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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)

The timing was propitious for the young consultant. In early 1999, Netanyahu’s government collapsed, largely over the particulars of the post-Oslo negotiations. The resulting prime ministerial election was, in essence, Israel’s first totally American campaign. Netanyahu brought back his 1996 campaign strategist, Arthur Finkelstein, a veteran Republican consultant who had also worked for the Estee Lauder tycoon Ronald Lauder, a confidant of Netanyahu’s. Labor’s Ehud Barak countered by bringing on the Clinton war room commandants James Carville and Stan Greenberg. Dermer, still only 28, remained in his role as Sharansky’s strategist, focusing on the Knesset elections, where Israel B’Aliyah was faced with a challenge from an upstart Russian named Avigdor Lieberman.

By that time, Dermer was known as the country’s leading expert on the Russian vote, and during the campaign, Sharansky offered his protégé’s expertise to Netanyahu’s faltering leadership campaign. According to Sharansky, Netanyahu was unnerved by the hard news Dermer delivered. “Bibi calls me and says, this guy [Dermer] really hates me,” Sharansky said. “But the next time they met they fell in love.”

***

The two men had what Dermer described as their first real meeting in the early summer of 2000. By this time, everything was different. Netanyahu had been pushed out of the Aquarium by a landslide vote for Barak, while Dermer was recently widowed. “We hit it off right away,” Dermer said. “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.” Netanyahu, who had handed over the leadership of Likud to Ariel Sharon in the wake of his defeat, was already thinking of making a comeback, and he found a willing partner. “I said to him,” Dermer recalled, “ ‘I made multiple visits to Israel before you were prime minister. I lived in Israel while you were prime minister. And I’ve lived in Israel after you were prime minister. And with your predecessor and successor, it was chaos in the country and quiet in the Prime Minister’s Office. And when you were prime minister, it was chaos in the Prime Minister’s Office and quiet in the country.’ I said I was interested in quiet in the country.”

But the outbreak of the Second Intifada, in the fall of 2000, precluded quiet anywhere. Barak resigned, triggering a prime ministerial election between him and Sharon, which Netanyahu sat out, with Dermer quietly advising him. “Bibi found that he was fond of him, and he became almost dependent on his opinions,” said Sharansky of Dermer. Meantime, Dermer found a new public role for himself when Tom Rose hired him to write a weekly column for the Jerusalem Post. “If you write for Netanyahu and Sharansky, you write the speeches of the greatest Jewish orators in the modern day, and it’s safe to assume you’ll be a good op-ed columnist.”

Dermer’s column, “The Numbers Game,” debuted in January 2001. The paper’s editor at the time, Jeff Barak, recalls Dermer zipping up to the Post’s decrepit office in Romema, at the far western edge of the city, on his Honda scooter to drop off his weekly submissions. “He was very young, but you could already see this was a guy with great potential,” Barak said.

The early columns focused narrowly on polls and election results, but by March, Dermer had found his groove, writing increasingly assertive essays on Israel’s civic troubles that cited everyone from Machiavelli and Isaiah Berlin to Asher Ginsberg, the original proponent of cultural Zionism, who wrote under the pen name Ahad Ha’am. These columns anticipate current political issues, and they provide a useful guide to Dermer’s preoccupations and convictions.

Throughout the columns, 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.” (Barghouti is currently jailed in an Israeli prison and is seen by some Palestinians as a Nelson Mandela figure.) The willingness of the Left to cooperate with Arafat, Dermer argued in a March 2001 column, revealed its leaders to be lily-livered sellouts, willing to risk Israel’s security and its future for the vague hope of peace:

Slowly but surely, a mounting conviction that time is no longer on our side is sapping our national will. The current peace process has done much to contribute to our national “malaise.” Despite the claims of many of its most vocal supporters, the path that led our leaders to sign the Oslo accords was not marked by hope. In fact, it was beset by fear and anxiety.

He revisited the same idea in January, taking aim at the novelist David Grossman, who Dermer defined as a “self-hater”—language that resurfaced soon after Netanyahu took office in 2009, when Ha’aretz reporter Barak Ravid wrote that the prime minister had called Rahm Emanuel a self-hating Jew:

The Zionist self-haters are different than the anti-Zionists in that the former are as firm in their commitment to a Jewish State as they are to an Arab one. Since they have deluded themselves into believing that the Arab world has accommodated itself to the existence of Israel, to them the core of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict has already been resolved. What is necessary to end the current violence is only to expunge the Israeli sin of “occupation,” a sin that has badly stained their blanched humanitarian consciences. Indeed, they see resistance to the “occupation” as legitimate and believe that returning to the pre-1967 lines will end the conflict and secure Israel’s future.

In the March column, Dermer laid out what, in light of the Arab Spring, turns out to be a prescient vision of the Arab historical dialectic. And he made the case for delaying a peace deal as long as possible:

The truth is that the day is not far off when the Arabs will be free enough to see with their own eyes the path of lies, poverty, and destruction on which they have been led for decades. The truth is that by showing weakness today, we are breathing life into the despotic regimes that rule them and that when the Arabs are free enough to truly govern themselves, they will be free enough to forge a genuine peace with us. If we remain convinced that time is working against us, we will not withstand our adversaries for long. But if we begin to realize that each passing year leaves us stronger and our enemies weaker, then we will restore our faith in ourselves and recapture the internal fortitude that has long been the trademark of our people.

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, Dermer went to New York on his way to Florida, where he helped his brother David eke out an upset victory for the Miami Beach mayoral seat their father had once occupied—a victory that was won with a last-minute assist from Gov. Jeb Bush. In the Jerusalem Post, Dermer wrote that what struck him back in his native country was not renewed faith or unity, but a new and characteristically Israeli suspicion of strangers—specifically, Arab strangers—as potential enemies. “The prevailing mood I detected,” he wrote, “was best expressed not by the president’s call for Americans to pray in their ‘churches, synagogues and mosques’ but by the refusal of commuters on a Minneapolis flight to fly until three Arab passengers were removed from the plane.” It was a twist on that famous Le Monde headline—“We Are All Americans.” Finally, it seemed to Dermer, we were all Israelis.

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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.