Michael Oren: US criticism causing ‘strategic damage’

After Obama’s frontal attack on Netanyahu, former ambassador and MK-to-be says he wants ties rehabilitated

Michael Oren in 2009. (Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP)
Michael Oren in 2009. (Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP)

Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said Sunday that recent critical comments by US President Barack Obama were “strategically damaging” to Israel’s standing in the world.

In a restive interview Saturday, Obama had suggested that Israel’s democracy may “erode” following contentious statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of Tuesday’s election. His comments came amid a nadir in ties between the two leaders over the right approach to tackling Iran’s nuclear program and the Israeli leader’s controversial speech before Congress earlier this month.

The American-born Oren, who was elected Tuesday to the Knesset with the Kulanu party, called the president’s comments “damaging” and challenged the two leaders to rehabilitate bilateral ties.

“The president’s statement made yesterday about the deterioration of democracy in Israel strategically damages Israel’s standing in the world,” Oren said in a statement released on social media.

“The democratic values that Israel and the United States share are the very backbone of the relationship between both countries and consequently Obama’s words carry a heavy strategic price,” he continued, adding that Israel should continue to strive for liberal values — not because of Obama’s criticism, but because it was the correct thing to do.

In his first public comments since Netanyahu’s election victory, Obama castigated the prime minister for Election Day remarks warning that Arabs were voting “in droves,” and confirmed that the US would reevaluate its stance on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in light of Netanyahu’s preelection rejection of Palestinian statehood.

“Instead of being distracted by damaging comments, the United States and Israel must focus on rebuilding and strengthening their relationship, with the understanding that just as America is a strategic asset to Israel, so too is Israel is a strategic asset to the America,” said Oren, adding that “there is no replacement for Israel as America’s strongest ally in the Middle East.”

“Israel, as the only stable democracy in the Middle East, is one of the few countries in the world that has never known a day of non-democratic rule. It is the only country in the Middle East in which every citizen has the right to vote, even for political parties who do not recognize Israel’s right to exist,” he said.

Netanyahu won a landslide election victory Tuesday despite straw polls indicating that he would lose.

Following his Congress speech on March 3, an unidentified administration source warned that Israel may suffer repercussions for the move, as Obama still has two years left at the country’s helm. Several officials also intimated that Washington could reevaluate its policy of vetoing anti-Israel United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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