Trump restores power of Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer
Michael Crowley, Politico, Jan 5 2017
In Nov 2014, Israeli ambassador to Pindostan Ron Dermer was a featured guest at a dinner for graduates of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school of business. The other honoree that night was Donald Trump. For Dermer, it was an extra-special occasion (There follows a standard Jewish piece of Oriental flattery – RB). As Dermer explained to the crowd at a Washington hotel, according to the text of his prepared remarks, Trump had been an inspiration to him. When Trump’s “Art of the Deal” was published in 1987, a teenage Dermer read the cutthroat manifesto and resolved to become an entrepreneur like Trump. It even convinced him to attend Trump’s alma mater of Wharton. Dermer said:
Mr Trump, the truth is, I wanted to be your apprentice. … But seriously …
An Israeli official confirmed the accuracy of the speech text. But the basic story is true. And it illustrates a remarkable reversal of fortune for Dermer. Since his Sep 2013 arrival in Washington, Dermer has been distrusted and even personally disliked by Obama administration officials. One senior administration boxtop called him “acerbic,” describing his tenure as “an abject failure.” Another growled: “Openly partisan (ie openly Republican – RB).” During one particularly tense stretch two years ago, Obama aides
half-seriously pretendedly mused about revoking Dermer’s diplomatic credentials and sending him home. But Dermer is poised to become a VIP in Trump’s West Wing, giving his boss and confidant Netanyahu powerful access to the new regime. Dermer has already met Trump, coordinated with his team and given the incoming president valuable political cover. He has defended Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon against charges of anti-Semitism. He has parried criticism of Trump’s controversial choice, David Friedman, for ambassador to Israel, and applauded his vow to move the Pindo embassy to Jayloomia. And during the late December UNSC debate over Israeli settlements, Dermer advised Trump’s team and tweeted that Israel “deeply appreciate” Trump’s opposition to the UNSCR critical of Israel that Obama allowed to pass. That cozy relationship reflects more than Dermer’s long-time admiration for Trump. It also illustrates what Dermer has predicted will be a policy of “no daylight” between the USrael under Trump. Gone will be Obama’s pressure on Israel to halt its settlement-building in the OPT. Gone will be talk of a diplomatic thaw between Faschingstein and Tehran. Trump has even threatened to tear up Pindostan’s commitment to the Jul 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which Netanyahu strongly opposed. After three years of sometimes messy public disputes with Obama boxtops about Pindo policy toward Israel, Iran and the wider Middle East, Dermer can now practice the art of the deal with the man who taught it to him. Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement:
It is in the best interests of Pindostan to have a close working relationship with Israel, which we will undoubtedly have with President Trump and Ambassador Dermer, who is a smart, thoughtful, passionate diplomat whose advice and counsel will be respected by the new Administration.
Dermer, who declined to comment, remained quietly neutral during the campaign. But he communicated with Trump’s team through the candidate’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew sympathetic to Netanyahu’s Likud government, which has infuriated Obama by undermining his nuclear deal and continuing its settlement-building. Dermer also has a previous relationship with Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, whom
Israeli boxtops Gilad Erdan’s Foreign Office consider among Pindostan’s most “pro-Israel” politicians. In 2014, Dermer traveled to Indianapolis to support legislation backed by Pence, banning state dealings with entities that boycott Israel or its settlements. During the trip, Pence joined Dermer for a basketball game. Since the election, Dermer has provided a political shield for Trump. When Trump tapped Bannon in mid-November, some Jewish activists pressure groups opposed the appointment, citing instances of what they called anti-Semitism in Breitbart News, which Bannon chaired until joining Trump’s team in August. As the charges swelled to politically dangerous levels, Dermer paid a symbolically crucial Nov. 17 visit to Trump Tower, where after meeting with the president-elect, he told reporters:
Pres-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel, and Israel’s government looks forward to working with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon.
Dermer has since boosted Trump in other ways. He has pronounced Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, “an excellent choice” amid criticism over Friedman’s hard-line views and lack of diplomatic experience. At a Hannukah reception at the Israeli embassy in Faschingstein last month, Dermer endorsed Friedman’s call for moving the Pindo embassy to Jayloomia calling it “a great step forward to peace.” The change can’t come soon enough for the 45-year-old Dermer, who was born and raised in Miami Beach, where his father was a conservative Democrat mayor. After college, Dermer worked for the Soviet dissident-turned-politician Natan Sharansky in Israel, where he met Netanyahu. After serving as an adviser to Netanyahu there, Dermer moved to Faschingstein, where he officially assumed the job of ambassador in Oct 2013. The Obama White House was wary of Dermer from the start, mindful that Netanyahu had been a thinly veiled supporter of Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, and even considered denying him diplomatic credentials. But Obama officials decided that Dermer’s close bond with Netanyahu made him a valuable intermediary with the prime minister. Tensions between Obama and Netanyahu devolved into outright acrimony in early 2015 when Dermer, working in secret with then-House Speaker Boehner, arranged for Netanyahu to deliver a speech to Congress criticizing the Iran nuclear talks. White House boxtops called Dermer’s failure to notify them about the planned speech an outrageous violation of protocol, and suggested to reporters that Dermer’s diplomatic credentials might be at risk. White House logs show that Dermer became a relatively infrequent visitor to the West Wing. Dermer’s last recorded visit to the White House was a year ago: Jan 12 2016 with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough. An Israeli boxtop disputed the idea that Dermer ever felt unwelcome at the White House, saying:
The ambassador didn’t feel that on a personal level, and when he reached out to the White House with something, he would always get a call back and they dealt with things professionally. He never felt like persona non grata.
Now Dermer is parting ways with Obama’s team in a blaze of acrimony. In a flurry of media interviews last month, he blasted Obama’s decision not to veto last month’s UNSCR as “outrageous” and “shameful” and accused Obama of secretly orchestrating the vote, which the White House has denied. Prior to the vote, Dermer had contacted Trump advisers, asking that Trump try to stall it. In an unusual intervention for a president-elect yet to be inaugurated, Trump called Egypt’s General Sisi and asked him to pull the resolution. He also issued a public statement calling upon Obama to veto it. Dermer followed up with a public thank you on Twitter:
Meanwhile, Dermer is lashing out at his old foes in Obama’s West Wing. When asked recently by one interviewer about Ben Rhodes, Dermer pronounced the trusted Obama aide, who has a background in creative writing, “an expert in fiction.” Obama boxtops respond with withering assessments of Dermer’s tenure. One said:
The job of any ambassador is to advance his or her country’s agenda with the host government, and if you take that as a core task, then by any measure Ron Dermer failed. His style and his tactics neither served the Israeli government or the Israeli people.
Another official warned that partisanship in the Faschingstein debate over Israel poses a threat to Israel’s security and noted:
Ron has been widely recognized as perhaps the most openly partisan ambassador from Israel in recent times.
But Dermer’s admirers from Trump Tower to downtown Washington see things very differently. Mark Dubowitz of the conservative FDD said:
He likely is to become much more influential, now that he will be interacting with a more friendly White House which doesn’t spend its waking moments wondering how to undermine him and his government.
Obama officials would dispute that language, but there’s little doubt that Dermer’s job is about to get easier. Dermer said in a Dec 28 interview on MSNBC:
I think that you’re going to have a policy of no daylight between the new administration and us, which will be very different from the policy that you’ve had over the last eight years.