by Marsha B. Cohen
“Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel,” Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer told reporters who met him at the lobby of Trump Tower on Thursday. “We have no doubt that Vice President-elect Mike Pence is a true friend of Israel, he was one of Israel’s greatest friends in the Congress, one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country.”
What Dermer didn’t say is that he himself has long and close ties to numerous candidates rumored to be under consideration for Trump’s cabinet, top advisory positions, and diplomatic posts.
A close confidante and adviser of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—so close that he was nicknamed “Bibi’s brain”—Dermer stated that his government looked forward to “working with the Trump administration, with all the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the U.S.-Israel alliance stronger than ever.”
Close to Republican Bigwigs
Dermer’s first job out of college was assistant to Republican strategist Frank Luntz, working with him and Newt Gingrich on the 1994 “Contract With America” campaign. Gingrich, who reportedly turned down Trump’s offer to nominate him as secretary of state last week, has stated he would prefer a “unique role “in the administration in an informal advisory position, serving as a liaison between the Trump White House and the “Republican coalition.” Gingrich sees Trump’s domestic platform as an echo of the “Contract” that Dermer helped to craft just before moving to Israel. Gingrich explained to Foreign Policy that the “unique role” he wants “involves thinking, which is not very expensive.” (Trump’s brain, perhaps?)
This weekend the president-elect met with Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 Republican presidential nominee, rumored to be on Trump’s long list of contenders for the post of secretary of state. In July 2012, Dermer helped to “mastermind” Romney’s trip to Israel, hoping to boost Romney’s prospects in his ill-fated campaign. “The problem isn’t that Dermer supported Romney. It’s why he supported Romney,” Peter Beinart observed in The Daily Beast. “Like Romney, and like Netanyahu himself, Dermer can barely contain his contempt for Palestinians, those who empathize with them and those who believe they deserve citizenship in a viable state.”
Dermer violated diplomatic protocol and shocked pro-Israel activists by attending a hyper-partisan Republican Jewish Coalition meeting and fundraiser at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas in March 2014. Widely viewed as “the Adelson primary,” the meeting served as an audition for support from the RJC’s largest contributor, Sheldon Adelson, who is also a financial backer of Netanyahu. Adelson and his wife Miriam reportedly donated as much as $100 million to unsuccessful Republican candidates in 2012. Among the attendees, each of whom had a private meeting with the casino mogul, were former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Trump chose not to attend the event, but the Adelsons backed him anyway, contributing upwards of $30 million in the final days of Trump’s presidential campaign. Adelson and his wife are among 17 vice chairs of Trump’s presidential inauguration committee of wealthy loyalists.
Dermer reportedly attempted to undermine international negotiations with Iran by “distributing negative talking points to Capitol Hill offices” in July 2013, three months prior to being named Israeli ambassador to the US, according to Politico. Dermer also sought to sabotage any improvement in U.S.-Iran relations in early 2015, conspiring with then-House Speaker House John Boehner to invite Netanyahu to address both houses of Congress and reiterate his opposition to nuclear negotiations, without consulting the White House. This past May, in an interview in the Jerusalem Post, Dermer described Netanyahu’s congressional speech as “the highlight” of his tenure as in Washington. His greatest challenge, Dermer said, has been “to fight a nuclear deal made between our greatest enemy and our greatest friend, while reminding people that after this deal Iran remains our greatest enemy and America remains our greatest friend.”
Matt Brooks, executive director of Dermer’s fan base at the Republican Jewish Coalition, enthusiastically greeted Trump’s nomination of Mike Pompeo, a conservative Kansas congressman who has been a harsh critic of the nuclear deal with Iran, to head the CIA. “Throughout his years of public service, Rep. Pompeo has been a friend of American Jews and a true friend of Israel. His staunch opposition to the Iran nuclear deal shows he takes our interests to heart and we are proud to support him,” Brooks said in a statement Friday.
As Israel’s top diplomat, Dermer has cultivated ties with right wing Christian evangelicals. In April 2014 Dermer secretly invited Gary Bauer to the Passover seder held at his residence but funded by the Israeli government. Bauer is the director of two far-right advocacy groups, American Values and the Campaign for Working Families, and sits on the boards of the ultra-hawkish Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), all of which were harshly critical of the Obama administration.
Before Trump’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on March 21, 2016, Dermer was widely reported to have briefed Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on the talking points the Republican candidate should emphasize. According to Haaretz, “Dermer wanted to offer Trump the Israeli government’s perspective ahead of the AIPAC speech,” which was crafted by Kushner. Decrying the dangers posed by Iran and berating the United Nations for intervening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump derided President Barack Obama as “the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me. And you know it and you know it better than anybody.”
Dermer and Gaffney
Dermer crossed the line again three weeks ago, drawing the ire of several pro-Israel organizations in agreeing to accept an award from a “think tank” headed by Frank Gaffney, also reportedly under consideration for a prominent post in the Trump administration. The Center for Security Policy, “which has gone in recent years from a hawkish think tank on foreign affairs to a promoter of baseless conspiracy theories and groundless accusations,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists, announced it would honor Dermer at a ceremony in New York City on Dec. 13. Dermer has voiced no plans to decline the award.
Responding to a request for comment by Hatewatch, an SPLC project that monitors organizations promoting racism and religious hatred, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Itai Bartov, said that Dermer was honored to have been chosen as the award’s recipient:
“As somebody who strongly believes that Israel is an outpost of democracy and freedom in a Middle East that largely rejects both, Ambassador Dermer is honored to receive this year’s Freedom Flame Award, whose former recipients include Margaret Thatcher and former U.S. Perm. Rep. to the U.N. Jeane Kirkpatrick. The Ambassador also greatly appreciates the Center for Security Policy’s longtime support for a strong and secure Israel.”
The spokesman asserted that “Ambassador Dermer is not aware of any anti-Muslim views held by the Center for Security Policy and certainly would not endorse any such view.” The SPLC points out that CSP’s founder, Frank Gaffney, is notorious for his warnings about “creeping Sharia” (Islamic jurisprudence and tradition). Ranting that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated all levels of the US government, Gaffney has demanded that Congress hold hearings like those of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s that destroyed the careers of numerous public servants, scientists, and entertainers by tainting them as “Reds.”
On November 1, around the same time the CSP award to Dermer was announced, Gaffney tweeted a video he described as “absolutely required viewing,” which claimed that Hillary Clinton’s top aide Huma Abadin had “undeniable ties to terrorism.” GOP presidential contender Donald Trump bases his demand for a complete “shutdown” of all Muslims entering the US on a factually and methodologically flawed poll conducted and disseminated by CSP that Hatewatch describes as “bogus.”
The Huffington Post notes that Gaffney is notorious for also having spread the calumnies that “President Barack Obama might be a Muslim, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is linked to Hamas, Muslim members of Congress shouldn’t be given access to classified information, and white nationalist Jared Taylor’s website is ‘wonderful’.”
David Yerushalmi, CSP’s general counsel, has represented Islamophobic extremists such as Pam Geller of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) and Terry Jones, a Quran-burning pastor in Florida pastor who has promoted “war against Islam” and against all Muslims. According to the SPLC’s files, “Yerushalmi practices what he calls “lawfare”—a multiplatform attack on Muslims’ freedom, staged by pushing his model anti-Sharia bill in state legislatures and filing aggressive lawsuits against supposed enemies of free expression and America’s ‘Judeo-Christian’ heritage.” Claire Lopez, CSP’s vice president for research and analysis, whose name has been floated as a possible deputy national security adviser in the Trump White House, told a New Jersey audience in 2013, “When people in other bona fide religions follow their doctrines they become better people — Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews. When Muslims follow their doctrine, they become jihadists.”
Dermer and the Alt-Right
In his comments in the Trump Tower lobby on Thursday, Dermer said “we look forward to working with all the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, in making the U.S.-Israel alliance stronger than ever.” Dermer avoided mentioning that Trump’s naming of Bannon for a major White House has elicited concern from several American Jewish groups. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) notes that, as the CEO of the ultra-conservative Breitbart News, Bannon established a Breitbart bureau in Jerusalem last year in order counteract what he labeled “media bias” against Israel. Jewish defenders of the Breitbart site claim it has expressed outrage when reporting attacks on Jews. But JTA, the syndicated source of news stories for Jewish media around the country, also describes Breitbart as “the clearinghouse for the alt-right, a loose collection that includes elements with anti-Semitic and racist views.”
Bannon also reportedly shaped an October 13 Trump speech that peddled conspiracy theories involving international bankers seeking global control through secret meetings—themes familiar from anti-Semitic literature. The speech was condensed into a TV ad on the eve of the election that featured images of three prominent Jews.
Meanwhile, rumors abound as to whom Trump will appoint as Dermer’s counterpart, the U.S. ambassador to Israel. The Jerusalem Post was first to announce on Friday that Mike Huckabee would be Trump’s choice of envoy, which the former Arkansas governor has denied. He said that the subject hadn’t even come up in his meeting with Trump. Breitbart News reported Friday that Hogan Gidley, Huckabee’s former communications director had previously told them that “Huckabee was under consideration for a number of possible positions in the new administration” but did not respond to Breitbart News’s inquiry about the ambassador to Israel position.
Israelis would be well advised to hope that their new U.S. ambassador does not intervene in partisan Israeli politics as egregiously as theirs has in the U.S.
Photo: Ron Dermer speaking at a Christians United for Israel event