Last week, funerals were held for two American-born “lone soldiers” who fought for the Israeli Defense Forces and died in Gaza. They were not alone. In a stunning show of national solidarity, over 20,000 Israelis attended each of their funerals.
Two other American “lone solders” continue to fight for Israel and should be celebrated. Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, and Israel’s current Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, both American-born, are doing as much as any American to advance Israel’s cause and strengthen the ties between Israel and the United States.
Michael Oren was born in upstate New York and grew up in suburban New Jersey. He learned about the ravages of war firsthand from his father, an officer in the U.S. Army, who took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. At the early age of 15, Oren went to Israel to work on an alfalfa farm. A job as a cowboy on the Golan Heights followed, as well as athletic honor as an oarsman in the Maccabiah Games. In 1979, at the age of 23, Oren immigrated to Israel and began his military service in the IDF. He served as a paratrooper in the 1982 Lebanon war, where his unit was caught in an ambush, his commander was killed, and nearly everyone else was wounded.
Following his military service, Oren volunteered to work with the Zionist underground in the Soviet Union, where he was repeatedly arrested by the KGB. He was called up for reserve duty for the 2005 Gaza disengagement, and participated in the evacuation of Israeli settlers there. He and his wife Sally Oren, who is the subject of a Jefferson Airplanes song, have three children, all of whom have served in the Israeli military. Their eldest son was shot at close range and wounded by a Hamas fighter in 2004.
Oren served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2009-13. Perhaps the most telling assessment of his term came from Secretary of State John Kerry, who called Oren “unfailingly candid.”
Oren continues to candidly assess the situation in Israel and Gaza. Writing this past week in the Washington Post, Oren stated that “to send an unequivocal message to terrorist organizations and their state sponsors everywhere, Israel must be permitted to crush Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This is the lesson of previous rounds of fighting between the Israeli Defense Forces and terrorist strongholds.” In previous conflicts, Oren writes, “Israel was compelled to back down,” before it had finished the job leading to further rounds of fighting including the present one. Oren states that “[t]he cycle can end, now and decisively. As Operation Protective Edge enters its third week, responsible world leaders can give Israel the time and the leverage it needs to alter Hamas’s calculus. They can let the Israeli army ferret Hamas out of its holes and make it pay a prohibitive cost for its attacks. They can create an outcome in which the organization, even if it remains in Gaza, is defanged and deprived of its heavy arms. Of course, Hamas will resist demilitarization, and more civilians will suffer, but by ending the cycle once and for all thousands of innocent lives will be saved.”
Interestingly enough, Oren was succeeded as U.S. Ambassador to the United States by another American-born citizen. Ron Dermer was born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida. His mother was born in Palestine when it was under the British mandate. His father Jay Dermer, became mayor of Miami Beach in the late 1960s, and died of a heart attack, two weeks before Dermer’s Bar Mitzvah. His brother, like his father, also served as mayor of Miami Beach. In 1995, Dermer helped manage Natan Sharansky’s Knesset election campaign, and the next year, moved to Israel. Dermer and his wife and five children live in Jerusalem. A close confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and sometimes called “Bibi’s Brain,” Dermer was selected last year to succeed Michael Oren as the U.S. Ambassador to the United States.
A July 25, 2014, New York Times profile captures the quick-witted spirit of Dermer. As the Times tells it, while an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, Dermer was assigned to argue that Israel should be condemned for its treatment of Palestinians. As a strong supporter of Israel, he was reluctant to accept that role in the assignment. “You’ll do it or I’ll flunk you,” his professor said to Mr. Dermer. Dermer then turned in such a passionate performance that his professor declared him the debate’s victor. Mr. Dermer celebrated with a call to his Israeli-born mother. “How did you do it?” his mother asked incredulously. “I lied,” Mr. Dermer said. “Like they do.”
As Ambassador, Mr. Dermer has skillfully used his sharp advocacy to defend Israel and attack media bias against the Jewish people. In his “Alamo” moment just last week, he drew a line in the sand when being questioned by CNN reporter Erin Burnett, and returned fire for fire, pointedly noting “publicly available information that was kind of an important fact” that CNN had omitted in its coverage of the Gaza conflict. Please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9nP_PEWwkQ and then please return here.
Tablet Magazine reports that, although Dermer is now an Israeli citizen, he is quite proud of his American heritage which remains an important part of him: Dermer says: “When I think about Israel, I always ask myself, I call it the WWAD question: ‘What would America do?’ As somebody born and raised in the United States, I have absolutely no doubt that America would take more forceful action if faced by the threats facing Israel.”
The Lone Soldiers, Max Steinberg of Los Angeles and Nissim Sean Carmeli of Texas, who died last week in Gaza are American heroes. So are Michael Oren and Ron Dermer. They all make me proud to be an American and supporter of Israel.