On the afternoon of Yom Kippur at my synagogue, Adas Israel, in Washington, I held an hour-long dialogue with Michael Oren, the new Israeli ambassador, who is, like all past Israeli ambassadors to America, a member of our congregation. About a thousand people turned up between prayers, and we had a great discussion, about the Goldstone U.N. report and the meaning of Jewish existence and Einstein's Zionism and whether America might in fact be the Promised Land. A great hour, even though everyone was fasting. Or maybe because everyone was fasting.
In any case, I didn't realize this, but there was someone in the audience who was actually working on Yom Kippur -- a reporter for Foreign Policy magazine named Josh Rogin.Yesterday, Rogin posted his account of Oren's statements, and it was a wildly inaccurate account on many fronts. Most notably, he wrote this:
Oren said that Israel had no choice but to hold in reserve its right to strike Iran first, saying, "If you know someone is going to cause harm to your family, you are compelled to launch a preemptive strike against them. You can't let that person come."
In fact, Oren was quoting from the Talmud -- and said he was -- and he was referring to the recent war in Gaza, not to some future theoretical war with Iran. In truth, despite my best efforts, he would barely say anything about Iran. On Gaza, though, he was pugnacious. When I asked him if he believed, per our rabbi's sermon about the need to learn even from your enemies, if Judge Goldstone could teach him anything about Israeli behavior, he brushed the question aside, and then talked about Israeli restraint in the face of Hamas rocket attacks. It was at that point that he quoted the Talmud on the moral necessity of protecting one's family from attack. Iran was not part of the conversation.
I e-mailed Rogin this morning with a question: Had he taped the dialogue, or taken notes on it? For those non-Jews out there, or for my apostate Jewish readers (some of my best friends are apostate Jews), it would be a violation of the law and spirit of Yom Kippur to do either thing. Rogin e-mailed me back the following: "I attended the talk and wrote the story from notes I jotted down when I got home. I assumed a recording device would not be kosher."
What is also not kosher, of course, is quoting from memory! I don't know a single journalist who could accurately reproduce 90-word quotes after a single hearing. I'm waiting to see if Foreign Policy will stand by these miracle quotes, and I'll update this post when they respond.
UPDATE: 4:17 p.m.: Foreign Policy has posted this incomplete correction:
CORRECTION: The initial version of this post incorrectly stated, "Oren said that Israel had no choice but to hold in reserve its right to strike Iran first, saying, 'If you know someone is going to cause harm to your family, you are compelled to launch a preemptive strike against them. You can't let that person come.'"
Oren was actually responding to a question from moderator Jeffrey Goldberg about whether Israel's use of power since its inception was in accordance with Jewish moral standards, and the above quote references the teachings of the Talmud. Oren was making the argument that Israel had in fact exceeded the Talmud's moral requirements in recent operations in Gaza. FP regrets the error.
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