Calls Netanyahu a 'Gulliver' among Lilliputians

Dermer suggests Israel should prioritize support of evangelicals over US Jews

Former envoy to US says evangelical Christians make up ‘backbone’ of Israel’s support in US, while Jews are far smaller in number and include some of state’s fiercest critics

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States, speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States, speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer suggested Sunday that Israel should prioritize the “passionate and unequivocal” support of evangelical Christians over that of American Jews, who he said are “disproportionately among our critics.”

“People have to understand that the backbone of Israel’s support in the United States is the evangelical Christians. It’s true because of numbers and also because of their passionate and unequivocal support for Israel,” Dermer said in an onstage interview at a conference organized by Makor Rishon, a news outlet affiliated with the national religious community

The interview marked Dermer’s first public remarks since he ended a marathon seven-year term in January as Israel’s ambassador in Washington, where he became known for having the ear and “brain” of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Dermer was lauded for using that relationship to play a key role in advancing several pro-Israel decisions taken by the Trump administration. However, the premier and his ambassador were accused of undermining Israel’s traditional bipartisan support in Washington by cozying up to the Republican party where the ideological differences of opinion on Israel are minimal, while alienating Democrats — the party supported by the vast majority of American Jews and whose last president Barak Obama sparred regularly with Jerusalem on a number of key issues.

In a wide-ranging interview, the former envoy was pressed on whether Netanyahu had placed too much emphasis on evangelical Christians in the US.

Dermer dismissed the suggestion and argued that Israel actually hasn’t designated enough time in engaging with evangelical Christians.

“About 25% [of Americans] — some people think more — are evangelical Christians. Less than two percent of Americans are Jews,” he said. “So if you look just at numbers, you should be spending a lot more time doing outreach to Evangelical Christians than you would do to Jews.”

He highlighted the “passion and support” for Israel among evangelicals, claiming that Israel is one of the most important, if not the most important, issue for many of them, contrasting the religious group to American Jews who he said vote on other issues.

Dermer pointed out that it was evangelical Christian groups that have led legislative fights against the Iran nuclear deal and anti-Israel boycotts, and who have been the most supportive of former US president Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Continuing the comparison, Dermer noted that it is “very rare to hear evangelicals criticize Israel,” whereas American Jews are “disproportionately among our critics,” even while also boasting some of the Jewish state’s fiercest advocates.

Nonetheless, Dermer argued that Israel engages in outreach to American Jews “because that’s about the DNA of the state.”

“The raison d’être of the Jewish state is to build these connections with Jews throughout the Diaspora and certainly with American Jews as well. We have an obligation and a duty to strengthen that connection and we do,” he said. “I spent at least as much time doing outreach to Jews as I did with Christians.”

On the growing split between Republicans and Democrats over supporting the Israeli government, Dermer said the reasons were policy, not politically based. He maintained that he and Netanyahu would have embraced a Democratic president just as they had Trump had the former taken similar decisions relating to Israel and Iran.

“There are forces both in Israel and in the US that try and turn Israel into a political football,” he said, using an argument often leveled by Democrats against Netanyahu and Trump.

He went on to argue that had Trump been reelected, Israel would have “no question” made peace with Saudi Arabia, lamenting that the political stalemate in Israel delayed the normalization process by a year and a half.

Ron Dermer during an onstage interview at a conference organized by the Makor Rishon news outlet on May 9, 2021. (Screen capture/Facebook)

Dermer saved his most lavish praise for his former boss Netanyahu, for whom he’s worked for over three decades.

“There is no question at all that without Netanyahu, there will be a significant change in the US-Israel relationship,” the former ambassador said, arguing that the Likud leader knows better than anyone else how to articulate Israel’s case to Americans in a language they understand.

Dermer was asked about long-held rumors that Netanyahu has been grooming him as a potential successor. He said he was not looking to enter politics, adding that “I hope that the successor to Benjamin Netanyahu will be Benjamin Netanyahu” before going on to list his accomplishments as premier.

Dermer then castigated Israelis for being ungrateful to Netanyahu, who he compared to the biblical Moses and Gulliver, the protagonist in Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels.’

“We are a nation of many virtues. Gratitude is not one of them, and there are occasional days where… the people of Israel are less than grateful for the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, at the president’s guest house, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

“I remember years ago, I told him when… Israelis were particularly ungrateful, ‘What are you complaining about. Look at Moses? He does the ten plagues, he splits the sea, he goes up for 40 days and 40 nights.’ We’re a tough people to govern,” Dermer said.

“He’s been something of a Gulliver in Israel. You don’t get a Gulliver every day… but what I see happening over the past couple of years is some Lilliputians doing their best to tie Gulliver down. So I hope that Gulliver will stand up and continue to lead Israel for many, many years to come,” he said.

Netanyahu tweeted a video of Dermer’s remarks.

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