Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ron Dermer

Can Bibi Play Chicken with the Democrats?

The last week has been a good one for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls testing opinion prior to Israel’s March Knesset elections showed that he had not only made up the 2-3 seat advantage that his Labor Party rivals held a couple of weeks ago but that his Likud Party was now firmly in the lead by the same margin. But while Netanyahu’s chances for reelection to a third term are looking up, his stock in Washington remains down. With Democrats threatening to boycott the speech, it’s clear that what is going on now is game of chicken in which the stakes are getting higher than Netanyahu or his nation can afford to play with. While it is possible that members of Obama’s party are bluffing about having the prime minister speak to a half-empty chamber filled only with Republicans, the question now facing Israel’s government is whether winning this point is worth the damage that the controversy is doing to the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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The last week has been a good one for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls testing opinion prior to Israel’s March Knesset elections showed that he had not only made up the 2-3 seat advantage that his Labor Party rivals held a couple of weeks ago but that his Likud Party was now firmly in the lead by the same margin. But while Netanyahu’s chances for reelection to a third term are looking up, his stock in Washington remains down. With Democrats threatening to boycott the speech, it’s clear that what is going on now is game of chicken in which the stakes are getting higher than Netanyahu or his nation can afford to play with. While it is possible that members of Obama’s party are bluffing about having the prime minister speak to a half-empty chamber filled only with Republicans, the question now facing Israel’s government is whether winning this point is worth the damage that the controversy is doing to the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Netanyahu sent Ambassador Ron Dermer and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to the Hill yesterday to make peace with prominent Democrats upset about the prime minister’s acceptance of an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress on Iran sanctions. But apparently, members of President Obama’s party were not buying what Dermer was selling and Politico described the exchange as having not only failed to resolve the dispute but also perhaps even made it worse. Some Democrats described Dermer’s surprise at the political furor the Boehner invitation caused as insincere. That’s a bit unfair, since had the ambassador understood what would happen it’s doubtful the plan would have proceeded. But their willingness to attack him in this manner demonstrates just how wrongheaded the scheme was since it has turned Iran from an issue on which there was a bipartisan consensus in Congress into a partisan football.

Let’s specify that this is far more the fault of the administration than that of Israel. The White House has deftly used the issue of Netanyahu’s speech as a wedge by which it sought to force Democrats to take sides in a feud they wanted no part of. But the Israelis must also be judged guilty of misjudging the way Netanyahu’s intervention on sanctions would be perceived. Had he come either before or after the resolution of a debate on which he is arrayed against the president, Netanyahu would have been cheered to the echo as he was in May 2011 after Obama had ambushed him with a peace proposal that tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. But with the White House threatening to have Vice President Biden boycott the speech and with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (who was inexplicably snubbed when invitations were sent out for a meeting between Edelstein and House leaders) also making noises about members staying away, it’s time for Netanyahu to stop pretending he can brazen this affair out.

There are voices within the pro-Israel community that are still calling on the prime minister to show up in Washington and to unleash his rhetorical genius on Congress in an effort to rally Americans behind the common cause of resisting Iran. Netanyahu has an excellent case to make on this issue and President Obama’s opposition to more sanctions is not only wrongheaded, it is indefensible since he is seeking to thwart perhaps the one thing that might force Iran to yield to his demands. But for Netanyahu to play chicken with Democrats in this manner is as shortsighted as it is reckless. Even if Biden, Pelosi, and the rest of the Democrats show up for the speech, it will be no triumph for Netanyahu as he will not be applauded as he has been in the past. If they don’t, he will blamed for having turned Israel into a partisan issue even if many (though not all) in the Democratic Party’s left wing drifted away from Israel long before this dustup.

Let’s also remember that as important as the issue of Iran may be, the current sanctions bill should not be considered a matter of life or death. As I pointed out last week, the bill put forward by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez already contains a poison pill that undermines its purpose. Since it allows the president to waive enforcement of the new sanctions if he wishes, that is a virtual guarantee that President Obama will not only go on negotiating indefinitely with Iran as he vainly seeks détente with the Islamist regime, but will also continue to thwart any effort to pressure it.

If he is reelected Netanyahu will have some hard decisions to make about whether to simply stand by and let Obama allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state. It may be that the chance to use force against Iran was lost a few years ago or perhaps Israel still has a military option. But either way, the vote over this sanctions bill will not decide the issue. At this point, Netanyahu has not much to gain and much to lose by stubbornly sticking with his plan. He may fear that backing down will hurt his image at home on the eve of the elections, but I imagine most Israelis are smart enough to recognize that such a decision would be the better part of valor.

Playing chicken with a congressional caucus that has many ardent friends of Israel is a foolish business that needs to stop now. It is long past time for the debate about the wisdom of his original plan to conclude. Netanyahu has long excelled at playing the long game in terms of the strategic interests of his nation. With his reelection looking more secure, he needs to start planning for life after Obama with either a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. It’s time for him to remember that and find a way to back out of a speech that is no longer worth the trouble that it is causing him and the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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Even After Speech Fiasco, Israel Will Survive Netanyahu-Obama Feud

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His decision to accept House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a joint session has brought down on his head the scorn of the American political establishment and press. But all is not lost for Netanyahu. There may be no good solution to his dilemma with respect to the speech to Congress and little hope that the Obama administration will do the right thing with respect to Iran, he remains the most likely person to emerge from Israel’s March election as the next prime minister. Though some may think that would be an even bigger disaster for his country considering that administration sources are spreading rumors that President Obama will never again meet with Netanyahu, no one should think such an outcome will be the end of the alliance or even such bad news for the prime minister.

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It’s been a bad couple of weeks for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His decision to accept House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a joint session has brought down on his head the scorn of the American political establishment and press. But all is not lost for Netanyahu. There may be no good solution to his dilemma with respect to the speech to Congress and little hope that the Obama administration will do the right thing with respect to Iran, he remains the most likely person to emerge from Israel’s March election as the next prime minister. Though some may think that would be an even bigger disaster for his country considering that administration sources are spreading rumors that President Obama will never again meet with Netanyahu, no one should think such an outcome will be the end of the alliance or even such bad news for the prime minister.

Though Netanyahu’s American supporters continue to defend the idea of him giving such a speech, there’s no way to sugarcoat what has become a disaster for Israel and the prime minister. The blunder has not only made it easier for President Obama to divert attention from his indefensible opposition to sanctions that would turn up the heat on Iran in the nuclear talks. It has also enabled the White House to rally Democrats to oppose more sanctions, causing some to say that they won’t even attend Netanyahu’s speech out of loyalty to the president. Joining the gang tackle, some in the press are floating stories about Ambassador Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s loyal aide and the person who helped cook up this fiasco with Boehner, being frozen out of future contacts with the administration.

But while, contrary to the expectations of some on the right, this hasn’t exactly boosted Netanyahu’s standing at home, neither has it caused his prospects for re-election to crash. Indeed, while his Likud Party seemed to be losing ground to the Labor-Tzipi Livni alliance that now calls itself the Zionist Camp, by the end of the week, polls showed that Netanyahu’s stock had gone up. A review of all the polls showed that Likud was either tied with Labor or edging slightly ahead.

More to the point, any way you look at the electoral math of the coming Knesset, finding a way for Labor leader Isaac Herzog to form a coalition, even one that isn’t particularly stable, seems highly unlikely.

Even if Herzog’s party manages to nose out Likud for the top spot in the March elections giving him the theoretical first shot at forming a coalition, his task seems impossible. A Labor-led coalition is theoretically possible but it would require the sort of coalition of not merely rivals but open enemies. Herzog must build his coalition with the joint Arab list — forcing him to rely on open anti-Zionists to form his “Zionist Camp” government — or the Ultra-Orthodox religious parties. It is impossible to imagine those two polar opposites serving together. But even if he eliminates one or the other, it’s equally difficult to see like Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu or Yitzhak Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, working with the Arabs. It’s equally hard to imagine how Lapid or Meretz, Labor’s natural ally on the far left, co-exist with the religious parties or how either scenario for a coalition could last.

By contrast, it will be far easier for Netanyahu to assemble a coalition consisting of the parties of the right and the center even without the religious parties though it is highly likely that he would opt for a Cabinet that included the ultra-Orthodox this time, giving him yet another strong, albeit quarrelsome government to preside over.

Thus, the odds are that sometime this spring, Netanyahu will be sworn in for a fourth term as prime minister, much to the chagrin of his sparring partner in the White House. But if Obama won’t talk to Netanyahu and is even pledging as one anonymous White House source claimed, to be willing to make the prime minister pay a price for his effrontery in opposing him on sanctions, won’t that be terrible for Israel?

The short answer is that it certainly won’t make for a cordial relationship. But it’s hard to see how it will make things any worse than they have been for the last six years.

After all, Obama has been sniping at and snubbing Netanyahu and his country ever since he entered the presidency. Obama has tilted the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians, undermined Israel’s claims to Jerusalem in ways no predecessor had done and even cut off the resupply of ammunition during last summer’s war with Gaza out of pique at Netanyahu’s government.

But in spite of this, the all-important security relationship continued. What’s necessary for the alliance to function is that the Pentagon and Israel’s Ministry of Defense communicate regularly, not the president and the prime minister. The same goes for the two security establishments, that continue to work well together.

In fact, it might be a very good thing for the alliance if Obama were to refuse to meet Netanyahu for the remainder of his time in office. Only bad things tend to happen when the two, who openly despise each other, are forced to come together. It would be far better for both countries for the leaders to stay apart, enabling their underlings to do what needs to be done to ensure the security of both nations. Were Obama to try and take revenge on Israel by supporting the Palestinians in the United Nations, it would harm the U.S. as much, if not more than it would Israel.

Netanyahu also knows that whoever wins in 2016, with the possible and extremely unlikely exception of Rand Paul, any of the possibilities to be the 45th president will be friendlier to Israel than Obama.

The issue of Iran’s nuclear threat will continue to hang over Israel and the alliance and Obama’s push for détente with the Islamist regime is a genuine threat to the Jewish state’s security as well as to that of moderate Arab governments. But once the current arguments about sanctions subside, as they inevitably will, Israel will carry on and Obama’s enmity notwithstanding, it will survive. Even a fourth term for Netanyahu will not change that.

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America’s Anti-Israeli President

I wanted to add to Jonathan’s post on President Obama and Israel, but perhaps sharpen some points just a bit.

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I wanted to add to Jonathan’s post on President Obama and Israel, but perhaps sharpen some points just a bit.

The Obama administration is unusually petty and sophomoric. The attacks leveled against Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, are part of a troubling pattern in which officials in the Israeli government–including and especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–are vilified.

No world leader has been treated by President Obama and his administration with the contempt they have shown Prime Minister Netanyahu–from this snub in 2010 to being called a “coward” and “chickens*** prime minister” by senior administration officials.

But the problem goes much deeper than a personality clash. President Obama is, quite simply, anti-Israel. In every conceivable situation and circumstance, the president and his aides give the benefit of the doubt not to Israel but to its enemies. This despite the fact that Israel is among America’s longest and best allies, democratic, lawful, takes exquisite steps to prevent civilian deaths in nations committed to destroying it, and has made extraordinary sacrifices for peace. No matter; the pressure that’s applied is always applied most against Israel–even when, as in last year’s conflict with Hamas, Israel was the victim of lethal attacks.

This is morally shameful. In a world filled with despotic leaders and sadistic and ruthless regimes–North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, and on and on–which nation alone does Mr. Obama become “enraged” at? Which is the object of his disdain? Which provokes his white-hot anger?

Answer: Israel. Has it struck you, as it has struck me, that with every other nation, including the most repressive and anti-American on earth, Mr. Obama is careful never to give offense, to always extend the olive branch, and to treat their leaders with unusual deference and respect? Except for the Jewish State of Israel. It always seems to be in the Obama crosshair.

Because this attitude is so detached from objective circumstances and the actions of Israel and the actions of the adversaries of Israel, something else–and something rather disquieting–is going on here. Mr. Obama wouldn’t be the first world leader to have an irrational animus against Israel. He’s not even the first American president to have an irrational animus against Israel. (See: Jimmy Carter.) But it is fair to say, I think, that no American president has been this consistently hostile to Israel while in office or shown such palpable anger and scorn for it and for Israel’s leader.

Perhaps given President Obama’s history–including his intimate, 20-year relationship with the anti-Semitic minister Jeremiah Wright–this shouldn’t come as a surprise. But that doesn’t make it any less disturbing.

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Obama Politicized Iran Sanctions; Not Israel’s Ambassador

Ron Dermer came to Washington in 2013 with a target on his back. Israel’s ambassador to the United States was a close associate of Prime Minister Netanyahu and lambasted as not only the “brain” of a leader widely disliked by liberal Jews but also tainted because of his former close ties with American conservatives. So it is not exactly a surprise that much of the criticism that has been focused on Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address a joint session of Congress on the issue of Iran sanctions is being directed at Dermer. But even if you think, as I do, that the decision to give the speech at this time is a mistake, it’s important to recognize that much of the opprobrium being hurled at the ambassador is deeply unfair. While Dermer is being accused of undiplomatic interference in U.S. politics and flouting protocol, it is the White House that has politicized an issue that would otherwise be a matter of bipartisan consensus, not the Israeli Embassy or even House Speaker John Boehner.

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Ron Dermer came to Washington in 2013 with a target on his back. Israel’s ambassador to the United States was a close associate of Prime Minister Netanyahu and lambasted as not only the “brain” of a leader widely disliked by liberal Jews but also tainted because of his former close ties with American conservatives. So it is not exactly a surprise that much of the criticism that has been focused on Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address a joint session of Congress on the issue of Iran sanctions is being directed at Dermer. But even if you think, as I do, that the decision to give the speech at this time is a mistake, it’s important to recognize that much of the opprobrium being hurled at the ambassador is deeply unfair. While Dermer is being accused of undiplomatic interference in U.S. politics and flouting protocol, it is the White House that has politicized an issue that would otherwise be a matter of bipartisan consensus, not the Israeli Embassy or even House Speaker John Boehner.

Even Dermer’s predecessor Michael Oren–whose background was as a historian, not a political adviser like Dermer, and was therefore a less polarizing figure–learned that being the ambassador from a Netanyahu-led government was no easy task in Obama’s Washington. But Dermer was doubly handicapped because of his close ties with the prime minister. That’s ironic because being his confidant made him an ideal person to serve as an envoy to his country’s sole superpower ally.

Dermer is resented by the left-leaning figures that dominate Israel’s foreign ministry as well as by most of the members of Israel’s press corps in Washington, who lean left just like most of their American colleagues. If that didn’t place him behind the 8-ball, Dermer also had been involved in a memorable spat with the editors of the New York Times in 2011 when he publicly turned down their offer—on behalf of Netanyahu—of space on their op-ed pages because he rightly said the avalanche of anti-Israel pieces they publish made such a piece mere tokenism designed to cover up their bias.

So Dermer can hardly be surprised that the Times devoted a piece in today’s paper to piling on the ambassador.

Let’s acknowledge, as I have written a few times over the past week, that accepting Boehner’s invitation to address Congress on the issue of Iran sanctions was a blunder. Such a flamboyant intervention by an Israeli leader into a congressional debate in which the White House was on the other side was asking for trouble. It diverted attention from the president’s indefensible opposition to strengthening his hand in negotiations with Iran by making it clear that the Islamist regime would pay a high price for further delay and refusal to give up their nuclear ambitions. It allowed the administration to change the subject from its pursuit of détente with Iran to Netanyahu and undermined efforts to rally Democratic support for sanctions.

But even if we accept that Dermer and Netanyahu were wrong, it wasn’t the Israelis who politicized the sanctions debate. That was the fault of the White House.

Up until Obama entered the White House, opposition to Iran and support for sanctions was a matter of bipartisan consensus. Though his rhetoric about stopping Iran has always been good, the president has opposed virtually every sanctions bill that has been proposed, including some that he now brags about having brought Iran to the table. An overwhelming majority of both Houses of Congress comprising members of both parties have supported increased sanctions on Iran for the past two years. The only consistent opponent has been the president. It is he who has sought to make sanctions a partisan issue by leaning on Democrats to oppose the measure out of loyalty to him. He has also stooped to exploit the resentment many Democrats feel toward Speaker Boehner as a reason to back his stand on Iran. Though Dermer may have erred by not consulting with the White House about Boehner’s invitation, the decision to turn this into a major kerfuffle is purely a product of administration politics, not an understandable desire on the part of the Israelis to aid those backing sanctions.

Let’s also note the hypocrisy of many of his critics. The same people crying foul about Dermer and Netanyahu didn’t protest when British Prime Minister David Cameron lobbied members of the Senate on behalf of Obama’s stand on Iran. Some of those veteran American diplomats who are piling on are also guilty of having very short memories. One of the key witnesses against Dermer in the Times article is former State Department official Daniel Kurtzer who said it was unheard of for a diplomat to go behind the back of a country’s government and work with its domestic opponents. But Kurtzer and the rest of the peace processers who worked for a number of administrations over the last 25 years have been guilty of doing just that whenever a Likud prime minister was in power. Both Presidents Clinton and Obama have worked tirelessly to undermine and defeat Netanyahu throughout his three terms in office in ways that Dermer and his boss would never dream of trying to do to Obama.

Say what you will about the mess that Dermer and Netanyahu find themselves in and for which they bear some responsibility. But the prime minister’s scheduled speech has become a diplomatic cause célèbre due to the partisan political games being played by the White House, not the Israelis. It is Obama that is undermining the U.S.-Israel alliance by seeking to appease Iran, not the efforts of Dermer to rally Americans behind a stand that is in the best interests of both countries.

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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.

Read Less




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