by Marsha B. Cohen
While Chuck Hagel is twisting in the wind, being savaged by the Emergency Committee for Israel and other “pro-Israel” organizations, Israels’ Prime Minister is contemplating making a neoconservative American-born GOP operative Israel’s next ambassador to the United States.
Ariel Kahan, the diplomatic correspondent of the conservative and religiously orthodox Israeli daily, Makor Rishon, reports that Benjamin Netanyahu is nominating his American-born advisor for the past four years, Ron Dermer, to replace Israel’s current Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, when Oren’s four-year term is up.
Barak Ravid of Haaretz, whose close ties to government sources makes him a more credible source than the conspiratorially inclined Makor Rishon, asked the Prime Minister’s office for confirmation of the report and received “an expected and routine answer: ‘No comment.'” Another Israeli official queried by Ravid said Dermer’s nomination was a possibility Netanyahu might want to reconsider because Dermer “is thought of as hostile to the Obama administration” and “his views are seen as further to the right than Netanyahu’s.”
Ravid says that European and American officials have frequently told him during the past four years that they were “shocked by Dermer’s positions on the settlement issue, on peace talks with the Palestinians, and on the principle of an independent Palestinian state.” He recalls an incident when Dermer told reporters on the Prime Minister’s plane returning from the US that “the principle of two states for two peoples is a childish solution to a complicated problem.” Ravid cites a US State Department diplomatic cable leaked to Wikileaks that reveals Dermer’s skepticism about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a partner for peace. (Click here for the original document).
According to Ravid, “Netanyahu thinks Dermer is as an oracle on everything related to American politics and society. Despite his serious error over the U.S. elections, and his lack of understanding of changes in American society, Dermer’s biggest problem, in my opinion, is his level of knowledge and understanding of Israeli society.”
Son of the late two-term Mayor of Miami Beach, Jay Dermer, Ron’s first job when he graduated from college was as an assistant to Republican pollster Frank Luntz, designer of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract With America” congressional campaign, according to a profile by Allison Hoffman. In 1997, at the age of 26, Dermer emigrated to Israel. Ravid somewhat disapprovingly points out that Dermer neither served in the Israel Defense Forces, nor did national service, later claiming that the IDF turned him down when he wanted to enlist. If true, it had nothing to do with his physical fitness, since Hoffman’s article points out that Dermer “is a ferocious competitor who quarterbacked Israel’s flag-football team in the sport’s World Cup three times.”
Instead, Dermer, thanks to his neoconservative connections, immediately became involved in Israeli politics as a pollster for Natan (Antoly) Sharansky, a former Soviet “refusenik” turned right-wing politician after his release from a Soviet prison and receiving a hero’s welcome in Israel. Hoffman credits the hookup between Dermer and Sharansky to the neoconservative “Prince of Darkness”, Richard Perle. Subsequently, Dermer became an adviser to Netanyahu. In 2004, Dermer gave up his US citizenship so that he could become Minister for Economic Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC, a post he held for four years before returning to Israel to become Netanyahu’s chief strategist and speechwriter.
Despite the present protestations that Netanyahu and his government remained neutral during the US presidential election, Dermer was actively involved, along with Romney’s foreign policy adviser Dan Senor, in planning Romney’s visit to Israel last July, according to Hoffman, helping to keep it secret in order to pre-empt the possibility of a last-minute visit by President Obama. Ravid points out that “Dermer is also the person who tried to convince Netanyahu by any means possible that Romney was set to win the elections. We saw what happened in the end. With the Obama starting his second term in the White House, it will be hard for Dermer to develop a network of trusted and intimate contacts among the president’s most senior advisors.”
So while pro-Israel Democrats and Republicans alike are wringing their hands at the thought that an executive branch appointment in the US administration might give offense to Israel’s supporters, Israel’s Prime Minister may be plotting to stick his thumb in the eye of President Barack Obama, who has promised “no daylight” between the US and Israel. What better way to cross swords with the US president than by appointing an Ambassador who has spent his entire career in the employment of the Republican party and actively rooted for, and worked for, the victory of Obama’s rival?