Misquoting the Israeli ambassador on Yom Kippur — not a good way to start the year


When I first read this piece on ForeignPolicy.com about Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s appearance at Washington, D.C.’s Adas Israel Congregation on Yom Kippur afternoon, I wondered how exactly the reporter had such extensive quotes from Oren. Did he take notes in a synagogue on Yom Kippur? Record it? The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who was leading the dialogue with Oren at the shul, was obviously even more curious, especially because the reporter had incorrectly reported a statement Oren made on Monday.

Josh Rogin reported that Oren said "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.’ "

Goldberg responds:

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.

And then he asks Rogin how exactly he covered the talk — and doesn’t quite believe the response he received:

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.

Foreign Policy has since posted what Goldberg calls an "incomplete" correction.

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