thousand years ago, not because of the Holocaust. He went to lay a wreath on the tomb of Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionist movement, who wrote the Jewish State forty years before the Holocaust. So that was significant. By the way, there were certain foreign leaders who wouldn’t lay a wreath on the tomb of Theodore Herzl. So he walked it back. It was very important. It not just does justice, it actually helped, it contributed, if Abu Mazen had been willing to negotiate, it would have contributed to the peace process.
HH: Abu Mazen, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
HH: Also, when we come back from break, we’re going to have Chuck Todd. We’ll talk about the American media. But Ally is the first time I’ve actually kind of understood what the settlement is about. I did not know about the Bush letter to Sharon, and I’m supposed to know this stuff, right? I’m supposed to know…
MO: Hey, it’s a little bit inside ball.
HH: But it’s real important.
MO: It’s inside ball…
HH: …that he repudiated the understanding on the settlements when he started.
MO: More important that he repudiated a previous presidential commitment.
HH: Yeah, and when we come back, Chuck Todd will join us from NBC’s Meet The Press. We’ll find out if he’s worried. We’ll play the Mike Pompeo thing. Ambassador Oren will be at the Nixon Library tonight. He’s staying with me for half of the next hour. Go get the book, Ally. Stand for understanding Israel, even if you don’t want to stand on their side. Go get the book, Ally, and understand it first person. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com.
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HH: In studio with me is Dr. Michael Oren, and joining me from Washington, D.C. is Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press. He’s normally on Friday, but of course, we’re not working tomorrow. Chuck Todd, are you working this weekend? Or are you taking the 4th of July off?
CT: Yes, I’m working this weekend. In fact, tomorrow, that’s actually when I’ve got Ted Cruz for Sunday, but I’m actually doing the interview tomorrow in Atlanta. So I’m a working man, and I’m working Saturday, too. You know, that’s the American way.
HH: Have you had a chance to read, have you read Dr. Oren’s book. You’re in Ally. I don’t know if you know that, Chuck.
CT: You know, I haven’t, yet. I’ve read a lot of the different back and forths that have taken place with various, I’m guessing, former friends now of Ambassador Oren.
MO: Well, there are some friends out there. There actually are. But you are in the book, Chuck. You asked a question to President Obama during his early 2013 visit to Israel. You asked four questions.
MO: And when Prime Minister Netanyahu said wait a minute, you only get one, you said hey, it’s Passover, I get four.
CT: Yeah, no, it was, I have to say it was the, you know how you usually never have your retort? And to have one ready, at the ready when you’re standing there with the President and the Prime Minister, it was, you know, it was probably one of my most memorable moments as a White House correspondent.
MO: Do you remember what he said to you after you said that?
CT: Yeah, he said don’t be a hog. But that’s not too kosher, I think.
MO: Yeah, he said this is not going to sound too kosher, but don’t hog it, he said.
CT: Yes, that’s what it was. No, it was pretty good. But hey, look, it was all about getting a follow up on Iran.
HH: Yeah, before we go into the air of good feelings here between a journalist and an ambassador, I want to play for both of you Congressman Mike Pompeo of the House Intelligence Committee on this show yesterday, my question and his answer.
HH: Are you worried about this 4th of July, the safety of Americans, in a way that you are ordinarily not worried, because you’re always concerned, obviously. But is there a heightened sense about the 4th?
MP: There is, Hugh. There is no doubt that there has been threat stream indicators suggesting that ISIS and some of their affiliates are focused on that day, and so I know our law enforcement people have known about this for a while, and they, too, are very, very focused on pushing back. They’ve already done some really good work, and I’m confident that they’ll continue to do so. It is the case that some radical Islamists intend to focus on this day, and we’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that we have a safe and wonderful 4th of July.
HH: Is there a geographic precision to that threat stream indicator?
MP: Not very much.
HH: So Chuck Todd, you mentioned this to me last week. What’s your sense of quivering antenna for D.C., New York and other major urban centers?
CT: It’s very, you know, it’s funny, I have not felt this way talking to Washington people and talking to New York people, I’ve been in both cities this week, I have not felt this kind of trepidation since sort of in the first couple of anniversaries after 9/11, where there were just sort of instinctual trepidations about them coming up in both cities for obvious reasons. And you know, it’s one of those, I think the Navy Yard incident is an example where I think Washington and New York are a bit on edge. And I think that you know, perhaps that’s going to be a good thing for law enforcement, but I think they’re on edge. And you saw, that’s why the response, some may look back on it and say boy, that response was overdone. But I think when you combine the concern about the 4th, and remember, here’s what nobody will tell, will really is comfortable saying, Hugh, there’s nothing they can really do about it to prevent these inspirational attacks, these inspired attacks, because they’re lone wolves.
HH: Dr. Michael Oren, what do you make of that assessment, that there’s nothing they can really do, because Israel had to deal with this for a long time, right?
MO: We do.
HH: In your book, you talk about the suicide bombers.
MO: And we were able to prevail over the suicide bombers at a time when even some members of the general staff were doubtful whether we could. We did it through a close cooperation between security forces, intelligence and Special Forces. And again, you can’t, the lone wolf is always a difficulty. But keep in mind, generally, there’s no going home for the Middle East. We’re a little bit older than Chuck. We remember the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975. You push a couple of helicopters over the side and you go home. There’s no going home from the Middle East. You can pull out your troops from Iraq, you can pull out your troops from Afghanistan. The Middle East is going to come to you. It’s coming to a neighborhood near you. And you always must be vigilant. It’s not going to stop.
HH: Chuck Todd, we were talking last hour about the Iranian negotiations. The big story of the week, probably for history’s sake if not for Meet the Press or Hugh Hewitt Show, is that we did not, we passed another deadline that was not a deadline in Switzerland, and John Kerry’s still there on crutches, and it looks to me, I know it doesn’t look to you like this, or you can’t say what it looks to you like, it looks to me like capitulation by the Americans again.
CT: Well, I mean, look, I can’t say. We don’t know until we see the deal. I can tell you this. You know, Sunday may be a big news day. Andrea Mitchell, as you know, is there. She’s been there all week covering this. She thinks if there is a deal, it happens this weekend. If it doesn’t happen this weekend, then I think the odds are much higher that maybe Kerry will walk away, and maybe there is, or a pause, or something where there’s an admittance that they can’t get something done. But I think that according to Andrea’s reporting, and like I said, this could end up being my lead, we’re preparing two different leads for Sunday morning, to be honest with you, but this could end up being the lead on Sunday morning if they are as close, because there is that sense they’ve got to get it done now in the next 24-36 hours. The longer it gets to July 9th, the harder it will be to get a deal.
HH: Dr. Oren, you have a different take.
MO: Yeah, I’m unconvinced, Chuck, that the Iranians will not try to drag it out ever further, because the message that they have internalized since 2009 is the longer they remain at the table, the more concessions they make, that the administration has said repeatedly that the window for opportunity will not remain indefinitely open, but it’s never really closed. I’m not sure it’s a window. And the Iranians have taken notice of that. They also may conclude that they’re getting so many benefits from the negotiations, for example, they’ve had their, they’ve gained legitimacy for their nuclear program. Beyond that, they’ve gained recognition of their right to enrich uranium, which is not in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. They have gotten recognition for their aspirations, their regional aspirations. All of this so far without paying any price. Why would they want to start paying a price? Because of sanction relief, but maybe they’re banking on the fact that the sanctions will begin to unravel.
HH: Chuck Todd, the President also announced this week that he said they’re going to walk away unless they get tight monitoring. It used to be anytime, anywhere inspections. That’s been degraded to tight monitoring. Is that a story, or is that Hugh Hewitt making too much of a change in diplomatic speak?
CT: No, you know, I don’t know, yet, because I think, look, some of this could be diplomatic speak as a way of just selling, the Iranians want it sold a certain way, and it is going to be inspections at any time. But if it’s not inspections at any time, then this thing, you know, this deal isn’t going to clear the Senate, and it’s just not going to happen. But look, Ambassador Oren brings up something that I think is sort of the hardest part of this negotiation, and that is I don’t think the sanctions will stay in place. I think the international sanctions unravel regardless of what happens here, and I think that’s why it appears the United States seems to be…and I think that’s what the Iranians think, and I think that’s why they think, and I think some in the United States agree…
MO: I agree.
CT: …which is why it looks like they’re caving.
MO: I agree.
HH: But the United States, Carly Fiorina told me this week that the United States has the independent ability, independent of the other people at the table, to impose financial hardship via the banking system. Ambassador Oren, do you agree with that?
MO: That’s true, and I think that even the Russians and the Chinese are going to be loathed to detach or to give preference to doing business with Iran over losing a $17 trillion dollar American market. But having said that, maybe the Iranians feel they can get some of the sanctions to unravel, and that they can live with that. And given what they have gained already in these negotiations, that’s a successful deal for them.
HH: Chuck, you’ve got Ted Cruz on. He was on yesterday talking about his new book, A Time For Truth. The Ambassador’s is Ally. But he is a huge critic of this deal, and I think the Republicans will punish, I do think you’re right. If they do anything other than anytime, anywhere, they may get enough Democrat votes to defeat this. Have you talked to…
CT: Did you see, can I just tell you the biggest, you know, Jim Webb announces his presidential candidacy today, and he did it in a press release.
CT: Lost, and don’t miss, to me, he made news in it. He was critical of the Iranian deal.
HH: I missed that.
CT: He basically said, I know, a lot of people did, because nobody’s really paying much attention to Jim Webb for president. But this is a, I think he speaks for a lot of the foreign policy Democrats, right? He always was sort of in line with that sort of, and Ambassador Oren knows those guys really well – Tim Kaine, Chuck Schumer, and sort of the internationalist wing of the Democratic Party that’s a little more hawkish.
CT: And you know, I’ll tell you, I think this thing has an uphill battle in the Senate.
HH: Ambassador Oren, last word?
MO: I agree. Listen, I have to give the Israeli perspective. And what everyone here is very focused on intrusive inspections. We are focused on behavior. The fact that there is no condition that says there’s going to be no deal unless Iran changes its behavior, unless it ceases to support terror globally, unless it ceases to try to overthrow pro-Western governments, pro-American governments in the Middle East, unless it stops threatening to destroy America’s most important ally in the Middle East, which is Israel, there’s no deal. We wanted a condition on behavior. And that’s not there.
HH: Chuck Todd, we’ll be watching on Sunday with Ted Cruz and who knows what else. I hope it is a quiet Sunday in Washington, D.C. for Meet the Press.
HH: And have a great 4th of July, Chuck. Thanks for joining us a day early.
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HH: You write in the book before you were elected, Congressman John Lewis did not attend the Netanyahu speech.
HH: It hurt you, because he’s a hero of yours. So I said oh, he’s a liberal Democrat. He grew up a liberal Democrat, because John Lewis is a hero of everyone who likes the civil rights movement, but he is a hard-core liberal. And so would that, if you were an American politician, would you be a Democrat?
MO: I don’t know if the Democratic Party exists that I would belong to.
HH: Scoop Jackson.
MO: Scoop Jackson, you know, blue dog Scoop Jackson.
HH: People don’t know that you worked in the Soviet Union, that you worked with the Refuseniks, that you put yourself in…
MO: I worked against the Soviet Union. Let’s, I’m not that liberal.
HH: Yeah, you worked in there. I mean, you were living there. I mean, you were actually in the old Soviet Union.
MO: Yeah, and I was arrested many times by the KGB and interrogated at length.
HH: That’s amazing.
MO: You don’t want to go through that.
MO: You do not.
HH: You never went to Lubyanka. Did you go to Lubyanka? They never took you to Lubyanka.
MO: No, I went to deep down Ukraine. You don’t want to go. It was rough.
MO: And everybody I worked with were the total heroes. The great story, here I’m in Knesset, my first act as a member of Knesset is to vote for the speaker of the Knesset. And the first person I vote for was my first contact in Russia, a young man then named Yuli Edelstein, who is now the speaker at the Knesset. It’s very moving.
HH: And there’s also a lot of Natan Sharansky in this book, and it’s very interesting that he quit politics and all that. But tell me where is Israel going. Where is your party going? What do you see in the next, no one can predict the long term, but you say, “At best, we are in May, 1967. At worst, it’s May, 1948.” You have to explain that for the Steelers fans and where do you think we’re going.
HH: Well, let’s see. Where was Israel in May, ’67? Israel was surrounded by Arab armies, the economy was terrible, we had no allies. We had one ally. It was the French, and they switched sides. This was before the United States was Israel’s strategic ally. 1948, there were 600,000 Israelis armed with handguns, we have six Arab countries invading us, no economy, no allies. So why is it best and why is it worst? Today, Israel looks around its region, and we are facing 100,000 rockets in the hands of Hezbollah. That’s more rockets than NATO had, Hugh. We have an Iran that is rapidly is entering a field of military nuclear capabilities. We have ISIS all around us with Hamas in Gaza. We’ve got the Palestinian Authority trying to portray us as war criminals and sanction us through the U.N. I mean, the prime minister wakes up in the morning and it’s like, this is what he’s got on his plate. That’s if he actually goes to sleep at night. So that is quite overwhelming for any leader. It’s overwhelming for any people. But there’s the other side of that. We’re not just in ’67 or May, ’48. Israel today is not just a success story, it’s a super success story by just about any international parameter. We have a successful universal health care, we’ve got a great citizens’ army, we have, we are the world’s leader in innovation, high tech, about 200 American companies have their R&D centers in Israel. You know, Apple here in California has never had an R&D center outside of the state of California. It’s now opening its third center in Israel with a thousand engineers. So in many ways, we’re off the charts. You go there, the food’s great, it’s a wonderful place to vacation. You’d never know that you were a two hour drive from ISIS.
HH: Until Hamas throws some rocket at your cruise ship and you have to scoot out of Ashdod and head away from where…
MO: Like you did, or when I was writing my book…
MO: …every once in a while, I had to run for a bomb shelter.
HH: You ended your book talking about Iron Dome, and the night that you were going to the mass bar mitzvah, and Iron Dome, it’s a great metaphor, actually, for American and Israeli relations. You’re able to carry on with that. But I’ve got to ask you before you run. Do you want to be a minister? Do you want to be prime minister, because people look at Israel right now, and they say after Netanyahu, who? I mean, I’ve always known who it was going to be if after, you know, there’s Ehud Barak, there’s Netanyahu, there are these warriors, etc. But I don’t know anyone on the bench. Do you want to be a minister?
MO: Well, I’m on the bench.
HH: You’re on the bench.
MO: My whole life, and I don’t want to sound mawkish here, my whole life has been about service. Ever since I was a kid, ever since I went off to volunteer on a farm, I volunteered for the army. I volunteered for the paratroopers within the army. I volunteered to go to the Soviet Union. I gave up, you know, five years of my life to serve my country in Washington in a very hard situation. You don’t get rich doing that. You don’t have a vacation. I didn’t have one vacation, not a lot of sleep. And when I came back to Israel, now this is the beginning of 2014, where do I serve? How do I go on serving my country? It’s what I believe in. And there are people like us in the world. I used to meet them at the White House sometimes. I used to meet them in Congress sometimes, people who give their life to service. It’s not an easy life, but it’s an infinitely rewarding life. And as my country continues to call me, I will be there. And I mentioned my dad who was a veteran. He was one of four brothers, all of whom served in World War II. I guess I come from a family of service, too.
HH: And so you have three kids who have served.
MO: And three kids who are veterans.
HH: And what does Mrs. Oren think about this? Does she want you to take a vacation ever?
MO: You know something? I thought I married the only woman on the planet who just makes no demands of me in that way. Whatever rough course we were going to take, she was going to be with me. She would have been very good in sort of the, in 19th Century Texas on the frontier.
HH: How can people make Ally a success? What do you want people to do to help you, because a lot of people in my audience, and they should go buy the book, etc., but you’re going to go back to Israel. How do they help an author who’s in Israel?
MO: Well, I can always interview from Israel. I’ve interviewed with you from Israel. But what I would ask your listeners, read the book. Do not read everything that’s been written about the book, because a lot of people are trying to delegitimize what’s in the book by attacking me, saying things that aren’t in the book. Make sure the book gets into the hands of people who make decisions around you, people in the press, people in your local government, state government, because this is an urgent book. There’s a reason why I brought it out now. As a matter of fact, it’s probably the closest turnaround that Random House ever had. They usually have a year to prepare a book. I gave them six weeks. And it wasn’t easy. No sleep.
HH: Wow. I’m an author. Galleys, corrections, edits…
MO: Oh, no, notice that there were really no galley for this. And it went right into print, because as you heard Chuck Todd, they could have an agreement by Sunday, in which case we’re going to be into a very deep debate whether this is a good deal, a bad deal. If you want to know the background to it, what happened behind closed doors in the White House, in the State Department, in Israel, it’s in the book.
HH: Last question, we have two and a half minutes. President is in this book a lot. You’re very fair to him. You’re critical, you’re also appreciative. The fire thing that, in fact, tell the fire story.
MO: It’s a great story. December of 2010, I was going into the Chanukah party at the White House, which is always very funny, because the White House is already decorated with Christmas decorations, but there are a lot of religious Jews having latkes between the mistletoe, and it’s rather surreal. But as I’m going in, I got a call from Prime Minister Netanyahu using a voice I’ve never heard, very panicked. There’s a huge forest fire in the Carmel Range. It’s our largest forest. It has already consumed 26 people, 5 million trees. It’s descending on Haifa. We have no more retardant, the stuff you use to put out fires. We have no more planes to extinguish it. Go in and ask the President for help. And I said Mr. President, you don’t know him, I’m right across the street from the White House. I go in. I go into the White House, I run into Susan Sher, who is the First Lady’s Chief of Staff. Now you’ve made fun of New Jersey before, but she happened to have gone to my high school in New Jersey, and her father played tennis with my father. And I said Susan, I need to see the President right away. We went into the President, and I said Mr. President, Israel needs you, this is the situation. President Obama turned to Reggie Love, his right hand person…
HH: His personal body man.
MO: And he says get the Ambassador everything Israel wants. And that night, we set up an emergency station in the NSC, in the West Wing. We stayed there all night. The President flew off to Afghanistan right after the Chanukah party. The first phone call he made when he landed in Afghanistan was did Israel get its planes. And Israel got eight of the 11 firefighting planes that the United States uses. We got retardant from the warehouses of the U.S. Army in Europe, and we got hotspotters. You know what hotspotters are? These guys who parachute behind lines, behind the fires, and fight. They left Idaho that night by way of Newark and arrived in time to fight the fire. So yes, we had deep divides, and this book is about the divides between Israel and the United States. I in no way try to minimize those divides. I mean, those divides go to our direct security. But sometimes when we really needed the United States, allies, true allies.
HH: Ally is the brand new book. Go and get it. If you’re anywhere near close to the Nixon Library, drive down to Yorba Linda from the Inland Empire. Come over, come up from San Diego. He’s speaking tonight at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. Dr. Michael Oren will be signing Ally. It’s available at Hughhewitt.com.
End of interview.