Just when it seemed to be fading away, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reputation for meddling in American partisan politics got new attention this week with his decision to name as his ambassador in Washington a former Republican operative who promoted his bromance last year with Mitt Romney.
He picked his close confidante Ron Dermer to replace Amb. Michael Oren, who according to some reports, wanted to stay but was forced out by Dermer’s desire for the job. Oren, an American-born historian, has served four years and was considered popular and effective.
Dermer, who has a reputation as bright, brash and abrasive, likes to boast about his closeness to Netanyahu. He is “rumored to be the one responsible for news stories about Obama’s snub of Netanyahu during his 2010 White House visit. And Obama administration officials believe he was behind Netanyahu’s perceived tilt toward Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential election,” according to JTA.
His involvement in Republican politics goes back two decades to the 1994 Republican Revolution led by Newt Gingrich and his ties to the neo-conservative movement. He was closely associated with last year’s Romney campaign and Republican politics while working for Netanyahu, according to published reports.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, which has spent millions demonizing Obama and trying to paint him as hostile to Israel, boasted of its relationship with “our friend Ron Dermer” in welcoming his appointment.
A former Obama administration official told JTA, “To me, it’s not an ideal choice as he’s seen as extremely political and as someone who has repeatedly gone to the press with negative stories. You want someone trusted and discreet to be your ambassador.”
The Mitt-Bibi bromance during last year’s presidential campaign heightened charges of the Israeli leader meddling in American politics. As if strains between the president and PM weren’t bad enough, that show and virtual endorsement plunged bilateral relations to a new low. Since Barack Obama’s reelection both leaders have made a serious and so-far promising effort to repair their personal relationship.
The up side of Dermer’s appointment is his close relationship with his prime minister and direct access to the man in charge, which can only enhance his influence and effectiveness in both capitals.
Jewish leaders who had privately expressed concern about Dermer when his appointment was still in the rumor stage, have publicly changed their tune, and why not? They don’t want to risk losing access to the new ambassador or being unable to get him to speak at their big events for major contributors.
Dermer’s appointment also means the Foreign Ministry once again will be on the outside looking in, with the ambassador bypassing it and going directly to the PM, even though Netanyahu is nominally the foreign minister while the man who wants the job, Avigdor Lieberman, is on trial for corruption and waiting to find out whether he goes to jail or back to the foreign ministry.
Lieberman won’t be very welcome back at the ministry or among foreign governments since his previous tenure was considered largely a failure. The United States and most of the rest of the world didn’t even want to talk to him, according to former senior Israeli diplomats I’ve spoken to. The Soviet-born Lieberman handled the Russian account, but even then when matters got serious, Netanyahu personally took over.
The Florida-born Dermer, 42, made aliyah in 1996 and gave up his US citizenship when he was sent to Washington as economic affairs minister in 2005 by then-finance minister Netanyahu. He has been a close advisor, speechwriter and strategic consultant to Netanyahu ever since. His father and brother, both conservative Democrats but with close associations with the Bush family, have served as mayors of Miami Beach.