by Mitchell Plitnick
Ron Dermer, the man who is rumored to be the replacement for Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren (who resigned today), has been compared to Karl Rove. The comparison is an apt one.
Oren, an academic who easily slipped into the role of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lead US propagandist, projected an image that was a bit friendlier in its Americanism. His academic stature, his experience of having written a best-selling book on the 1967 war that was very well-received in popular circles (less so in more critical academic environments) and his general demeanor was meant to soften the hardline Israeli leader’s image while still representing the Likud’s hawkish views in the US.
Dermer, whose experience is much more imbued in politics, will likely cast a different, more Machiavellian shadow. He is steeped with neoconservative connections, comes from a family that was heavily involved in politics and is undoubtedly reflective of the more hawkish strains even among the Likud. When rumors of his likely appointment first surfaced at the end of 2012, Marsha Cohen wrote this excellent and concise profile of Dermer for LobeLog.
Unlike Oren, Dermer is opposed to a two-state solution, having referred to it as a “childish matter,” though he later backed off the statement. But Dermer, who has long been a political adviser to Netanyahu and his lead speech writer, was also a key figure in arranging the controversial trip to Israel taken by then-Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney prior to last year’s election. In fact, despite his father having been a Democratic mayor in Florida, Dermer’s Republican and neoconservative roots run very deep.
But Dermer understands very well the need to work in a bipartisan fashion as an Israeli representative in Washington. “I haven’t encountered [ideology] as being much of an obstacle. We don’t get into deep conversations about our world views,” Dermer told the Washington newspaper, Politico. “Did Churchill and Roosevelt have a good relationship? You have foreign affairs, and you work together on issues where you agree.”
Also unlike Oren, Dermer is prone to more direct language. When New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about the self-evident truth that the US Congress is “bought and paid for” by Israel’s lobby, Oren said that “…Unintentionally, perhaps, Friedman has strengthened a dangerous myth.” Dermer, on the other hand, went on the warpath against the Times as a whole, saying the paper, well-known for its long-standing editorial support of Israel but not necessarily its settlements, “…consistently distort(s) the positions of our government and ignore the steps it has taken to advance peace. They cavalierly defame our country by suggesting that marginal phenomena condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu and virtually every Israeli official somehow reflects government policy or Israeli society as a whole.”
That is likely to be a good snapshot of the differing styles of Oren and Dermer, the latter being much less inclined to diplo-speak, but with a much keener knowledge of conservative US politics. This will likely to serve him well as Israel becomes more and more a right-wing issue, a shift that Netanyahu embraces. While bi-partisanship remains the byword for pro-Israel lobbying, the money from the Jewish community, which is key and which continues to pour into the political coffers of Democrats, is increasingly coming from Jews who are either Republicans or whose views on Israel break with those of many Democrats. This split among Democrats was laughably visible during the spat at the Democratic National Convention last year over the forced inclusion of a plank in the party platform opposing the division of Jerusalem.
Oren was certainly no bridge-builder. He was sharply critical of the centrist group J Street and feuded with them off and on during his tenure. Dermer will likely be even more disdainful of even the tepid criticism of Israeli policies that J Street offers, much less groups that are more forthright.
But Netanyahu is well aware that the Palestinian issue, despite John Kerry’s many travels, is dropping farther and farther down on the list of US priorities. And the likely appointment of someone like Dermer is further evidence that Netanyahu also is willing to see the US right-wing take more ownership of the pro-Israel agenda, while campaign contributions and the continuing illusion that Jewish money is closely tied to a pro-Israel agenda keeps the Democrats toeing the line.
In the long run, this sort of characterization of the Israeli image is likely to alienate more and more US citizens, including a majority of Jews. But Bibi has never cared much about the long-term view, as the comeuppance will hit Israel long after he has left office. Ron Dermer, who shares a similar outlook, is Bibi’s kind of guy.