BOSTON – Although Israel’s 75th anniversary has dominated news headlines this year, Michael Oren is thinking about a different milestone. The former Israeli ambassador to the United States has published a book envisioning the Jewish state on its centenary: “2048: The Rejuvenated State.”
“I made two vows,” Oren told the Journal over Zoom during a recent visit to Boston. “I would not shy away from any issue, no matter how controversial.” And, he added, “I wanted my readers to engage with the whole idea, animate and facilitate a conversation. If that happens, I will succeed in reaching my goal.”
Published in English, Hebrew, and Arabic versions within the same volume, the book’s chapters address such challenging topics as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ultra-Orthodox, and the US-Israel relationship. There’s even a chapter dealing with judicial reform, an issue pursued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu despite mass protests in Israel and abroad.
To write the book, Oren drew upon his experience as ambassador to the US from 2009 to 2013, during Netanyahu’s second administration as prime minister. As envoy to Washington, Oren met with then-US president Barack Obama, visited American military service academies such as West Point, and addressed student groups on college campuses.
Although he grew up in New Jersey, he noted the Massachusetts roots of his parents – Chelsea for his father, Malden for his mother – along with North Shore connections to other family members in Swampscott and Marblehead. While back in the area, he took time to assist two organizations: United Hatzalah and the Secure Community Network. He made Aliyah in 1979 and served in several conflicts with the Israel Defense Forces.
The book arose out of a conversation between Oren and Netanyahu about a half-decade ago.
“We were lamenting that in Israel, we’re so bogged down by the day-to-day crisis that we don’t get a chance to think about tomorrow, what Israel should look like on its 100th birthday in 2048,” Oren said.
That conversation sparked an idea for a state commission on the subject, but after Netanyahu’s government fell in 2021, the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America at Columbia University took over the project. Today, “Israel 2048: The Second Century” is an Israeli NGO, or non-governmental organization.
“The book is designed to be part of the NGO, to get people to think about our future, particularly young people, both in Israel and the US, the diaspora,” Oren said. “These [are] the young people who are going to inherit the state in 25 years. What form of the state do you want to see?”
Some of Oren’s proposals challenge conventional wisdom – including questioning the extensive military aid Israel receives from the US. He notes that in 2016, he was the only member of Netanyahu’s administration to oppose the $38 billion military aid package from the Obama White House.
“There were a lot of strings to the aid that I opposed,” Oren said. “Also, the opportunity cost. We can’t sell [arms] to who we want to sell. Thirty-eight billion dollars is giving up many more billions in sales.”
He mentioned broader issues within the relationship between the two countries, including an American desire to pull back from the Middle East, and some American politicians calling for less foreign aid.
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Oren made statements that contradict international positions on the occupied territories. Instead of the widely used term “the West Bank,” he referred to the biblical name of the region, Judea and Samaria.
“I say in the book that the land of Israel belongs to the people and the State of Israel,” he said. “The same right I have to live in Jaffa, the same right another Israeli might have to live in Hebron, Beit El, or Eli,” a reference to three locations in the West Bank. A historic city with a current Palestinian majority and two Jewish settlements, Eli is located near the site of a June 20 terror attack that killed four Israelis.
However, Oren’s position on Israel’s borders comes with caveats.
“The fact we have the right does not mean we have to realize that right under every condition,” he said. “It’s not a statement that we should do this in Jenin or do this in Ramallah. There’s another people there.”
In his view, while it is impossible to occupy one’s own land, it is possible to occupy another people. To avoid this second situation, he said, “We should do our best to reach some type of accommodation” with the Palestinians.
Oren highlights the importance of reaching accommodations with other groups as well, including Israeli Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox. He proposed a “new deal” between the Israeli government and Israeli Arabs, in which the former would ramp up efforts to fight discrimination in society and the latter would declare loyalty. He also recommended finding ways to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into wider Israeli society, and to accommodate other denominations of Judaism in the country’s religious fabric.
Although the book addresses numerous pressing issues, the author seeks to maintain a sense of hope for 2048.
Asked what gives him such hope, Oren replied, “Our ability to overcome just about everything. We’ve faced bigger challenges in the past and overcome them.” Θ