by Marsha B. Cohen
Barak Ravid of Haaretz has been asking who attended Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer’s seder (the festive meal eaten by Jews on the first two nights of Passover) at his Washington residence. (The last time I wrote about Dermer, he was breaking with diplomatic tradition by speaking at this year’s Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) Spring Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas.) Neither Dermer nor the spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry have been willing to give Ravid any answers, but I can. Indeed, we now know at least one important guest who was in attendance despite Dermer’s attempts to keep his list secret, but before revealing that information, let’s back up a bit.
Ravid, the foremost diplomatic correspondent of Israel’s most literary (and some even claim “leftist”) newspaper, takes issue with Dermer’s contention that it is none of anyone’s business who attends private events hosted at his home:
The home of an Israeli ambassador is not a private home, it is funded and maintained by the taxes of Israeli citizens. The flag waving outside, the security guards everywhere and the state seal on the china all underline that everything that goes on there is an official function. Or, as one veteran ambassador told me, “Even when it’s your in-laws coming to visit, it’s not a private event at the ambassador’s house.”
It’s no secret that Secretary of State John Kerry was in attendance. Ravid writes, “On the day of the first seder, Kerry issued a Pesach greeting, which was sent to hundreds of journalists and posted on the State Department. In it, Kerry noted that the following evening he would be attending the second seder at Dermer’s home.”
But when Ravid contacted the Israeli Embassy in Washington for more details about Dermer’s seder and who else was on the guest list, the embassy’s spokesperson, Aaron Sagui, declined to respond. This piqued Ravid’s curiosity further: “If Dermer doesn’t want to divulge who came to the seder, then maybe he has something to hide. Maybe there’s a story here.”
When Sagui remained silent in spite of Ravid’s repeated requests, Ravid said he would file a formal Freedom of Information application. The embassy’s spokesman then claimed that Ravid wasn’t getting the information he wanted because of his “negative attitude.” Ravid, who is usually the first reporter to break news — and occasional leaks – emanating from the Israeli prime minister’s office, turned to his contacts at Israel’s Foreign Ministry to discover why such a minor matter was being treated as though it were a secret:
The Foreign Ministry officials said Dermer was refusing on the grounds that his seder was a private event, not an official state function, and as such he owes no one an account. It seems Dermer is confused. Perhaps it’s a side effect of too many years in the orbit of Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
I’m willing to take a chance and guess that the cost of the holiday meal was billed to the ambassador’s official budget, or to the embassy’s hospitality budget, and not to Dermer’s private account. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s how it should be. But it means the seder was not a private event.
Ravid has gone ahead and done what he said he would. He has filed a request with the Foreign Ministry under the Freedom of Information Law and paid the Israeli equivalent of $6 as a filing fee. His request is being processed, and the official responsible for the law’s implementation now has 30 days to get back to Ravid with the information he’s requesting or a better explanation of why he’s not getting it.
While he is waiting, this LobeLog blogger has uncovered at least part of the answer for Ravid, thanks to the self-promotional bluster of Gary Bauer, a Christian Zionist, social conservative and one-time presidential hopeful who lost the GOP nomination to George W. Bush in 1999. Bauer is the director of two far-right advocacy groups, American Values, and the Campaign for Working Families. Bauer is also on the boards of two ultra-hawkish pressure groups, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), both of which are harsh critics of the Obama administration. On April 16, Bauer let it be known that he and his wife were among Dermer’s seder guests, while taking a swipe at Kerry.
Carol and I were deeply honored to participate last night in the Passover Seder at the home of Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and his lovely wife, Rhoda, and their five children. Also attending the small, private gathering were members of their extended family and a number of Washington insiders, including journalist Andrea Mitchell. Secretary of State John Kerry represented the Obama Administration. I was gratified to be there representing the millions of pro-Israel Christians who stand with Israel…Carol and I were honored to be part of this important night with Ambassador Dermer and his family. I pray that Secretary Kerry was as deeply moved as we were by the message of the Seder and God’s promises to the Jewish people that they would be rescued from slavery and given their own nation. That covenant cannot be broken by Secretary Kerry, the president or any other man.
So Dermer’s seder was not just an intimate family gathering to celebrate a Jewish holiday. Israelis have a right to know what other “Washington insiders” were at Dermer’s seder. Go for it, Barak!
Photo: Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, formerly senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90