Israel’s In-Your-Face Appointment

Showing disdain for President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed a neoconservative ex-aide to Newt Gingrich to serve as ambassador to the United States. The choice of Ron Dermer also reminds U.S. politicians why they should fear offending Israel, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Israel announced this week that its ambassador to the United States beginning in September will be Ron Dermer, a 42-year-old neoconservative political operative. Dermer grew up in the United States, once worked for Newt Gingrich, renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2005, and now works for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a speechwriter and adviser.

The Obama administration evidently has granted agrément, which in the absence of any indication of malfeasance is probably the right thing to have done. The administration may see Dermer’s close ties to Netanyahu as a practical advantage in communicating with the Israeli government.

There are other things to reflect on, however, about this appointment. Peter Beinart provides a description of Dermer’s views based on extensive reading of a series of columns that Dermer wrote several years ago for the Jerusalem Post and that, in Beinart’s words, “would have fit snugly in the pages of The Weekly Standard.”

The picture that emerges is of an aide who exhibits the bad sides of his current boss, and then some. Dermer’s writings feature characterizations of Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that are dismissive and contemptuous. He also adheres to what Beinart terms a “cartoonish view” of Arab-Israeli relations that is filled with historical inaccuracies.

Beinart isn’t bothered by the idea that this is someone with Republican associations who clearly preferred a Mitt Romney victory last year and may even have done some things toward that end. That’s part of a longstanding reality, says Beinart, of mutual attempts in the U.S.-Israeli relationship to affect the other guy’s elections. But we should ask what this appointment further indicates in terms of the nature of the relationship.

To put this question in perspective, imagine comparable selections being made for other ambassadorial jobs, including ones involving close allies. Suppose that the United States appointed today as its ambassador to Britain a 42-year-old who had started out working for Labour Party causes before renouncing British citizenship and becoming an American speechwriter. It would be interesting to see the reaction of the Conservative-led coalition government to that. Or suppose Britain appointed a British Dermer as its envoy in Washington, which would be just as much of a shock.

Of course, the United States in effect insults many of its allied governments by making campaign contributions or bundling of campaign funds a prime qualification for major ambassadorships. But at least that can be seen as a general defect in how American diplomacy operates rather than a statement about any one diplomatic relationship.

The Dermer appointment is something different. It is a departure even for Israel; the outgoing Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, is an accomplished historian who has taught at premier universities in both the United States and Israel.

The naming of Dermer is a statement that manipulation, with a hard-right twist, of American politics is not just something that arises from time to time in U.S.-Israeli relations but instead is the main aspect of the relationship. It also is a statement by Netanyahu that he isn’t bothered if the relationship is seen that way.

Perhaps he wants it to be seen that way, which would be consistent with the principle that to sustain something like the fear-based power that Israel has in American politics requires that the power be repeatedly and blatantly exercised and that people be continually reminded of it.

We all knew that this relationship was highly abnormal, even for one between supposed friends and allies. This ambassadorial appointment is a reminder that it is abnormal in ways that ought to make Americans uncomfortable.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

13 comments for “Israel’s In-Your-Face Appointment

  1. William Wilgus
    July 16, 2013 at 21:34

    Israel has NEVER cared about any other country and takes great delight in showing them disdain. We’ve given Israel untold sums of money and materials and apparently taken their crap with a smile on our governmental face. Ancient history is immaterial; they stole the land they’re on now. No, I’m not pro-Israel. Let the ‘hate replies’ begin.

  2. June Forsyth Kenagy
    July 14, 2013 at 23:48

    This American is WAY past “uncomfortable” with Israeli control of our Congress and President! I am outraged! The Israel lobby can actually write a bill favoring Israel or hurting its perceived “enemies”, and then get it passed, usually UNamended, through Congress with terrifying regularity.
    Thanks to Israel’s lobby, we are spending $3 BILLION of our tax dollars each year in aid to them. Most of that returns to our powerful weapons lobby in the form of orders for weaponry. So, add the US and international arms manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics, and Raytheon to those “powerful international bankers”.

  3. Chris Herz
    July 14, 2013 at 20:22

    These guys like Ambassador Dermer are so charmingly incompetent that they often fail in their mission. In Dermer’s case it has to be to continue to get the US taxpayer to fund Israeli expansion and to provide the weapons to make it possible.
    But ultimately the unforseen consequences of the sequester may really work against him, this sequester at the behest of his conservative friends. Dermer will also step on many toes and while not too much can be done just yet, Washington insiders have long memories for slights and insults.

  4. Green Eagle
    July 14, 2013 at 14:43

    Let me point out something: Until Netanyahu, virtually all major Israeli politicians had participated in Israel’s struggle for independence and the Arab wars launched against it. Because of this, however ideological they were, all of them, even Sharon, had their views tempered by a commitment to the welfare of the state they had worked to establish.

    The majority of Israelis grew up expecting that all politicians would feel the same way, putting the country’s welfare above sectarian interests. Netanyahu abandoned all of that, and in fact he bears a striking resemblance to Republican politicians in this country who have abandoned any commitment to the country in pursuit of their own goals. Israelis could not see the reality of Netanyahu, who is himself a sort of Israeli Gingrich. Even here, where we have had so many of these malignant characters, a large segment of the voting populace is oblivious to reality. So it is really no surprise that this treacherous demagogue would end up siding with the people here who most resemble him in political outlook.

  5. dan
    July 14, 2013 at 14:02

    “The Israeli Lobby owns the Congress, media, Hollywood, Wall Street, both political parties, and the White House. This kind of talk will get people fired by this lobby, as we have seen recently with White House correspondent Helen Thomas and CNN anchor Rick Sanchez. However, many Americans are growing tired of the arrogance of the Israel Lobby and their bigoted attitudes toward anyone who challenges their influence-peddling and their ridiculous insistence that Israel must be supported because of some ancient fairy tales involving some tribes who wandered the deserts of the Middle East and saw and heard non-existent things because of sun stroke, drinking bad water, and smoking local hallucinogenic plants.” –

    • joe
      July 14, 2013 at 19:48

      great post

  6. GeriS
    July 13, 2013 at 11:38

    Primarily, the US should appoint ambassadors based on what the US wants relative to the relationship with any other country. The US should take care of the US first and foremost. Let those other countries take care of themselves especially if they don’t really care about the US.

  7. Hillary
    July 13, 2013 at 10:52

    “This ambassadorial appointment is a reminder that it is abnormal in ways that ought to make Americans uncomfortable.”
    Seems like Americans have been uncomfortable “forever”.
    As John Francis Hylan Mayor of New York City stated in 1922.
    ‘The real menace of our Republic is the invisible government, which like a giant octopus sprawls its slimy legs over our cities, states and nation. To depart from mere generalizations, let me say that at the head of this octopus are the Rockefeller-Standard Oil interests and a small group of powerful banking houses generally referred to as the international bankers. The little coterie of powerful international bankers virtually run the United States government for their own selfish purposes.


  8. Otto Schiff
    July 12, 2013 at 18:05

    I believe Netanyahu is a fascist and this appointment is in character.
    Why Obama accepts this appointment is not understandably.

  9. Morton Kurzweil
    July 12, 2013 at 17:54

    The appointment of U.S. ambassadors based on the amount contributed to a presidential campaign must be seen by Mr. Pillar as a better method of representation to a foreign country of our values and ideals than an ambassador from Israel who represents the government of Israel.

  10. Bill Jones
    July 12, 2013 at 17:07

    I didn’t see a single mention, in this article, why Obama deserves anything but disdain.

  11. John
    July 12, 2013 at 14:18

    More wicked and dangerous religious/political tripe in the air. Humanity is lost in their ideas of exceptionalism. Like Alan Hart says, it’s up to Jews who want to preserve their true faith to expose these fanatical power seeking zealots. Freedom of the press and other media are abused by these powerful and rich destroyers of balance and fairness real democracy demands. Our world is sadly becoming their stooge.

  12. F. G. Sanford
    July 12, 2013 at 13:10

    At least this guy is honest: he renounced his U.S. citizenship. I wonder how many of our sitting politicians and political appointees enjoy the same status he held before doing so, and how many of them keep that parachute dual-citizenship status in their back pockets just in case any suspicion of disloyalty should arise. I wonder how many Russian or Chinese Americans could get away with leading a double life, yet still be welcomed into the fold of diplomatic society? Mind-boggling!

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