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Bibi’s Brain: Meet Ron Dermer, Israel’s new ambassador to the U.S.

Ron Dermer, a Florida-born Jew who started in politics working on the 1994 Republican Revolution, is Benjamin Netanyahu’s most influential aide.

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Ron Dermer and Benjamin Netanyahu. (Daniel Hertzberg)

As one long-time observer of Israeli politics noted, “If you look at Ron, you see Bibi.” This week, when the prime minister addresses the member states of the United Nations, amid heated debate and a potential vote on Palestinian statehood, the face the world will see will be Netanyahu’s, but the words they hear—many of them, at least—will be Dermer’s.

***

In the fall of 1989, when he was 18, Ron Dermer left Miami Beach for the University of Pennsylvania, to study finance and management, figuring he’d wind up on Wall Street. Instead, he eventually found himself drawn to the family business: politics.

Dermer’s father, Jay, a trial lawyer from New York, had made his way to Florida as a young man and in 1967 won his first election as mayor of Miami Beach when he ousted Elliot Roosevelt, one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sons. (The New York Times later reported on rumors circulating around town that the city’s voters, an estimated 80 percent of whom were Jewish, wanted to punish the younger Roosevelt for his father’s sins in failing to accept more Jewish refugees from Germany during World War II.) Jay Dermer made himself, briefly, into a national gadfly once the city won the rights to host the 1968 Republican convention, firing off letters to the networks complaining every time an anchor said the gathering was being held in Miami, rather than Miami Beach, a separate city.

Dermer’s mother, Yaffa Rosenthal, was born in Mandate Palestine in 1936 but moved with her parents—Jews who fled Poland and Germany in the early 1930s—to Florida a few years after Israel won its independence. “I think it had something to do with the Histadrut”—the labor unions—“because my grandfather was a builder and didn’t want to be told where he could build,” said Dermer. “And it was the tkufat hatzena, the Austerity Years.”

The Rosenthal family chose Florida, Dermer said, because the weather was good and the red-brick building materials were similar to the Jerusalem stone his grandfather, Joseph, was familiar with. Joseph died when Dermer was a baby, and a few years later, his grandmother, Rivka, moved back to Israel. The family would visit, but all Dermer seemed to take away from the trip was a fear of desert vermin. “My mother tells me I would talk about how big the ants were,” he said. “I guess I was very small.” He says he can’t recall talking much about Zionism growing up. “I don’t remember intense discussions about Israel in my home,” Dermer said. “It was muvan ma’alav, self evident, that you were supportive of Israel.”

In 1984, two weeks before Dermer’s bar mitzvah, his father, Jay, died of a heart attack, at 54. He was buried in New York at Mt. Hebron Cemetery. Dermer, who went to a Jewish day school, reacted by becoming more invested in his Jewish identity—a posture he maintained even once he arrived at Penn, where he helped found the Jewish Heritage Program, an organization devoted to deepening college students’ Jewish attachments that is partly underwritten by Michael Steinhardt, the Jewish philanthropist and hedge fund manager, who graduated from Wharton.

It quickly became clear to Dermer’s instructors that that he wasn’t going to be joining his friends at Goldman Sachs or Salomon Brothers. “I never saw that he had that much interest in finance,” said Luntz, who taught Dermer at Penn. “And it wasn’t politics, it was policy that he was interested in.” Dermer was interested in something else, too. “He likes to win,” Luntz added—so much so that he committed himself to arguing a convincing case when Luntz assigned him to defend the view, in a classroom debate, that Israel should be condemned for its treatment of the Palestinians.

After graduation, in 1993, Dermer headed to Washington with the intention of finding a job at a think tank. That September, when Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat had their historic handshake on the White House’s South Lawn, Dermer was working for Luntz, helping to survey baby boomers about their savings habits for Merrill Lynch. The think tank job never materialized, and Luntz encouraged him to apply for a Thouron scholarship to go to Oxford and study politics. “He was perfect for it,” Luntz said. “The committee likes the idea of a Yank at Oxford, and Ron is as American as they come.” In the run-up to the 1994 congressional midterms, Dermer worked with Luntz and Gingrich on the strategy that eventually became the Contract With America, but he left for England before the election to start coursework for a second bachelor’s degree in politics, philosophy, and economics.

In the spring of 1995, Luntz came up with a new idea: to go work for Sharansky, who was then trying to launch an immigrants’ party, which came to be called Yisrael B’Aliyah, Israel for Immigration. Richard Perle had introduced Luntz and Sharansky, and Luntz immediately called Dermer, who happened to be in Israel for Passover, to introduce him to Sharansky. “I didn’t know him, I hadn’t read his book, and my first instinct was not to work for him,” said Dermer. “Then I went to meet him and changed my mind in about 10 minutes.” The feeling was mutual: Not long after they met, Sharansky recalled, he took Dermer to the municipal swimming pool in the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem to swim with his young daughters. “He was like a giant, holding my two girls,” Sharansky said. “And I thought, this is how an American should look, like a giant.”

Over the next year, Dermer spent the generous breaks between Oxford terms in Israel helping Sharansky prepare for the 1996 Knesset elections. The day of the vote, Dermer was in Oxford taking a final exam. “I think it was comparative government, if you can believe it,” Dermer recalled. Soon after, he returned to Israel, and by 1997, he had begun the process of becoming an Israeli citizen. “He was working for the Yisrael B’Aliyah party when he made aliyah—the party of immigrants even attracted an American,” Sharansky told me triumphantly.

Dermer’s friends and family were surprised. “I never thought when I connected him to Sharansky that it would eventually lead to him choosing Israel over America,” said Luntz. Dermer said his older brother, David—who by then had become a Miami Beach city commissioner—tried to talk him out of his decision. “He thought moving was basically cutting off all these other opportunities I could have had in the States,” Dermer said. “But eventually you have to choose when faced with the fork in the road, and I understood that.” The next summer, Dermer cemented his decision by marrying Adi Blumberg, an artist raised in the Old City of Jerusalem whose father, David, was at the time chairman of the Bank of Jerusalem. The wedding was presided over by the rabbinic scholar Adin Steinsaltz.

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Daniella Cheslow says:

What a great illustration. Beautiful.

You criticize Dermer and Netanyahu by saying “some American Jews — Tom Friedman, Roger Cohen and members of the New York Times editorial board — see Dermer’s strategy as a long-term disaster” despite the fact that the strategy these people (NY Times editors etc.) have proposed for the last 30 + years has done nothing to lead to peace – despite their strategies being tried by various Israeli and American governments.

The PLO under Arafat and since then has not been willing to finalize any agreements, such as Clinton’s Camp David proposal (see Dennis Ross’ book for details).

rick geiger says:

Obama is standing on Israel’s side? Really?? When and where? And the idea that Tom Friedman and Roger Cohen and the rest of the Jew hating NY Times has any credibility on this subject is silliness on your part.

Here is what we know for a fact: If this was Sept 2013 and Obama had won re-election in 2012, Obama would be telling the Israeli government he will NOT veto a new terrorist arab state. Obama is not a friend to Jews or to Israel and state that he is makes your writing unserious

Jehudah Ben-Israel says:

So long as the PLO adheres to the essence of its Charter, etched deep in the hearts and minds of its leaders, there is little chance of ever reaching an accommodation of peaceful coexistence with the Arabs of Eretz Israel (Land of Israel).

And, sadly, the thrust of the PLO Charter is the motivating factor in the PLO’s attempt to fool all of the world all of the time.

To avoid this predicament we must do three things:

1. Read the Charter and understand the PLO’s goal.

2. Realize that legally, based on the San Remo Conference decisions, 1920, accepted by the League of Nations, 1922, the entire land mass between the River and the Sea was designated as the national home of the Jewish people, and the UN, based on its Charter, can’t change this.

3. Any political accommodation that we reach must include an acceptance by the PLO of Israel as the independent nation-state of the Jewish people; and, an acceptance that a peace treaty represents the end of the conflict and the end of all future demands.

Gerald Gregory says:

When you decide to turn to God the Father for instruction and relie on him. Then you will have the security Isreal needs. Do you remember King David ( the most powful king and found favior with God)decided to # the people of Isreal and God asked him not to. David went ahead and God sent one angle and he corrected the error. Well that’s all God has to send to correct the world If you will turn from your wicked ways and have no other god before the God of Isreal. Then you’ll have safety. Try it.

Gerald Gregory says:

God knows who you are.

philip mann says:

All the Arab leaders remember the assasination of Sadat, and will not budge untill the lowest common denominator of their mob-the street-is happy. So nothing goes anywhere. Ross had it right, and Arafat admitted his fears in that book,The Missing Missing Peace.

And ,Gerald Gregory, it was David`s chief general, Joab,who advised against the census, not G-d. It`s a very puzzling part of Tanakh.

Great story and journalist work!

Though I’m not sure this man deserves such a long profile story. He is not that important or inspiring. He is just there do to Bibi and the Israeli right’s fascination of American “political wisdom”.

Netanyahu’s government is working regularly on re-acting, just like the Obama’s administration. Not the one good initiative between them. That’s why the two countries look as they do theses days.

Stephan Pickering/Chofetz Chay says:

Shalom & Boker tov…my own feeling in reading this interesting profile is that Mr Dermer, like all of us, is a post-Auschwitz Jew. Eretz Yisro’el is not a Judenrat…and much of the nonsense coming from Obama et al. is an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness. We are speaking of our survival as a PEOPLE, not a television series written by the fargoyisht of Horrorwood. The discussion of truths stops prudently with the fascists in the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. before their parallelism becomes close enough to yield logical and probable conclusions.

“In a nutshell” by Chay.

Must agree with Zvi. Molcho is much more important than Dremer and the Pulizer goes to the person who will get to interview him. Besides, it’s interesting that the military was not mentioned even once. Is this the same Aquarium that we are talking about?

James Pollock says:

Interesting that Dremer’s builder grandfather chose Florida over Israel because the Israelis had regulations to protect the beauty and integrity of their landscape. Miami Beach was built upon Everglades swampland. Essentially it served as an Israeli resource.

Yaffa Dermer says:

To James Pollock:
Please be advised that Ron Dermer’s grandfather was a member of the bricklayers Union in the U.S. He only supervised constructions jobs for other contractors. He loved and protected the beauty and the integrity of landscape. He is the only supervisor who was honored at the end of any job, for example the Miami Museum of Science put a plague in his memory for the fine work he did, or was made an honorary Conch when he supervised the Jail building in Key West. Don’t write lies. Ron’s mother and a very proud daughter.

Jehudah Ben-Israel says:

Now, after Obama’s speech at the UN and his meeting with Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, all that the PLO needs to do is to finally accept Israel’s right to be, to exist as the independent nation-state of the Jewish people; and, agree to accept a peace treaty as the end of the conflict and the end of all future demands.

Are they ready and able to so…??!!

Excellent article Tablet Mag! The Sharansky-Dermer-Netanyahu triangle is very interesting. These three men represent an almost unitary ideology that has been a driving force in Israeli foreign policy. I don’t doubt for a second that Mr. Dermer had a hand in the new directions taken at the Jewish Agency since Sharansky assumed its chairmanship.

Oh, and thank you Mrs. Dermer for participating in the comments section. You should be quite proud of your son!

Please check out my “on-writing” discussion of this article at http://wp.me/p1O6b1-11

Dan Friedman says:

If you’re going to cite the NYT’s bilious leftist columnists, you should have also noted they’ve been wrong on Israel at every turn.

harvey horowitz says:

Was quite pleased and excited to spot the name of a second cousin,
Ari Harow, who served Bibi while in office last year. Have never met
Ari but am sure he is the son of my cousin Edward who made aliyah with most of the Harows back when the state was very young. My
Uncle Mqrris Harow z”l left behind a distinguished shevet of almost
100 Israeli=America Jews upon his passing some few years ago.

Bibi has a brain, sure, but it’s not this putz.

Bibi’s brain, and Bibi’s backbone, is Avigdor Lieberman, the one, only, and true leader of Israel. G-d and the Torah tells us this.

Lieberman will guide Israel to its place at the pinnacle of the world. Bibi endangers us all.

Jeffrey says:

If Dermer thinks he’s so great at everything, why has he been playing FLAG football. Seems he needs to sink to a lower level in order to feel he’s the “best”. Being an intellectual in Netanyahu’s crowd requires only a silent assent to the ultra-religious crazies and the thuggery of the neocon right. Mr. Dermer, come back to American and play a little real football here!

NancyGene says:

Stephan Pickering, did you even read the article?

karen gordon says:

had a wonderful first wife adi blumberg, whose father in law was very helpful in getting ron into the right circles.

James, Israel had regulations to protect the unions, and possibly the built heritage – no one gave a flying c*** about the landscape in 1948. And furthermore Miami Beach was built on a sand-bar, not Everglades swampland. You are very ill informed.

Papa493 says:

I’m sad to see Oren go. He’s a man of rare quality.

jonitin says:

Great piece. The guy sounds twisted. Like the leadership of Israel. They are so wrong about what Americans will put up with – the Israeli public is going to get screwed. I can’t blame them. They’re in a tough situation. It’s a really spooky situation with what surrounds them. But they’re part of it. And sooner rather than later they going to have to find some way to join the neighborhood. Dermer and Bibi are dependent on keeping Israel a ghetto. Isolated and dependent. It’s sad. And going to hurt the Jewish state.

Hershl says:

Kol hakavod!!

We need such principled, gifted, hard hitting people to represent us in Washington.

From one side he will fight off the traitors of J Street, the self-hating propagandists like T. Friedman, NY Times disciple and columnist, and the anti-Israel goyim who consider Israel to be a pariah among nations.

He will be a fantastic ambassador and make us all proud to be Jews.

And we will support him 100% minus the usual suspects who are well known and whose day of retribution is coming.

Robert Starkand says:

I like this guy.

$10,000 Torah Challenge: Can You Prove That Judaism Does Indeed Pass Thru The Mother?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MLBUvI6a9A

I have someone more qualified

2000

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Bibi’s Brain: Meet Ron Dermer, Israel’s new ambassador to the U.S.

Ron Dermer, a Florida-born Jew who started in politics working on the 1994 Republican Revolution, is Benjamin Netanyahu’s most influential aide.