Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren yesterday visited the Hill and spoke in Cohen Auditorium on the topic of the U.S.−Israel relationship to an audience of about 200 people.
The lecture was presented by Tufts University and was sponsored by The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, The Office of the Provost and Tufts Hillel.
Oren, an Israeli national who grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Princeton University and Columbia University and has received fellowships from the U.S. Departments of State and Defense and the Canadian and British governments. He has held appointments at Hebrew University, Tel−Aviv University and the Shalem Center in Israel, as well as at Harvard University, Yale University and Georgetown University.
Upon moving to Israel in the 1970s, he served as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces and has been involved with the military in some capacity for most of his 30−year career.
Oren assumed the position of Israeli Ambassador to the United States in July 2009.
Oren discussed the historical roots of the U.S.−Israel relationship and described the influence it has had on the countries’ military, humanitarian and economic cooperation, as well as their shared values on issues such as democratic government, free speech and gay rights.
According to Oren, the American connection to a theoretical State of Israel goes back to the time of the Founding Fathers, when early Americans internalized the narrative of gaining freedom in a promised land. This left its cultural mark in surprising ways, including the Hebrew writing on the emblem of Yale University.
Oren said that there is currently record−high support for the State of Israel in the United States due to the prominence of religion in American society.
“Today, support of Israel in this country … is just about at an all−time high … and much of that support is in fact faith−based,” Oren said.
He highlighted the similarities between the American and Israeli political systems as a reason for the alliance.
“Israel, like the United States, has a representative government, free elections [and] a free press,” Oren said. “In gay rights, we are a leader not just in Middle Eastern terms, but in all terms.”
Oren said that the military alliance between Israel and the United States formed after Israel’s victory in the Six−Day War of 1967, after which the two countries have always voted together in the United Nations General Assembly; shared high−level intelligence, technology and equipment; and conducted joint trainings for special forces soldiers. Oren also mentioned Israeli−American cooperation in humanitarian crises like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the current famine in Somalia.
On the economic front, Oren said that many Israeli companies hire American workers and that Israeli technology is included in many popular devices, including Intel computer processors.
On the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat, Oren said the United States and Israel both agree that Israel has the right and duty to defend itself against threats in the Middle East.
Approximately forty minutes into the lecture, two rows of students stood up from their seats in the center of the auditorium, all wearing red tape across their mouths. They remained standing for about 30 seconds and then exited silently. The students — most of whom belonged to Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — had put up posters around campus that said “Dear Michael Oren, Israeli ‘Independence’ = Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” and “Dear Michael Oren, Apologists for Ethnic Cleansing not welcome at Tufts,” with cartoon images of a Palestinian woman and an Israeli woman, respectively.
A member of SJP who participated in the walkout but wished to remain anonymous said it was an act of “civil disobedience.”
“A major criticism is that we were walking away from dialogue,” the student said. “But Michael Oren is not genuine dialogue, and walking away from him is certainly not equivalent to walking away from genuine dialogue.”
The student added that while SJP endorses the message of the posters that went up around campus, they were not official SJP posters.
Oren spent the last twenty minutes of his lecture fielding questions from the audience on topics including settlements, the two−state solution, Israel’s internal heterogeneity and how to foster a productive dialogue on campus.
“You come to Tufts, you get protesters, it happens,” Oren said in response to a question about campus dialogue. “You get different receptions on different campuses. Sometimes, the students will not walk out. … [Sometimes they] will stay and ask a difficult question. I wish they hadn’t walked out … I wanted to hear and respond to their questions. If it is a civil question, I will respond to it ... There is only one proper answer: That is education … understanding the issues in a deep, historical way.”
Oren chose specifically to come speak at Tufts and a small number of other Boston−area universities, according to Andrew Cohen, the program associate for Taglit−Birthright Engagement at Tufts Hillel.
“This was an amazing opportunity to really have your voice heard,” Cohen said. “The ambassador stood up and said ‘Please ask me trying questions.’ Very rarely does someone of his position just take open questions from the floor. He did that for almost longer than he actually gave a speech. I think that shows that he was really open for dialogue and really wanted to have a conversation about what’s going on.”
“It’s a true honor that he chose Tufts, and I think that shows the caliber of students that go to Tufts,” Cohen added.