Ron Dermer, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-hand man, has been appointed to be the next Israeli ambassador to the U.S. (Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The right-wing political aide Ron Dermer, known to be close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is the new Israeli ambassador to the U.S. And like the current ambassador–Michael Oren–Dermer’s returning to his American perch, albeit without the American citizenship he had to give up in 1995 when he became the economic affairs minister at the Israeli embassy in D.C.
Netanyahu officially announced Tuesday that Dermer would be his next ambassador to the U.S., giving the Florida-born Dermer a turn in the American spotlight. Dermer’s set to take up the post in the fall once Oren leaves. The announcement came months after rumors first swirled about Dermer’s now-confirmed new job. Dermer is Netanyahu’s right-hand man, serving as his speechwriter and senior adviser.
“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,” Netanyahu said in a statement announcing Dermer’s new job. “On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I wish him great success.”
The appointment immediately raised eyebrows in Washington, D.C, given Dermer’s close relationship to the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party and his chumminess with Mitt Romney’s ill-fated presidential campaign. News headlines spotlighted this uncomfortable fact, with Reuters publishing a piece headlined, “New Israel U.S. envoy reportedly has had Republican links,” and The Hill similarly headlining an article, “Israel names Romney backer to be ambassador to Washington.”
Dermer’s distaste for President Obama predates the 2012 election campaign, though. As a “well-placed Israeli” told Peter Beinart while reporting for his book The Crisis of Zionism, Dermer referred to the president as “Barack Hussein Obama” in 2009 at the time Obama demanded a settlement freeze. Dermer later vehemently denied this to Beinart.
But the stakes of the Israeli-American game have changed, as electoral politics are no longer a focus for President Obama. Instead, Dermer’s appointment, despite his right-wing ties, has reportedly been welcomed by the White House. The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren reported yesterday that “several people close to the Obama administration said…any suspicions about Mr. Dermer’s political leanings are outweighed by the benefit of having an ambassador in Mr. Netanyahu’s inner circle.” The National Jewish Democratic Council likewise welcomed Dermer’s appointment.
Still, Dermer is sure to bring a brash, neoconservative attitude to Washington to advocate on Israel’s behalf. His roots lie in Republican Party politics.
As Allison Hoffman reported in a long profile of him in Tablet magazine, Dermer’s family has deep roots in Israel, and his first job was an assistant to the famous GOP pollster Frank Luntz. Dermer worked with Luntz and Newt Gingrich on a strategy that later manifested itself in Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” which offered a raft of policy prescriptions the Republican Party brought with them when they took control of the House in 1994.
Dermer moved on from there to work with Natan Sharansky, the Soviet dissident and influential Israeli who became best known in the U.S. for providing George W. Bush with rhetorical ammunition for his 2005 State of the Union address. Sharansky is a former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, and is the co-founder of One Jerusalem, a right-wing group that advocates for continued and exclusive Israeli control over the holy city. Sharansky and Dermer’s partnership, which resulted in the book The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, was set up by Richard Perle, the well-known neoconservative who urged the invasion of Iraq before speaking out against the war.
Dermer’s association with the neoconservative right-wing has shone through in recent months. In keeping with neoconservative views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–that Israel is on the front lines of the “war on terror”–Dermer suggested that the Boston marathon bombings would boost American sympathy for Israel. As the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah pointed out, Dermer said that the Boston bombings would make Americans “identify more with Israel’s struggle against terror.” The deliberate conflation of America’s “war on terror” and Israel’s “struggle against terror”–meaning Israel’s continued repression of Palestinian aspirations for freedom–were similar to Netanyahu’s post 9/11 comments that the attacks were “very good” for U.S.-Israel relations.
Dermer likewise didn’t hesitate to exploit the 9/11 attacks. In a Jerusalem Post article written on September 14, 2001, Dermer criticized America’s pre-9/11 penchant for spending its “time and resources in the courts of Manhattan instead of the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.” He urged the U.S. to “crush the regimes in Baghdad and Teheran before they develop weapons of mass destruction.”
In an e-mail, blogger M.J. Rosenberg wrote that Dermer “is as crude as his predecessor is smooth,” referring to Oren.
Dermer is also opposed to a two-state solution–a hint that when Netanyahu mouths those words, he doesn’t really mean it. Dermer once told reporters that “the principle of two states for two peoples is a childish solution to a complicated problem.”
In another telling incident reported in Beinart’s book, Dermer took umbrage at a 2007 Jerusalem Post article written by Larry Derfner in which the columnist called Netanyahu a racist for celebrating a drop in the non-Jewish birthrate that followed cuts in childcare Netanyahu had put through as Sharon’s finance minister. As Beinart notes, Dermer said in response that “Derfner was ‘mistaken in calling Bibi a bigot. He is only a Zionist.’” Beinart writes that Dermer is someone who does not care about “universal principles…[F]or Dermer, as for Jabotinsky and Benzion Netanyahu, [people who care about universal principles like nondiscrimination] are not true Zionists, but rather Jews emasculated by moralism, Jews who refuse to do what it takes to ensure that the Jewish people survives.”
Dermer’s also tried his hand at media relations in the U.S., often coming across as thin-skinned. He penned a letter to The New York Times explaining that Netanyahu would not be writing an Op-Ed because the Times overwhelmingly published articles that attacked Israel.
“It would seem as if the surest way to get an op-ed published in the New York Times these days, no matter how obscure the writer or the viewpoint, is to attack Israel,” wrote Dermer. The letter specifically lambastes Thomas Friedman’s assertion that Congress was “bought and paid” by the Israel lobby and the publication of Sarah Schulman’s expose on how Israel uses its gay rights record to “pinkwash” its occupation.
After TIME magazine’s Karl Vick wrote a piece pointing out how Israel’s government was sliding far to the right, Dermer published a scathing reply also printed in TIME. “Oaths of allegiance are commonplace in most democratic countries, including the United States,” he wrote, defending Avigdor Lieberman’s bill requiring Palestinian citizens to swear allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” Dermer was also involved in the campaign against CBS News for airing a report on how the Israeli occupation was driving out Palestinian Christians from their land.
These actions demonstrate the loyalty Dermer has to Netanyahu and to his right-wing agenda. And he was rewarded with one of the more prestigious and high-profile posts in the Israeli government.