Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ron Dermer

Susan Rice, Sheldon Adelson, and Obama’s Paranoia About Israel

The Obama administration has followed up its incoherent “chickens–t” ramblings with yet another very strange, deeply disturbed comment being reported by another reliable leftist opinion writer. This one is less colorful than the third-grade creativity displayed in the leak to Jeffrey Goldberg, the administration’s pawn-to-queen-four opening when the president wants to pick a fight with the Jewish state. Less colorful–but perhaps more significant, at least as a window into the paranoia that pervades the Obama White House.

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The Obama administration has followed up its incoherent “chickens–t” ramblings with yet another very strange, deeply disturbed comment being reported by another reliable leftist opinion writer. This one is less colorful than the third-grade creativity displayed in the leak to Jeffrey Goldberg, the administration’s pawn-to-queen-four opening when the president wants to pick a fight with the Jewish state. Less colorful–but perhaps more significant, at least as a window into the paranoia that pervades the Obama White House.

Haaretz’s Barak Ravid over the weekend wrote another opinion piece that can be filed under “Bibi Derangement Syndrome makes people do funny things.” It’s all complete speculation, right down to the headline, which leaves the impression that the paper’s editor should probably spend less time defending his cartoonist’s 9/11 conspiracist artwork and more time, well, editing. But there’s a nugget in the column that rewards the reader who somehow gets beyond the embarrassing headline and lede, which sound as though Netanyahu appeared to Ravid in a dream and confessed his innermost thoughts.

After mentioning Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Ravid writes:

Speaking of Dermer and Adelson, a few months ago U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with the leader of one of the major American Jewish organizations. When the latter asked Rice why she hadn’t met with Dermer[,] Rice responded, with her characteristic sarcasm, “He never asked to meet me.”

“Besides, I understood that he’s too busy traveling to Sheldon Adelson’s events in Las Vegas.”

This, it should be noted, was not a case of the administration giving a quote to Ravid, the way they did with Goldberg. But it’s interesting that this quote appears here. If Susan Rice said what she’s quoted here as saying, the Obama White House has completely lost it. This is especially true because while Obama has surrounded himself with mostly dim bulbs, Rice is actually whipsmart and tough as nails. And while Obama has generally hired those with a less-than-sterling opinion of Israel–including the Cabinet member Samantha Power, who entertained the idea of the U.S. invading Israel to impose a peace deal–Rice is not known to harbor any real Obama-esque contempt for Israel.

In other words, Rice was the last best hope for those who believed that somehow a sane Israel policy might yet emerge from this administration. The paranoia that strikes deep in this administration toward Republicans and pro-Israel Jewish groups was not thought to be shared by the one levelheaded thinker left in the Obama administration. Now we know that’s also false–at least if this story is to be believed (and, we should mention, it has yet to be confirmed by a non-Haaretz outlet).

Ravid continued:

Rice was referring to Dermer’s exceptional attendance as guest of honor at a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in March. That event served to prove to Obama’s aides that despite the “new leaf” Dermer had promised when he arrived in Washington only a few months earlier, he continued to dabble in American domestic politics as a sympathizer with the red, Republican side.

This is, of course, completely insane. Yair Rosenberg pointed out that Netanyahu’s previous ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, as the National Jewish Democratic Council boasted on its website, hosted at his home “Jewish community leaders, Democratic Party officials and others … at a dinner in honor of DNC Chairman Governor Tim Kaine” while Oren was still ambassador.

By Ravid’s logic–and the Obama administration’s, if the term “logic” can be used so generously–Netanyahu has chosen to actively politic on the side of the Democrats. He hasn’t, just as he hasn’t done so for the Republicans. Perhaps everyone suffering from Bibi Derangement Syndrome needs to just lie down for a while, away from Twitter.

Additionally, this story comports with what Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev wrote back in August, and which I quoted in September: “a very senior Washington figure recently told an Israeli counterpart that each step or statement made by Netanyahu is a-priori examined by the White House to see if it helps the Republicans or if Sheldon Adelson might be behind it.”

The Obama administration sees enemies everywhere, and sees its fiercest enemy as Republicans–Americans who sternly disagree with the embattled president. It helps explain why exceedingly strange gibberish emanates from the president and his advisors whenever the subject of Israel comes up. But until now, it seemed as though Susan Rice was immune to the Bibi Derangement Syndrome that had spread throughout the White House. If Israel has lost Susan Rice too because of her own obsession with Sheldon Adelson, the reality check for which this administration is long overdue is unlikely to ever arrive.

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Ambassador Is Proxy Target for Israel’s Foes

Ron Dermer hasn’t yet even been formally credentialed in Washington, but the criticisms of him are already starting. As a feature in Politico Magazine published today noted, many on the Hill and in the White House, as well as Israel’s open foes, consider it to be open season on the new Israeli ambassador to the United States. In the piece written by JTA’s Ron Kampeas, it was made clear that the administration and some Democrats are unhappy about Dermer’s appointment since they are angry about the possibility that he will lobby Congress to undermine the White House position on nuclear negotiations with Iran or see him as a natural ally of President Obama’s Republican foes.

But complaints about Dermer have little to do with unfair accusations that he will behave inappropriately. As Kampeas illustrated in his account of some of the meetings the new ambassador has already held with members of Congress, Dermer is not looking to get involved in partisan battles that would pit Republicans against Democrats. If Dermer worries some people in Washington, it is because, like his boss Prime Minister Netanyahu, he understands American politics and will be a skilled advocate for his nation rather than a cipher that can be ignored.

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Ron Dermer hasn’t yet even been formally credentialed in Washington, but the criticisms of him are already starting. As a feature in Politico Magazine published today noted, many on the Hill and in the White House, as well as Israel’s open foes, consider it to be open season on the new Israeli ambassador to the United States. In the piece written by JTA’s Ron Kampeas, it was made clear that the administration and some Democrats are unhappy about Dermer’s appointment since they are angry about the possibility that he will lobby Congress to undermine the White House position on nuclear negotiations with Iran or see him as a natural ally of President Obama’s Republican foes.

But complaints about Dermer have little to do with unfair accusations that he will behave inappropriately. As Kampeas illustrated in his account of some of the meetings the new ambassador has already held with members of Congress, Dermer is not looking to get involved in partisan battles that would pit Republicans against Democrats. If Dermer worries some people in Washington, it is because, like his boss Prime Minister Netanyahu, he understands American politics and will be a skilled advocate for his nation rather than a cipher that can be ignored.

Dermer has more than the usual diplomatic battles to fight in Washington. Along with the usual cast of Israel-haters who seek to undermine the alliance between the U.S. and the Jewish state, there are many in the administration who regard Dermer with suspicion because of his personal ties to Republicans. Dermer is a former American who is the son and brother of Democratic mayors of Miami Beach. But his first job was in the office of Republican consultant Frank Luntz and the book he co-wrote about democracy with another former boss, Natan Sharansky, was embraced by George W. Bush, who said the work exemplified his own freedom agenda.

But what makes him a target for many in the capital and the media is that he is a confidante of Netanyahu and, like the prime minister, knows his way around American culture and politics. Though like his able predecessor Michael Oren Dermer will be careful about never crossing the line between advocacy and lobbying, the administration would probably prefer someone at the Israeli Embassy who couldn’t speak to Congress as well as the American people with the same sort of fluency as Dermer will be able to do.

Moreover, most of the brickbats being tossed in Dermer’s direction are not only really aimed at Netanyahu and/or the Jewish state. They are also based on a false reading of the disputes that have roiled the U.S.-Israel alliance in the past five years. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the mainstream press, it has not been the statements and actions of Netanyahu and his “brain” Dermer that have caused rifts in the relationship. Rather, it has been the president’s picking of fights with Israel and policy shifts such as his pursuit of détente with Iran that ignored the Jewish state’s concerns about a weak nuclear deal. Accusations about Netanyahu trying to undermine Obama are really complaints about Israel not knuckling under to U.S. pressure, not evidence of bad behavior on the part of the prime minister or his envoys. Israeli diplomats who aren’t strong advocates tend to get better press than those who aren’t shy about setting Israel’s critics straight.

Those expecting him to diverge from Oren’s oft-repeated theme about the importance and enduring value of the U.S.-Israel alliance are wrong. But neither will he desist from explaining Israel’s concerns to the media and Congress. Moreover, the administration should be glad that in Dermer they have someone with a direct line to the prime minister. If there are further misunderstandings between the two countries, it will clearly be due to the White House’s decision to ignore the Israelis rather than any miscommunications. Though Israel’s critics would prefer to have someone in Dermer’s place who would soft-pedal the country’s valid positions on life and death issues, the idea that the ambassador is disqualified because of his American connections says more about a desire to silence or marginalize him than it does about his suitability for the job.

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Israel’s Effective New Advocate

The official announcement that Ron Dermer is to be appointed Israel’s new ambassador to the United States is only a few hours old but the brickbats being prepared by the Jewish state’s critics are already starting to fly in his direction. Dermer, a close aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had long been rumored to be the successor to Michael Oren when that COMMENTARY contributor left his office this summer after four years in Washington. But while Oren largely escaped much negative scrutiny during his time as Israel’s most important foreign envoy, Dermer should expect to find himself in the cross hairs of left-wing attacks even before he arrives in his new office. As Haaretz’s story on the appointment put it, Dermer is seen by the left as the worst of all possible creatures: a “right-wing neo-con with close ties to the Bush family.”

But rather than seeking to pre-emptively sandbag Dermer in this fashion, the Jewish left should understand that he is ideally suited to be Israel’s ambassador to its superpower ally. Oren, a historian with a better grasp of America’s attitudes toward Israel than virtually anyone else in the Jewish state, was an outstanding diplomat. But Dermer brings to his job the one element most necessary to ensure that misunderstandings between Washington and Jerusalem are kept to a minimum in the coming years. As the person who is as close to Netanyahu as anyone currently working in the prime minister’s office, Dermer will be seen as a direct conduit to Israel’s leader thereby enabling him to play a vital role the U.S.-Israel relationship as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program come to a head and Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive the peace process continue.

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The official announcement that Ron Dermer is to be appointed Israel’s new ambassador to the United States is only a few hours old but the brickbats being prepared by the Jewish state’s critics are already starting to fly in his direction. Dermer, a close aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had long been rumored to be the successor to Michael Oren when that COMMENTARY contributor left his office this summer after four years in Washington. But while Oren largely escaped much negative scrutiny during his time as Israel’s most important foreign envoy, Dermer should expect to find himself in the cross hairs of left-wing attacks even before he arrives in his new office. As Haaretz’s story on the appointment put it, Dermer is seen by the left as the worst of all possible creatures: a “right-wing neo-con with close ties to the Bush family.”

But rather than seeking to pre-emptively sandbag Dermer in this fashion, the Jewish left should understand that he is ideally suited to be Israel’s ambassador to its superpower ally. Oren, a historian with a better grasp of America’s attitudes toward Israel than virtually anyone else in the Jewish state, was an outstanding diplomat. But Dermer brings to his job the one element most necessary to ensure that misunderstandings between Washington and Jerusalem are kept to a minimum in the coming years. As the person who is as close to Netanyahu as anyone currently working in the prime minister’s office, Dermer will be seen as a direct conduit to Israel’s leader thereby enabling him to play a vital role the U.S.-Israel relationship as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program come to a head and Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive the peace process continue.

Like Oren, Dermer is a native of the United States who immigrated to Israel as an adult. He may be best known here for being the co-author of the best-selling The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror with Natan Sharansky. The book, which puts forward the position that democratic reform is the necessary prerequisite for both peace in the Middle East and any hope for a better life for the Muslim and Arab worlds, was famously embraced by President George W. Bush who said it put into words exactly how he felt about the issue. While this “neo-con” testament is, among other influences, blamed for America’s unsuccessful attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East in the last decade, the truth is, the book is actually quite prescient about the failures of premature experiments in democracy in Iraq, the Palestinian Authority and now in Egypt. Unlike those who fetishize elections as the sole determinant of freedom, Dermer and Sharansky understood that there was more to the concept than casting ballots in the absence of a culture that fostered consensus about democratic values.

But Dermer’s critics dislike more than this one excellent book. They see him as having ties with Republicans that could offend the Obama administration. He was widely, and wrongly, blamed for what many in the press claimed was Netanyahu’s attempt to support Romney in the U.S. presidential election last year. But the spat that erupted between the two countries last September over Netanyahu’s plea that Obama establish “red lines” over the Iranian nuclear threat was more the president’s doing than the prime minister’s. Moreover, Dermer, an American with broad knowledge of the politics of both countries knows, as Oren did, that the primary duty of his new job will be to ensure that the alliance functions smoothly. Anyone who thinks he will be picking fights with the administration, or that the White House and the State Department won’t be smart enough to understand that having direct access to someone with Netanyahu’s ear is in their best interests, knows nothing about diplomacy or how Washington works.

But it should be noted that Dermer’s reputation as a staunch and pugnacious advocate for Israel will be a major asset for him and his country, not a drawback. Dermer has shown over the past few years that he isn’t afraid to speak up about the unfair treatment to which Israel has been subjected. As his famous rebuke in 2011 to the New York Times—in which he refused an offer to have Netanyahu write for its op-ed page because it would have been a fig leaf of fairness after a deluge of critical pieces about the Jewish state—showed, Dermer understands that staying quiet about media bias or distorted views about the conflict doesn’t help. As his own writing illustrates, clear-headed and bold advocacy that isn’t afraid to speak truth to power serves Israel far better than apologetic efforts that don’t address the real problems.

Dermer won’t be as confrontational with Obama and Kerry as he was with the New York Times, but that incident as well as his body of work shows that he understands Israel’s problems in dealing with the world far better than the overwhelming majority of those who work for his country’s Foreign Ministry. In contrast to many of the charming and utterly ineffective persons who have represented Israel abroad, Dermer gets it when it comes to dealing with attacks on his country and the justice of his cause. His eloquent advocacy for Israel’s rights may upset some who see it as always in the wrong, but it’s doubtful that Netanyahu could have made a better choice for this important position.

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Stuck in Oslo with George Mitchell

Yes, the man has an impossible job. But making himself complicit in the Palestinian Authority’s desire to have it both ways on terrorism — talk up PA security cooperation in English but celebrate terrorism in Arabic — isn’t going to make it any easier.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, one of the Obama administration’s diplomatic rules appears to be that the Palestinians will never be publicly criticized. Israel, of course, gets publicly criticized by the administration on a near weekly basis. Predictably, this has given the PA room to engage in its favorite double game.

Over the past couple of weeks, the PA leadership has repeatedly lauded Fatah terrorists and their acts of murder. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad have personally engaged in the celebrations. This finally provoked the Israeli PM’s office to protest to the Americans that

the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are engaging in incitement by honoring a woman responsible for the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history, and calling the men who killed Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai last month martyrs. …

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policy director, Ron Dermer, said in response that “those Palestinian terrorists are murderers, not martyrs. We expect the PA to prepare the Palestinian people to live in peace with Israel and not glorify killers and name public squares after them.”

What was Mitchell’s reaction? Could he muster the kind of moral outrage that the Obama administration routinely reserves, say, for Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem? Well, no. He went on the Charlie Rose show and lauded Fayyad as an “impressive leader” and declared that the Fayyad-Abbas team represents “strong and effective leadership for the Palestinian people.” This will not end well.

Yes, the man has an impossible job. But making himself complicit in the Palestinian Authority’s desire to have it both ways on terrorism — talk up PA security cooperation in English but celebrate terrorism in Arabic — isn’t going to make it any easier.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, one of the Obama administration’s diplomatic rules appears to be that the Palestinians will never be publicly criticized. Israel, of course, gets publicly criticized by the administration on a near weekly basis. Predictably, this has given the PA room to engage in its favorite double game.

Over the past couple of weeks, the PA leadership has repeatedly lauded Fatah terrorists and their acts of murder. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad have personally engaged in the celebrations. This finally provoked the Israeli PM’s office to protest to the Americans that

the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are engaging in incitement by honoring a woman responsible for the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history, and calling the men who killed Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai last month martyrs. …

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policy director, Ron Dermer, said in response that “those Palestinian terrorists are murderers, not martyrs. We expect the PA to prepare the Palestinian people to live in peace with Israel and not glorify killers and name public squares after them.”

What was Mitchell’s reaction? Could he muster the kind of moral outrage that the Obama administration routinely reserves, say, for Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem? Well, no. He went on the Charlie Rose show and lauded Fayyad as an “impressive leader” and declared that the Fayyad-Abbas team represents “strong and effective leadership for the Palestinian people.” This will not end well.

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