Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren on Tuesday night defended Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as a friend of Israel — and dismissed comments the former senator made about Zionist influence on Capitol Hill – during an appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”
In a fast-paced segment the U.S.-born Oren matched wits with high-octane host Stephen Colbert, dismissing assertions that Hagel was anti-Israel and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favored Republican Mitt Romney in last year’s race for the White House.
“Secretary of Defense Hagel is a great friend of Israel and … he’s expressed total support for our security and the alliance” with the U.S. Without touching the substance of remarks Hagel made about the “Jewish lobby” or his views in Oran, Oren said there was “free speech” in America just as there is in Israel. “People say all sorts of things,” he said.
When Colbert said it was “obvious” that Netanyahu preferred Mitt Romney, Oren mistakenly said “Israel does not get involved in the internal politics in Israel”, clearly meaning America.
Oren managed to get in some serious statements, saying that at a “turbulent” time in the Middle East, Israel is the “one state that is stable, strong, democratic and proudly, totally pro-American.”
Discussing President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Israel next week, Oren said there were many common challenges to discuss, such as “the situation in Syria unraveling – there are a lot of chemical weapons there – getting the peace process moving again and getting the Palestinians back to the negotiating table and the Iranian nuclear problem.”
When Colbert put the diplomat on the spot by asking when Israel would strike at Iran, Oren said “No country has a greater interest than Israel in resolving the Iranian nuclear threat by diplomatic means. We have the most skin in the game. I have my kids there. We are a small country in Israel’s backyard and the Iranian leaders are every week threatening to wipe us off the map if they get the nuclear weapons.”
Colbert set up the interview with a segment on the Obama Israel trip, quipping that the president had a long anti-Israel history. For example, he said, aid to Israel under the Bush administration was $2.3 billion and is now $3.1 billion.
“That may seem like more,” the comic riffed. “But in Hebrew you read the chart from right to left.”
Oren’s polished appearance was a far cry from his deer-in-the-headlights turn last April on “60 Minutes,” when confronted by Bob Simon about Oren’s call to the head of CBS News to complain about a Simon report.
Watch the full Colbert interview below: