Ron Dermer, an American-born political consultant, is the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Sometimes called "Bibi's brain" because of his close association with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Dermer also has deep ties to the Republican Party establishment and reportedly helped influence the neoconservative "freedom agenda" of President George W. Bush.
Dermer's appointment as ambassador, which was announced in July 2013, was applauded by right-wing "pro-Israel" groups. Said Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition: "The RJC extends warm congratulations to our friend Ron Dermer on this well-deserved honor. Ron is known for being a trusted and effective aide to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Responsibility for maintaining the Jewish state's most vital international alliance is a heavy one, but knowing Ron as we do, we are confident that he is up to the job."
Dermer grew up in Miami Beach, Florida, where his brother and late father each served as mayor. The Dermer family is close with the Bush family—particularly Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida—and backed President Bush's reelection bid in 2004. According to a lengthy 2011 profile in the American Jewish magazine Tablet, Dermer enjoys "exceptionally deep and longstanding relationships with Washington's Republican establishment, particularly its neoconservative wing."
Dermer first went to Washington as a political consultant in the early 1990s after taking a college course with the veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz. Dermer worked with Luntz and then-Rep. Newt Gingrich to craft what would become the Republican Party's "Contract with America," a campaign platform that guided the party during its successful 1994 bid to retake Congress.
Luntz, reportedly capitalizing on an introduction made by Richard Perle, then connected Dermer to Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident who immigrated to Israel and founded a right-wing party for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In between breaks at Oxford, where he earned a master's degree, Dermer worked as consultant and pollster for Sharansky's Yisrael B'Aliya Party in the run-up to the 1996 elections. The following year, he formally immigrated to Israel and continued working for Sharansky. With Sharansky, Dermer coauthored the 2004 book The Case for Democracy, which President Bush credited as an influence on his "freedom agenda" to "democratize" the Middle East by force.
Dermer became close to Netanyahu while still working for Sharanksy, consulting with the Likud leader during the 1999 election campaign, which Netanyahu—then serving his first tenure as prime minister—lost badly to the Labor Party's Ehud Barak. Dermer and Netanyahu remained close, maintaining their ties as Netanyahu reentered the Cabinet following the Second Intifada. When Netanyahu resigned his post as finance minister to protest Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, he sent Dermer back to Washington as an economic envoy—a move, according to Politico, that was "seen then by Israeli political analysts as a bid to maintain Netanyahu's influence in the U.S. political and Jewish establishments, even while he was in the opposition." Dermer renounced his U.S. citizenship upon taking the job, telling the New York Sun, "I left America because I wanted to help another nation I love defend the freedoms that Americans have long taken for granted."
Dermer returned to Israel in 2008. When Netanyahu was reelected prime minister in 2009, Dermer emerged as one of his most trusted and influential advisers. "Dermer's title is senior adviser to the prime minister, and he's a jack-of-all-trades—strategist, pollster, and speechwriter for Netanyahu, as well as his chief proxy in foreign affairs," reported Tablet in 2011. "Dermer is the prime minister's alter-ego, and he has done more to shape Israel's relationship with the United States, its Arab neighbors, and the Palestinians over the past few years than any man aside from the prime minister himself." A Haaretz columnist added, "Netanyahu is probably the loneliest head of state one can imagine. There are very few people he truly trusts and appreciates, and Ron Dermer is one of them."
Dermer's close allegiance to Netanyahu was criticized by governmental oversight agencies in Israel in the lead up to the March 2015 Israeli parliamentary election. According to Haaretz, Dermer received a "disciplinary note" from the Israeli Civil Service Commission in January 2015 for breaking rules forbidding state employees from campaigning for political candidates. Dermer had earlier stated in an interview with a U.S. television network that he had "no doubt that when they [the Israeli public] look at all the people that stand for the leadership of the country, that they will have confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu."
Dermer's aggressive advocacy for Netanyahu's foreign policy, as well as his evident Republican sympathies, made him a controversial choice for an embassy post in Washington. As Lobelog'sMarsha Cohen wrote after rumors surfaced of Dermer's pending appointment in December 2012, "What better way to cross swords with the U.S. 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?"
The Obama administration, along with some senior Democratic aides in Congress, regarded Dermer warily, suspecting him of having distributed talking points to Republican members of Congress criticizing the president's diplomacy with Iran and the administration's support for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In late 2013, an anonymous former White House official said Dermer was "seen as extremely political and as someone who has repeatedly gone to the press with negative stories." Another observer added that White House staff saw Dermer "as the guy who incited Congress and Jewish organizations against Obama."
Dermer reportedly facilitated Netanyahu's unofficial support for 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Dermer, wrote Haaretz columnist Barak Ravid, was "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." It was Dermer who coordinated Romney's campaign-season visit to Israel, part of a mostly unsuccessful gambit to lure Democratic-leaning Jewish voters away from Obama by attacking his record on Israel. According to the Wall Street Journal, Dermer was also "considered a liaison to influential Republican campaign financiers like Sheldon Adelson," the controversial Israeli-American casino magnate who spent millions trying to elect Romney and a host of other Republicans.
In January 2015, Dermer helped orchestrate a controversial invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress. House Speaker John Boehner announced the invitation shortly after President Obama's State of the Union, saying that he invited Netanyahu—without the White House's knowledge—to warn Congress about the "grave" threat Iran poses to the United States' "security and way of life."
The surprise announcement came in the midst of efforts by the Republican-led Congress to pass additional sanctions against Iran even as negotiations with the country were on going. Dermer's role in organizing Netanyahu's speech was later revealed by Haaretz, which quoted a senior Israeli official as saying, "Dermer approached Boehner, McConnell and other senior Republican Party figures at Netanyahu's behest and suggested the idea of the speech."
The invitation was widely criticized. The White House called it a "breach of protocol" and an anonymous administration official reportedly said that Netanyahu had "spat in our face publicly." The administration later announced that administration officials would not meet with Netanyahu during his trip. Many outlets also condemned the Boehner-Netanyahu move, including a senior correspondent with Fox News, who called it "wicked."
Some observers argued that Dermer's role in the affair was particularly egregious because he had met with Secretary Kerry the day before Boehner's announcement yet failed to mention the invitation. "In almost any other case, such bad faith and duplicity would lead a host country to ask that an ambassador be withdrawn," opined one analyst. Dermer later defended the invitation, characterizing it as Netanyahu's "sacred duty" given the alleged threat posed to Israel by Iran's nuclear program.
Regarding his and Netanyahu's political views, Dermer told Tablet, "In terms of security policy, diplomatic policy, economic policy, I share his views—there are very few things we don't see eye to eye on." But Ravid has characterized Dermer's views as "far more extreme than Netanyahu's." European and American officials, Ravid wrote in December 2012, "have told me a number of times over the past four years that they were shocked by his positions on the settlement issue, on peace talks with the Palestinians, and on the principle of an independent Palestinian state. I recall one incident when, on the way back from Netanyahu's first visit to Washington, Dermer told reporters on the prime minister's plane that "the principle of two states for two peoples is a childish solution to a complicated problem."
Dermer's brazenly hawkish approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was on display during the 2014 Gaza War, when he told attendees of a Christians United for Israel summit that critics of Israel's military actions were "moral idiots" and that the "Israel Defense Forces should be given a Nobel Peace Prize." The conflict cost the lives of over 1500 Palestinian civilians, including hundreds of children, as well as of six Israeli civilians.
As a columnist for the right-wing Jerusalem Post in the mid-2000s, Dermer frequently penned op-eds criticizing Palestinian leaders and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. "Throughout the columns," Tablet reported, "Palestinian leaders—not just Arafat, but Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti—are branded not just as terrorists but as tyrants bent on fomenting the Intifada to consolidate power in a 'corrupt junta.'" In other writings, Dermer characterized Jewish critics of Israeli policies as "self-haters" and advocated prolonging any possible peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
As an adviser to Netanyahu, Dermer backed a controversial 2009 law that would have forced NGOs in Israel who criticized Netanyahu's handling of the Palestinian issue to identify their funding sources, accusing such groups of "attacking the very foundations of the state." More recently, in 2013, Dermer spoke out against the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, a campaign by Palestinian solidarity activists to pressure Israel over its treatment of Palestinians by enforcing a political, economic, and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions. When the American Studies Association (ASA) announced that it would boycott Israeli universities to comply with the campaign, Dermer accused the group of anti-Semitism. "The singling out of the Jewish state for boycott is no different than the many attempts throughout history to single out Jews and hold them to a different standard," he wrote on his Facebook page. "There is a name for that phenomenon. Perhaps one of the distinguished professors of the ASA could teach his boycotting colleagues what it is."