It is an ambassador's job to burnish his government's image; fidelity to the usual canons of logic and evidence are neither required nor expected. It is therefore unsurprising that Michael Oren's portrait of Israel as America's "ultimate ally" is a one-sided distortion of reality.
The main targets of Oren's hasbara -- Hebrew for public diplomacy -- are some unnamed "realists," meaning anyone who questions the net benefits of America's so-called "special relationship" with Israel. All of the realists I know support Israel's existence and do not deny that the United States derives some modest benefits from its ties with the Jewish state. However, they point out that many of these benefits (e.g., trade, scientific exchange, etc.) do not require a "special relationship" -- one in which Israel gets extensive and unconditional economic, military, and diplomatic support -- and they maintain that the costs of the current "special relationship" outweigh the benefits. Unconditional U.S. support has also facilitated policies -- most notably settlement building -- that have undermined Israel's global standing and placed its long-term future in jeopardy. Accordingly, realists believe that a more normal relationship would be better for the United States and Israel alike.
Not surprisingly, Oren would prefer that the United States continue backing Israel to the hilt no matter what it does. His first line of argument is the odd suggestion that Americans have been Zionists ever since the Founding Fathers (i.e., even before modern Zionism existed). Some early U.S. leaders did have biblically inspired notions about "returning Jews to the Holy Land," but that fact tells us nothing about the proper relationship between the United States and Israel today. America's Founding Fathers also opposed colonialism, for example, so one might just as easily argue that they would oppose Israel's occupation of the West Bank and support the Palestinians' efforts to secure their own independence. George Washington also warned Americans to avoid "passionate attachments" to any foreign nations, in good part because he believed it would distort U.S. domestic politics and provide avenues for foreign influence. Thus, Oren's highly selective reading of past U.S. history offers little grounds for unconditional support today.
Oren's second line of argument is the familiar claim that the United States and Israel share identical "democratic values." Yet this argument cannot explain why the United States gives Israel so much support, and gives it unconditionally. After all, there are many democracies in the world, but none has a special relationship with the United States like Israel does.
It is true that both states are formally democratic, but there are also fundamental differences between the two countries. The United States is a liberal democracy, where people of any race, religion, or ethnicity are supposed to enjoy equal rights. Israel, by contrast, was explicitly founded as a Jewish state, and non-Jews in Israel are second-class citizens both de jure and de facto. To take but one example, Palestinians who marry Israeli Jews are not permitted to become citizens of Israel themselves. This may make sense given Israel's self-definition, but it is wholly at odds with deep-rooted American values.
Just as importantly, Israel's democratic status is undermined by its imposition of a legal, administrative, and military regime in the occupied territories that denies the Palestinians there basic human rights, as well as by its prolonged, government-backed effort to colonize these conquered lands with Jewish settlers. Like all colonial enterprises, maintaining Israeli control of the occupied territories depends on heavy-handed coercion. Such behavior is at odds with core American values -- as U.S. administrations of both parties have said repeatedly, if not forcefully enough.
Oren's third line of argument is that Israel is a unique strategic asset, implying that unconditional support for Israel makes Americans safer at home. For example, he claims that Israel maintains stability in the eastern Mediterranean. But that is not true. Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 made the region less stable and led directly to the creation of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia. The United States eventually had to send troops into Lebanon because Israel had created such a mess, and that decision led to a suicide attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in which 241 American servicemen died. Similarly, Israel's assault on Lebanon in 2006 killed more than a thousand Lebanese (many of them civilians), inflicted billions of dollars of property damage, undermined the U.S.-backed "Cedar Revolution," and enhanced Hezbollah's political influence within Lebanon. Finally, Israeli control of the occupied territories led directly to the first and second intifadas and the brutal 2008-2009 war on Gaza -- all of which created enormous popular blowback in the region. None of these events were in America's strategic interest, and they belie the claim that Israel is somehow bringing "stability" to the region.
Israel's limited strategic value is further underscored by its inability to contribute to a more crucial U.S. interest: access to oil in the Persian Gulf. Israel could not help preserve American access to oil after the Shah of Iran fell in 1979, so the United States had to create its own Rapid Deployment Force, which could not operate out of Israel. When the U.S. Navy was busy escorting oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq War, Israel did nothing to help, and it remained on the sidelines in the 1991 Gulf War as well. In fact, after Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles at Israel in a failed attempt to provoke it into joining the war and disrupting the Gulf War coalition, the United States had to divert military assets from that fight in order to protect Israel. As historian Bernard Lewis (a strong supporter of Israel) remarked afterward, "The change [in Israel's strategic value] was clearly manifested in the Gulf War.... Israel was not an asset, but an irrelevance -- some even said a nuisance."