Michael Oren

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Michael Oren
Michael Oren official portrait.jpg
Oren in August 2010
Israeli Ambassador to the United States
In office
July 20, 2009 – September 30, 2013
Preceded by Sallai Meridor
Succeeded by Ron Dermer
Personal details
Born Michael Scott Bornstein
New York, U.S.
Citizenship Israeli (1979-present)[1]
American (1955-2009)
Spouse(s) Sally Edelstein (m. 1982; 3 children)
Alma mater Columbia University
Princeton University
Religion Judaism
Military service
Allegiance State of Israel
Service/branch Badge of the Israel Defence Forces.svg Israel Defence Forces
Michael Oren
Year of aliyah 1979
Knessets 20
Faction represented in Knesset
2015– Kulanu

Michael B. Oren (Hebrew: מיכאל אורן; born Michael Scott Bornstein; 1955) is an American-born Israeli historian, author, and a former Israeli Ambassador to the United States.[2] He has written books, articles, and essays on Middle Eastern history, and is the author of the New York Times best-selling Power, Faith and Fantasy and Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, which won the Los Angeles Times History Book of the Year Award and the National Jewish Book Award. Oren has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown universities in the United States and at Tel Aviv and Hebrew universities in Israel. He was a Distinguished Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and a contributing editor to The New Republic. The Forward named Oren one of the five most influential American Jews and The Jerusalem Post listed him as one of the world’s ten most influential Jews.

He retired as Ambassador to the United States in 2013, replaced by Ron Dermer.[3] In the 2015 Israeli election, Oren was elected to the Knesset as a representative of the Kulanu party.[4]

Early life[edit]

Oren was born Michael Scott Bornstein in upstate New York, the son of Marilyn (née Goldstein), a marriage and family therapist, and Lester Milton Bornstein, a hospital director.[5][6] His father was an officer in the U.S. Army who took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and participated in the Korean War.[7] Oren grew up in West Orange, New Jersey, in a Conservative Jewish household, where he attended West Orange Mountain High School.[5][8] As the only Jewish boy in a heavily Catholic neighborhood, he says he experienced antisemitism. In his youth, he was an activist in Zionist and Jewish youth groups such as United Synagogue Youth. A meeting with then-Israeli ambassador to the United States, Yitzhak Rabin, strengthened Oren’s decision to move to Israel.[9] He won two gold medals at the 1977 Maccabiah Games in rowing, a sport in which he is still active.[10] At age 15, he made his first trip to Israel with youth movement Habonim Dror, working on Kibbutz Gan Shmuel.[7] In 1973, Oren won first prize in the PBS National Young Filmmaker’s contest for the film, Comrades in Arms, which he wrote and directed. In the summer of 1976, he worked as gofer for Orson Welles.

In 1977, Oren completed his undergraduate degree from Columbia College. He continued his studies at Columbia, receiving a Masters in International Affairs in 1978 from the School of International and Public Affairs, where he was an International Fellow and a DACOR Fellow.[11] After college, he spent a year as an adviser to the Israeli delegation to the United Nations.[7] In 1979, Oren emigrated to Israel.[12] A few years later, Oren returned to the United States to continue his education, studying at Princeton University. In 1986, he earned an MA and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton.[13]

In 1982, he married Sally Edelstein, who had been born in San Francisco and had immigrated to Israel in 1981. They have three children.[14][15] In a popular article by Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic profiled Sally's acquaintance with rock stars Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane, which wrote two songs about her in the 1960s.[16]

Military service[edit]

In 1979, Oren began his military service in the Israel Defense Forces. He served as a paratrooper in the 1982 Lebanon War.[17] His unit was caught in a Syrian ambush on the second day of the war. His commander was killed and nearly everyone was wounded. He then joined a unit stationed in Sidon. A day after his wedding, in the summer of 1982, Oren returned to Beirut.[7]

Following his regular military service, Oren volunteered to work with the Zionist underground in the Soviet Union. Sent to make contact with Zionist groups in Ukraine, he was repeatedly arrested by the KGB.[18]

During the Persian Gulf War he was Israeli liaison officer to the U.S. Sixth Fleet.[17] He was called up for reserve duty for the 2005 Gaza disengagement, and participated in the evacuation of settlements.[19] He served as an officer in the IDF Spokesman's Office during the 2006 Lebanon War.[17] and the 2008-2009 Gaza War.[20]

In February 2009, he delivered a lecture at Georgetown University on “The Gaza Operation: A Personal and Historical Perspective”.[21] The Today Show broadcast a special segment, “The Oren Family at War.”[22]

Academic career[edit]

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Oren taught at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University.[17] In 1995, during the government of Yitzhak Rabin, Oren served as an advisor in inter-religious affairs at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.[17]

In 2006, Oren was a visiting professor at both Harvard University and Yale University, returning to Yale in 2007. Beginning in 2008, he became a visiting professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service for the 2008–09 academic year as part of the faculty associated with the Program for Jewish Civilization.[23][24]

President George W. Bush appointed Oren to serve on the honorary delegation to accompany him to Jerusalem for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel in May 2008.[25]


On May 3, 2009, Oren was appointed as ambassador of Israel to the United States by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, succeeding Sallai Meridor. Ambassador Oren had to give up his United States citizenship in order to assume this post.[26]

Oren strongly condemned the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict report, which determined Israel was guilty of possible war crimes. In an October 2009 op-ed in The New Republic, he stated, "The Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves."[27]

In October 2009, Oren declined an invitation to attend a conference hosted by J Street, an Israel advocacy group, which has been critical of the Israel government's foreign policy.[28] Oren called J Street "a unique problem" and that "it's significantly out of the mainstream."[29] However, the two have since come to a more congenial understanding, with Oren stating that "J Street has now come and supported Congressman [Howard] Berman's Iran sanction bill; it has condemned the Goldstone Report; it has denounced the British court's decision to try Tzipi Livni for war crimes, which puts J Street much more into the mainstream."[30]

Oren has initiated Israel outreach events for Irish Americans,[31] Latino[32] and LGBT leadership, and the Chinese embassy. He hosted the Israeli embassy’s first Iftar dinner.[33]

On February 8, 2010, Oren spoke at the University of California, Irvine. During his speech Oren was interrupted by 11 protesters who shouted, "Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech",[34] and "How many Palestinians did you kill?"[35] The outburst and subsequent arrest of the protesters sparked controversy over whether the protesters were exercising free speech, as they claimed they were, or whether it was a suppression of free speech (i.e., of the right of Oren and his audience to a free exchange of ideas), as university officials claimed.[36] On September 23, 2011, a jury convicted 10 Muslim students, 7 from UC Irvine and 3 from UC Riverside, of disrupting Oren's February 2010 speech. The students were sentenced to 56 hours of community service and three years of informal probation, which could be lessened to one year if the community service is completed by the end of January 2012.[37]

Oren has continued to lecture at universities across the United States, including Tufts University, George Washington University, Harvard University, Emory University, University of California, Davis, University of Chicago, Northeastern University, Northwestern University, Penn State, Rice University, Dickinson College, Florida International University, Columbia University, University of Maryland, American University, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California and the United States Naval Academy.[38]

Following the Gaza flotilla raid in May 2010, Oren wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, "An Assault, Cloaked in Peace", in which he accused the organizers of the flotilla of attempting to "create a provocation" in order to "put international pressure on Israel to drop the Gaza embargo". He further made the claim that the Mavi Marmara was "a vessel too large to be neutralized by technical means".[39]

Oren attempted to influence a critical 2012 CBS report by Bob Simon about Palestinian Christians in Israel,[40] with some calling his interference an attempt to silence the American media.[41] Oren responded that at no point had he tried to prevent the 60 Minutes report, rather that he offered suggestions for balancing the segment.[41][42]

On July 5, 2013, he announced that he would be vacating his post as ambassador to the United States in fall 2013.[3] According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, insiders say that Oren wanted to keep his job, but was removed because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's senior advisor Ron Dermer wanted the envoy post.[43]

Oren has received four honorary doctorates and has delivered commencement speeches at Brandeis,[44] Monmouth University,[45] and Yeshiva University.[46] In 2011, he received the Outstanding Achievers with Learning Disabilities Award from the Lab School of Washington, D.C.[47] He delivered the keynote address at 2012 Equality Forum on LGBT rights in Israel.[48]


Political commentary[edit]

Oren has written many articles commenting on current political issues. Before assuming his diplomatic post, he published frequently in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic, where he was a contributing editor.[49] He appeared on Charlie Rose, The Daily Show,[50] the Today Show, and he John Batchelor Show. As ambassador, he has published nearly forty op-eds and has given dozens of television interviews, including Bill Maher, Colbert Report, The View, and The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.

His two full-length articles, Israel: The Ultimate Ally[51] and Israel’s Resilient Democracy,[52] were published in Foreign Policy magazine.

In July 2014 Oren argued against a ceasefire and for the continuation of the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict. He called on the international community to leave Israel alone to defang and deprive Hamas of its heavy arms and make it pay a "prohibitive cost."[53]

Middle East history[edit]

Power, Faith and Fantasy, a history of American involvement in the Middle East, was published by Norton and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Power, Faith and Fantasy earned positive reviews from Newsweek, The Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Willamette Week.[54][55][56][57][58]

Oren's Six Days of War is an historical account of the events of the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The book was widely praised by critics and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History and the National Jewish Book Award. It spent seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.[59] The New York Times Book Review wrote positively of Six Days of War,[60] as did the Washington Post, which called it "not only the best book so far written on the Six Day War, it is likely to remain the best".[61] Oren's Ph.D. thesis, "The Origins of the Second Arab-Israel War: Israel, Egypt, and the Great Powers, 1952-1956," was published in 1992.


Oren has written two works of fiction. Sand Devil, published in 2000, is a trilogy of novellas set in the Negev desert. Reunion, based on his father’s stories from World War II, appeared in 2004.

Published work[edit]


  1. ^ "Israeli Ambassador Draws on American Roots". 
  2. ^ "Michael Oren appointed to US envoy role", Jerusalem Post, May 2, 2009
  3. ^ a b "Ron Dermer officially named Israel’s U.S. ambassador". JTA. July 9, 2013. Retrieved July 10, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Mr. Oren goes to Jerusalem (from Washington)". Ha'aretz. March 20, 2015. Retrieved March 20, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Ginsberg, Johanna. "Former New Jerseyan to be Israel’s envoy to U.S.; Author Michael Oren was Mountain High and Princeton grad", New Jersey Jewish News, May 7, 2009. Accessed November 19, 2012.
  6. ^ Turk Rosenblatt, Judith (1987). Who's who in world Jewry: a biographical dictionary of outstanding Jews. Who's Who in World Jewry. p. 64. ISBN 0961827203. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Enjoying Every Minute", Haaretz[dead link]
  8. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth. "Israeli Diplomat Is Man in Middle", New York Times, September 17, 2012. Accessed November 19, 2012. "Raised in a conservative Jewish family in West Orange, N.J., Mr. Oren worked on a kibbutz at 15, was educated at Princeton and Columbia, immigrated to Israel and spent multiple tours in the Israeli Army...."
  9. ^ "Commemoration of Prime Minister Rabin's z"l 90th Birthday", "Embassy of Israel", February 29, 2012
  10. ^ C-SPAN Transcript of 2002 Interview with Michael Oren
  11. ^ Michael Oren's Profile on WritersReps.com
  12. ^ "An interview with Michael Oren", The Jerusalem Post, January 18, 2007.
  13. ^ Princeton Weekly Bulletin, November 18, 2002
  14. ^ http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/37999/israels-new-ambassador-to-u.s.-has-strong-s.f.-ties1/
  15. ^ Ambassador Michael Oren Biography
  16. ^ Six Degrees of Sally Oren,The Atlantic, February 20, 2013
  17. ^ a b c d e Archive copy at the Wayback Machine Michael Oren's Official Website
  18. ^ Oren's work with the Zionist underground, September 27, 2009.
  19. ^ http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2006/2/17/israeli-soldier-oren-shares-gaza-story/
  20. ^ Oren in the Spokesman's Office during the 2008–09 Israel–Gaza conflict
  21. ^ Michael Oren, Gaza Lecture Part 1, January 28, 2009 on YouTube
  22. ^ Today Show Segment on Oren Family at War, April 6, 2012
  23. ^ Georgetown.edu Georgetown University website
  24. ^ Georgetown University News, February 27, 2008
  25. ^ http://www.nysun.com/foreign/bush-visit-may-boost-olmert/76303/
  26. ^ Mark Landler (09-25-09). "Israeli Ambassador Draws on American Roots". The New York Times.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  27. ^ Michael B. Oren (06-10-09). "Deep Denial: Why The Holocaust Still Matters". The New Republic.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  28. ^ [1]
  29. ^ [2]
  30. ^ [3]
  31. ^ Ambassador Oren Celebrates Irish Culture on YouTube, March 30, 2011
  32. ^ Ambassador Oren holds Hispanic outreach event, December 15, 2011
  33. ^ Ambassador Oren Hosts Iftar Dinner, Huffington Post, August 25, 2011
  34. ^ Raja Abdulrahim (February 9, 2010). "11 students arrested after disrupting Israeli ambassador's speech at UC Irvine". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 February 2010. 
  35. ^ Natasha Mozgovaya (9 February 2010). "Muslim students scream 'killer' during Israel envoy speech in Irvine, California. Afterwards the students were peacefully escorted out of the hall, given citations, and let go.". Ha'aretz. Retrieved 12 February 2010. 
  36. ^ "On campus, is heckling free speech? Or just rude?"
  37. ^ "US court: Students guilty of disrupting Israeli envoy". 
  38. ^ Michael Oren Speaks to the U.S. Naval Academy, February 23, 2012
  39. ^ Michael B. Oren (June 2, 2010). "An Assault, Cloaked in Peace". The New York Times. Retrieved July 14, 2010. 
  40. ^ "Christians of the Holy Land". CBS News. Retrieved April 22, 2012. 
  41. ^ a b Mozgovaya, Natasha (3 May 2012). "Obama corrects controversial Jewish Heritage Month proclamation". Haaretz. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  42. ^ Ambassador Oren's Letter to 60 Minutes, BuzzFeed, April 26, 2012
  43. ^ JTA (July 10, 2013). "American Jewish groups welcome choice of Netanyahu's right hand man as U.S. envoy". Haaretz. Retrieved July 10, 2013. 
  44. ^ Michael Oren's Address to Brandeis, Brandeis, May 23, 2010]
  45. ^ Michael Oren's Address to Monmouth University, Monmouth University, January 13, 2012
  46. ^ Ambassador Michael B. Oren Addresses Yeshiva University Yeshiva University, June 1, 2010
  47. ^ Ambassador Oren's Address to the Lab School, Embassy of Israel
  48. ^ Ambassador Oren's Speech to the Equality Forum on LGBT Rights in Israel, Embassy of Israel, May 5, 2012
  49. ^ From The TNR Archives: Michael B. Oren, The New Republic website, April 21, 2009.
  50. ^ Daily Show Interview with Michael Oren, The Daily Show.
  51. ^ The Ultimate Ally, Foreign Policy, May 2011.
  52. ^ Israel's Resilient Democracy, Foreign Policy, April 5, 2012.
  53. ^ "Ex Israeli ambassador slams ceasefir". Israel Herald. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  54. ^ Newsweek review
  55. ^ Wash Post review
  56. ^ NY Times review
  57. ^ sfgate.com review
  58. ^ wweek.com review
  59. ^ "BEST SELLERS: August 18, 2002". The New York Times. 2002-08-18. Retrieved 2008-03-26. 
  60. ^ Bernstein, Richard (July 17, 2002). "Short Conflict, Far-Reaching Consequences". New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  61. ^ Wash Post article

External links[edit]