New Israeli ambassador to America Ron Dermer presented his credentials Tuesday afternoon to US President Barack Obama, officially taking over the role as the Jewish state’s top US envoy.
Dermer, a Miami native and confidant to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote in the official guest log during the ceremony that he owed much to the US.
“I feel proud and honored to serve as Israel’s ambassador to the United States,” he wrote. “America is a country to which the Jewish people owe so much and to which I, as a son of America, am so personally indebted. I look forward to working with you and your administration to make the bonds between Israel and America stronger than ever.”
Dermer also gave Obama cufflinks based on an ancient etching of a menorah found during excavations in Jerusalem’s Old City, a reminder of the long Jewish history in the city.
The new ambassador joked that his 5-month-old daughter Golda “could be the first Golda in the Oval Office for 40 years,” a reference to former prime minister Golda Meir.
Dermer is taking over the key post from another US-born political appointee, Michael Oren, who has held the job for the past four years. The appointment was announced in July.
“Ron Dermer has all the qualities necessary to successfully fill this important post,” Netanyahu said then. “I have known him for many years and I know that Ron will faithfully represent the state of Israel in the capital of our greatest ally — the USA. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I wish him great success.”
“As Ron’s close friend and long-time colleague,” Oren tweeted after the appointment, “I know that he’s uniquely qualified and is deeply committed to the historic US-Israel alliance.”
Dermer, who immigrated to Israel from Florida in 1998, has served under Netanyahu since 2009 as senior adviser in the Prime Minister’s Bureau, where he acted as liaison to the White House.
From 2005 to 2008, he served as economic affairs minister to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, a position which required him to give up his US citizenship.
Dermer is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and holds a master’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford. In 1995, while still a student at Oxford, he helped manage Natan Sharansky’s Yisrael b’Aliyah party’s Knesset campaign.
Dermer moved to Israel after several years of involvement in Republican congressional politics. He co-wrote with former Soviet political prisoner Natan Sharansky “The Case for Democracy,” a book that President George W. Bush later cited as a major influence. In the book, Sharansky treats Dermer as a full partner in shaping its ideas.
“Ron reminds us what Israel is all about,” Sharansky told The Times of Israel. “He came as a new immigrant, a young man … Now he’s going back to the United States as Israel’s ambassador. Ron has an extremely deep sense of the foundation of the connection between Israel and America, our mutual values. He wrote about it, he studied it, he lives it… Ron will be extremely important to Washington and the White House because they know he’s very close to the prime minister, that speaking to him is like speaking to Netanyahu; that’s a very rare thing,” he added.
Dermer’s father, lawyer Jay Dermer, served in the 1960s as the mayor of Miami Beach, Florida; and Dermer’s brother, David Dermer, later also served as Miami Beach mayor. Dermer’s mother was born in Mandatory Palestine and later emigrated with her family to the US.
A Tablet magazine feature last year said Dermer “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.”
Married with five children, Dermer is an engaging and effective advocate for Netanyahu’s worldview, one insider said.
“I welcome Ron Dermer’s appointment as the new Israeli ambassador to the United States,” Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said on Tuesday. “Dermer will be an excellent ambassador. He has a deep understanding of America and, as a former diplomatic adviser to the prime minister, is familiar with the most sensitive issues of Israeli foreign policy in recent years. His appointment demonstrates the level of intimacy in our relationship with the United States, and the importance that the prime minister ascribes to this relationship,” he added.
The pro-Israel American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) also welcomed Dermer’s appointment.
“Mr. Dermer has a deep understanding of the critical value of the US-Israel relationship and the importance of further strengthening the alliance between these two democratic allies,” the group said in a statement. “We also express our gratitude to Ambassador Oren for his service over the past four years as he worked tirelessly and effectively to bolster the bond between the United States and Israel.”
But Dermer’s appointment is not entirely without controversy. A June Channel 10 report noted that Dermer, who has long been groomed for the job, saw his prospects nosedive due to his perceived support for Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the last US presidential election.
However, the report said, he has since improved his ties with key Obama administration figures, notably Secretary of State John Kerry, paving the way for his appointment.
In addition, in 2009 Dermer said he considered cultivating ties with the American Jewish community’s liberal wing a waste of time. Dermer is believed to be behind the liberal lobby J Street’s inability to secure meetings with high-level officials during its Israel trips. Oren, by contrast, has forged low-level ties with the group.
Still, like other Jewish groups, J Street welcomed Dermer’s appointment.
Dermer also led efforts in the Prime Minister’s Office to limit the funding of some human rights groups in Israel, casting them as agents of foreign powers. Some of the groups have the support of leading Jewish liberal benefactors from the United States.
Dermer’s defenders in Washington say those issues are dwarfed by the immediate challenges facing Israeli-US interests in the Middle East.
“He will be an effective representative of the State of Israel generally, and Prime Minister Netanyahu specifically, as we are in a crucial period of US-Israel relations with the need to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” William Daroff, who directs the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office, told JTA.
The closeness he enjoys with Netanyahu may prove to be his most valuable asset in the job.
“The most important thing for any ambassador in Washington, especially any Israeli ambassador, is that he brings the full trust of the prime minister,” said AJC executive director David Harris. “That’s an asset you cannot put a price on.”
Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.