Shmuley Boteach: Ron Dermer, Israel’s Essential Man in Washington

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30, 2014: at the National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum honoring the victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C., April 30, 2014. The event, titled "Confronting the Holocaust: American Responses," included Holocaust …
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Israeli media reported last Saturday that Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer would be completing his tenure in Washington after Israeli elections this coming September.

The end of his job was, apparently, due to a small legal technicality, one based on whether a transitional government without a ruling coalition could renew ambassadorial tenure.

Under any circumstances, bringing Ron Dermer back from Washington would be a serious mistake. To do so over legal minutiae would be positively ridiculous.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would correct the record himself. Seizing “an opportunity to correct something strange that I heard,” Netanyahu uploaded a video to Facebook informing Israelis that, “well, I have news for you. We will extend his tenure for at least another year. He is doing tremendous work for the State of Israel in the most important embassy in the world, and will continue to do so.”

It is a sign of how much the Prime Minister values Ambassador Dermer that he did the Facebook video just days after becoming the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history.

Most know Ron as Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Many also know him as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-hand man and closest confidant (The New York Times once quoted a source who called him “Bibi’s Brain.”)

But, I know him in a different context altogether. We grew up together in Miami Beach, Florida, where we both attended the Hebrew Academy. We truly became close later, when I served as Rabbi at Oxford University in the UK. Ron served as student president of the Oxford L’Chaim Society, which I founded and which became the second-largest student organization in Oxford’s history. We flourished under Ron’s presidency. Even as a student he possessed a rare gift of eloquence that he employed in the service of Israel’s reputation at the world’s most prestigious university. He was the close friend at Oxford of Arab students from prestigious Middle East houses who loved and respected him. He was a loyal and devoted friend to all in his circle and has forever remained so.

Ron chose to move to Israel and cast his lost with the Israeli people amid limitless opportunity in the United States, and quickly rose to become the senior advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel by virtue of kaleidoscopic knowledge, sterling character, and wisdom well beyond his years. He then earned the job of ambassador by virtue of being one of the most compelling spokesman for Israel in the English language. Period.

In the six years since becoming ambassador, he has distinguished himself as the most consequential envoy to Washington in the history of the Jewish state.

In my many years of communal involvement I have learned that there are two kinds of leaders: those who will do everything to remain personally relevant, and those who will risk all for the welfare of their people.

Ron cares little for personal viability and is bereft of vanity. His every waking moment is focused on the safety of Israel and the security of the Jewish people.

He is that rare man defined almost entirely by unshakable values and convictions. I am in the people business and rarely have I met a man whose essence can be distilled to one fundamental principle: in this case, a belief that a vulnerable people who have done nothing to warrant the hatred arrayed against them need suffer no longer.

At the time of Ron’s appointment, Washington and Jerusalem seemed on course for a serious diplomatic crash. No longer concerned with his own re-election, President Barack Obama — in the second year of his second term — was set to reopen peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the concessions as usual being torn out of Israel’s side. President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry, more pressingly, were inside an aggressive diplomatic campaign to reach an agreement with Iran, which was at the time facing sanctions over its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Though the deal threatened America’s foremost ally in the Middle East (Israel), and bolstered dictators like Syria’s Bashar Al Assad and Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, the Obama administration was so eager to reach any agreement that they imperiled the Jewish state’s survival in the process.

In what would become known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran basically agreed to wait just ten years before being able to cultivate the ingredients for a nuclear bomb. Worse, Iran instantly received $150 billion dollars in global assets — the equivalent, as Dermer recently pointed out, of the I.S. economy getting an $8 trillion windfall — and the international legitimacy to both accept lucrative investments and sell oil with impunity. The world’s most powerful man was giving the world’s most dangerous man the funds the latter needed to reinforce his well-documented support for terror worldwide. Indeed, since the deal was signed, Israel has been forced to strike Iranian targets inside Syria more than 200 times, to stem a plan of Iranian expansion set squarely on Israel’s annihilation.

A political firestorm would engulf the discussion on Iran deal. At its center stood Israel, the canary that thought to scream before Obama led the world into a nuclear coal-mine. To the extent that Israel helped frame the dangers of the deal with Iran, few deserve credit as much as Ambassador Dermer. Considering Trump’s recent departure from the agreement, it seems he did so effectively enough. But, in the calm after the storm, one cannot forget just how rough seas were for Dermer at the time.

In his tireless campaign to lobby members of Congress to push for a better deal with Iran, Dermer met with more than two dozen congressional leaders, authored brilliantly lucid columns, and addressed dozens of political leadership groups and action committees on both sides of the aisle. Whether on TV or at the lectern, Ron clarified the perils that faced both Israel and the United States with facts, insight, eloquence, and passion. But his finest moment by far was the central role he played in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress in 2015 to oppose the catastrophic deal.

It was the finest moment of any Israeli ambassador’s tenure in Washington, seeing as it spoke truth to power at a time when an American president was prepared to overlook the genocidal aspirations of the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism against a nation which just 70 years ago saw six million of its number annihilated.

Earlier this year, in an address to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Dermer said that Netanyahu’s speech that day was the “proudest day that I’ve had as ambassador to Israel to the United States.” I was at the 2015 speech and attended with Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, himself a vocal opponent of the deal despite his close relationship with President Obama. I watched the foremost representative of the world’s only Jewish State boldly enjoin the most powerful government on earth that they take a stand against the newest genocide being planned against the Jews.

Dermer would face torrential criticism from the left for what they considered a snub of the American president. One former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy to Israel (then in Tel Aviv) even said the speech episode rendered Mr. Dermer “damaged goods,” and “practically persona non grata among senior policy makers” in the United States government. The New York Times quoted that same diplomat demanding Netanyahu ensure Dermer be “gone within a month.” Despite the harshness and scope of the criticism, Ron never backed down. President Trump’s removal of the United States from the disastrous JCPOA has provided the ambassador historic validation.

Today, Dermer is the towering ambassadorial figure in DC, respected at all levels of the Trump administration.

To listen to Ron is to be astonished at his deep knowledge of American, Jewish, and world history, and his ability to lay out a vision for Israel that is at once rooted in the realities of the Middle East while tied to the highest ideals of Zionism and Judaism. Israel would be making a catastrophic error were he to be replaced.

As ambassador, Ron Dermer has boldly stood up for Israel’s interests while others have wilted under unimaginable pressure. And as an American and as a Jew who loves Israel and American values, I, for one, remain absolutely grateful.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books, including Judaism for Everyone. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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