Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer defended the Israeli military’s conduct during “Operation Protective Edge” Thursday night, telling the group Christians United for Israel (CUFI) that every civilian death in Gaza is a mistake Israel regrets. Dermer also sought to link Hamas to the radical Sunni jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), though the groups have wildly divergent ideologies and goals.
Dermer participated in a conference call organized by the Christian Zionist organization CUFI, which was founded by Pastor John Hagee, a controversial figure who once said “it was the disobedience and rebellion of the Jews” that “gave rise to the opposition and persecution that they experienced.” Despite Hagee’s anti-Semitism, he and CUFI have been embraced by the American Jewish establishment and Israeli leaders for their unstinting support for Israeli policy. Dermer is set to speak at their Washington summit later this month.
After being effusively praised by Hagee, Dermer decried Palestinian militants firing rockets towards Israel and told thousands of CUFI members that the “goals of our operation” is to “end the rocket attacks on Israel and to restore quiet, something that every nation would demand. I can only imagine if over 200 million Americans were sitting in bomb shelters, what they would want their government and their military to do to protect them.”
He also said that the Israeli army regrets Palestinian civilian deaths–a frequent talking point heard when Israeli officials are interviewed by the media.
“Every time an innocent civilian is killed, that’s an operational failure in Israel. The more innocents who are killed, the greater the failure of the operation,” the ambassador to the U.S. said. In four days, the Israeli air force has killed over 100 Palestinians, including at least 58 civilians, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. At least 21 of the dead are children. Many of the civilian deaths come when Israeli warplanes drop bombs on civilian homes, which has been called a potential war crime by Amnesty International and the United Nations. Those two organizations have also called indiscriminate rocket fire by Palestinian militants a war crime.
During the question and answer session of the call, Dermer attempted to link Hamas to ISIS.
“You see what’s happening in the region. You see what’s happening in Iraq with ISIS. You see what’s happening with proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas,” said Dermer. “There’s a great battle being waged between radical Shias on one side, which are led by Iran and its main proxy Hezbollah, and radical Sunnis on the other side, the likes of ISIS, al Qaeda, Hamas”–a muddled talking point that at once links Hamas to ISIS while also saying that Hamas is a proxy for Iran, one of ISIS’ main enemies. Hamas is a Palestinian Islamist nationalist movement that has never launched an attack outside of Israel/Palestine, and calls for an Islamic state in all historic Palestine. ISIS, on the other hand, advocates for worldwide war against what they see as Islam’s enemies, and for a caliphate, or Islamic state, stretching across the Middle East.
The Israeli ambassador also slammed the Presbyterian Church for divesting from companies with links to the Israeli military.
Dermer’s pro-war pep talk was delivered to an audience he is eminently comfortable with–right-wing Republicans like Gary Bauer, a board member for CUFI who attended Dermer’s Passover seder this year. Dermer is close to the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party. In March 2014, Dermer attended a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, which some former U.S. diplomats criticized as unbecoming since the RJC is a partisan organization.