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Oren's Significant Step

Allow me to say a couple of good words about Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren.

Yes, a couple. No need to get carried away here, but he does deserve modest recognition for a small step in the right direction.

Oren gave the commencement speech at Yeshiva University this week. Yeshiva University is a bastion of religious Zionism in America, a stronghold of Orthodox Jewish hawks.

As one would expect, Oren's speech was rather hawkish and featured flattery for religious Zionism. There was no mention of the more problematic contributions of religious Zionism to the state of Israel. No mention of the damage that the ultra-nationalist messianic settlers are causing to Israel.

Oren went as far as bundling Arab-Israeli peace as a "challenge" that Israel is facing, together with the challenges that Iran and international delegitimization pose to Israel. Furthermore, he said that Israel "no less perilously" faces the challenges of peace. Ouch. I know.

So where is the praise? Well, Toward the end of his address, Oren said that Israel will need the support of America's religious Zionists when its government reaches a point of making concessions for peace. "Be with us as we grapple with the complex questions of peacemaking," he said. "Be with us if the Israeli government decides to make excruciating sacrifices for peace, or if it decides that the arrangement offered does not justify such sacrifices."

No worries. Religious Zionists will support Israel's government if it decides not to make sacrifices. But it is important to remind the religious ideologues on the right that Israel's government expects them to respect its sovereign decisions. Oren reminded the graduates that, "as Rav Soloveichik declared back in 1967, the decisions that affect the safety and wellbeing of millions of Israelis can only be made by Israel's elected leaders."

This may not be much, I know. But when Israel's settler movement and its American supporters are consistently increasing their pressure to thwart a two-state solution, when US Orthodox groups question the mandate of democratically elected Israeli governments to withdraw from the West Bank and to relinquish sovereignty over parts of East Jerusalem, it is critically important that Israeli officials prepare them for such decisions.