The cabinet will vote next week to extend the term of Israel’s ambassador to the US by another year, despite opposition from the state body responsible for civil service personnel decisions.
Over the weekend, Channel 12 news reported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to extend Ron Dermer’s tenure by a year had been rejected by the Civil Service Commissioner, who said his term could only be lengthened by a shorter period due to upcoming elections.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz also reportedly requested that Dermer’s tenure be lengthened, but was told it could only be extended until a new government is formed after September’s elections.
According to a Channel 12 report Wednesday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has approved Netanyahu’s request for Dermer to stay on another year despite the opposition of the Civil Service Commissioner, with the cabinet expected to approve the extension at its next meeting.
In a letter to the cabinet secretary published by the network, Katz asked for a vote to be held next week on extending Dermer’s term until July 31, 2020.
He also requested that a vote be held on appointing Dror Eydar, a columnist at the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper who is soon to become ambassador to Italy.
Following the report over the weekend, Netanyahu vowed to extend Dermer’s term, calling him an “excellent ambassador.”
The comments drew a rebuke from Yair Lapid, the No. 2 in the Blue and White party, who said Dermer is “almost certainly the most damaging ambassador ever” for Israel-US ties.
“Dermer is not an ambassador, he is a political messenger for Netanyahu,” Lapid wrote on Twitter.
Dermer, a Netanyahu confidant, is currently set to wrap up his stint in Washington at the end of September after serving six years as Israel’s envoy to the US.
Periods of his time in the role during the Obama administration could be described as strained. Dermer was a vociferous opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015 between Tehran and six world powers including the US.
He famously orchestrated Netanyahu’s backdoor invitation to address Congress and lambaste the accord, a moment that is widely regarded as stoking a partisan divide on Israel in Washington.
Earlier this year, Dermer, a former Republican operative, told a crowd of 18,000 at AIPAC’s annual conference that Netanyahu’s speech on that day was the “proudest day that I’ve had as ambassador to Israel to the United States.”
US President Donald Trump removed the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, as the deal is formally known, and renewed sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Last month, an off-the-record speech by Dermer, noting a gap in support for Israel between Republicans and Democrats, drew rebukes from the liberal wing of the pro-Israel community, which accused the ambassador of politicizing support for Israel.
Democrats have been more pronounced in recent years in their criticisms of Netanyahu, arising in part from his tensions with US president Barack Obama and his closeness to Trump.