On Tuesday, July 9, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he is appointing Ron Dermer, 42, a former advisor to the prime minister to be the new ambassador from Israel to the United States. Dermer replaces Michael Oren who announced last Friday, July 5 that he is resigning this fall after serving as Israel’s ambassador to the United States for over four years.
Dermer is a controversial choice for the next ambassador, he has the trust of Israel’s leader, serving as Netanyahu’s adviser for many years, but he is a staunch conservative, who has worn his political positions on his sleeve, and has let his opinions and partisan leanings interfer with diplomatic associations with the United States during President Barack Obama’s first term.
Dermer was a senior advisor and served as a speech writer to Netanyahu up until this past spring, leaving his post after President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel. Dermer’s alliance with Netanyahu began in 1999, and he also worked on Netanyahu’s campaign in 2008, before becoming an advisor in 2009.
The Prime Minister’s office released a statement from Netanyahu announcing he is appointing Dermer. In the statement Netanyahu praised him; “Ron Dermer has all the qualities necessary to successfully fill this important post. I have known him for many years and I know that Ron will faithfully represent the State of Israel in the capital of our greatest ally – the USA. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I wish him great success.” Dermer’s appointment still has to be confirmed by the cabinet.
A diplomatic official from the Netanyahu government also praised Dermer; “This is a man who needs no on-the-job training served in Washington, grew up in the US, already knows the White House team and half of Congress.”
Dermer is American born, from Miami, Florida and made aliyah in 1997, he has five children and lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Rhoda Pagano Dermer and children. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business and Oxford University.
Both Dermer’s brother and father were Democrats and had been mayors of Miami Beach; however his brother supported former President George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 and Jeb Bush as Florida governor. Dermer, himself chose to be a Republican, and has close ties with many American politicians and worked with Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster prior to making aliyah. He has remained a fierce partisan throughout most of his career.
Dermer met Nathan Sharansky while he was a graduate student at Oxford, and served as manager for Sharansky’s Knesset campaign in 1996. After Dermer made aliyah he worked as advisor on Sharansky’s campaign in 1999 and then again 2001. In 2004, he co-authored with Sharansky The Case For Democracy: The Power Of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror, which President George W. Bush endorsed and used for his policy towards Israel and the Middle East.
Dermer had to renounce his American citizenship when he was appointed as the Minister for Economic Affairs at Israel’s Embassy in Washington in 2005 under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Dermer was first considered for the post in Dec. 2012 there was speculation that he would replace Oren in May 2013, when his term officially was supposed to end.
Dermer is known to have written negative op-eds, and leaking stories to the press; he wrote a column from the Jerusalem Post from 2001 to 2004. Dermer’s partisan leanings influenced his position as Netanyahu’s advisor, and up until recently he has shown his displeasure with Barack Obama’s presidency. He supposedly was behind the negative press that Obama snubbed Netanyahu during a 2010 visit to Washington. Additionally he supported Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential Elections and planned Romney’s trip to Israel, all of which put Dermer at odds with the Obama Administration.
A former Obama administration official expressed concern over the Netanyahu’s replacement choice; “To me, it’s not an ideal choice as he’s seen as extremely political and as someone who has repeatedly gone to the press with negative stories. You want someone trusted and discreet to be your ambassador.”
However, Dermer worked to improved relations with the administration, specifically the new Secretary of State John Kerry, and was responsible for planning on Israel’s side Obama’s trip to Israel this past March. Additionally Dermer helped negotiated Israel’s March apology to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla incident. The shift in his attitude helped him gain favor from President Obama. The Obama administration now approves of Dermer’s appointment and has said he is “warmly welcomed” as ambassador.
The downside is Dermer’s compatibility with the majority of American Jews who are mostly liberal and affiliated with the Democratic Party, while he associates with Republicans, and is aligned with Netanyahu, the head of the right wing Likud Party. He also possible distrust from most other Democrats in Washingtion and in Congress for his staunch conservative stance.
However, most Jewish organizations do not believe Dermer’s past partisan leanings will affect his work as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. The American Jewish Committee’s executive director David Harris stated; “He’s coming here as ambassador to the United states, not to get involved in partisan politics. The prime minister knows it. He knows it.” While Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director said; “The relationship is bigger than political nuance.”
Demer has been receiving congratulations from the major American Jewish organizations on his appointment: National Jewish Democratic Council chairman Marc R. Stanley stated “Together, we will continue promoting a secure, democratic Jewish State of Israel.” American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) stated; “Mr. Dermer has a deep understanding of the critical value of the US-Israel relationship and the importance of further strengthening the alliance between these two democratic allies.”
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) also released a statement on Dermer’s appointment, AJC Executive Director David Harris commented; “We have met with Ron Dermer numerous times during our frequent visits to Jerusalem. No doubt, he will continue the ongoing efforts of the Israeli government and embassy to further strengthen the vital bonds between the U.S. and Israel. We have every confidence he will succeed.”
While Morton A. Klein, the president of Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA) called Dermer “one of the most brilliant, eloquent, and wise spokesmen for Israel I have ever known or heard… There’s not an issue Ron Dermer doesn’t understand to its innermost depths…. His insights into America and Israel are without peer. Add to all this his extraordinary writing and oratorical skills, and you have a superb diplomat and spokesman for Israel.”
Dermer’s redeeming quality is his close ties and the prime minister’s trust; Oren was outside of Netanyahu’s inner circle and was less influential in negotiations as a result. It is partially because of this, that the Obama administration is now open to Dermer’s ambassadorship, they think Dermer might be able to influence Netanyahu to move the peace process with the Palestinians forward.
David Harris stated; “The most important thing for any ambassador in Washington, especially any Israeli ambassador, is that he brings the full trust of the prime minister. That’s an asset you cannot put a price on. What it says to the host country is that I am sending someone in whom I have full confidence, so when you talk to him you have a direct conduit to me.”
While a Netanyahu official claimed; “There is no one closer to the prime minister. This is a great advantage for us and the Americans. The Americans will know that when they are talking to Dermer, they are talking to someone who is speaking for the prime minister. No one can compare anyone’s relationship to Netanyahu to the one he has with Dermer.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu would not have chosen Dermer if he did not have confidence he will rise above partisanship. American Jewish groups including Democratic and liberal groups have all been open and inviting to Dermer’s appointment, hopefully he will live up to the expectations that come with the position.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & International politics.