The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Aaron Bros Sidebar

Famed historian Michael Oren talks to the Maroon

Historian Michael Oren spoke to a packed lecture hall Monday evening as part of Israel Week, sponsored by Chicago Friends of Israel. Oren, a New Jersey native, moved to Israel over 25 years ago, becoming a citizen, soldier, and eventually best-selling author. He proposed in his speech that a fear of power was one of the biggest problems facing Jews trying to form a sovereign nation, and he discussed issues concerning Israel as a moral entity. After he answered audience questions, Oren took a moment to speak with the Maroon.

Chicago Maroon: You mentioned in your lecture that: “In America, especially in universities, Israel is increasingly vilified.” Why is that a trend here? I don’t know if you heard that posters advertising this event were defaced

Michael Oren: Yes. I was told. I’d be curious to see one actually.

CM: Did you feel concerned about coming here?

MO: I’ve had a very good reception here. I’ve never had any problems at American universities. I think the problem is American universities are focused on academic freedom; it’s not an issue of academic freedom but one of diversity. They have access to the Palestinian narrative and the question is whether students have access to an Israeli-Zionist narrative. For example, a couple of weeks ago I was at Columbia University—students there don’t have access. My concern is for diversity.

CM: Have you ever given talks here where you have felt unsafe?

MO: Yeah, in a Canadian university. Not in America. I was once assaulted in Canada. I have to have a guard now just for safety’s sake. [Looks around.] There isn’t one here? Huh. There was supposed to be.

CM: Do you view your work as controversial?

MO: Not my historical work, no. I have two sides: I’m a political commentator and I’m a historian. My goals are, in a certain way, mutually exclusive and contradictory. When I express my opinions, they are colored by my politics. When I express history, I view my political opinions as something I have to overcome. I wrestle with it. It’s not a very post-modern view. Now it’s seen as: You have political opinions, well, you have them. But I think there is only a chance of understanding if I can put aside my political views.

CM: I know you’ve worked especially hard to be open-minded and unbiased in your book. In reviews you are frequently commended for how even-handed you managed to be. Does it hurt to then receive this type of criticism from relatively ignorant college students?

MO: There is a vast gulf between legitimate criticisms of Israel—I find myself criticizing it everyday, people who live there criticize it all the time—and compare it to Nazi Germany.

CM: Is that what the swastikas were signifying?

MO: Yes, I think that’s what it meant. It’s untrue. Show me where someone has put six million Palestinians in ovens.

CM: You talked just now about how Israel goes out of its way to be just, to be moral. What then causes this Western vilification of Israel?

MO: Israel is held to a higher moral standard, there is no question. The reasons it’s held to a higher standard are various. First is we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Second is a tendency of Western press to be overly critical. It is also overly critical of itself. And I think you can’t ignore elements of anti-Semitism. Palestine is perceived as the underdog. I think that is incorrect; I think Israel is the underdog.

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