Netanyahu vows to keep US ambassador for another year, despite reported setback

After Civil Service Commissioner said to reject request for Ron Dermer to remain in Washington, PM still says his term will be extended

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)
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)

Despite Israel’s Civil Service Commissioner reportedly rejecting a  request to extend the tenure of Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Ron Dermer will stay on for at least another 12 months.

The premier considers Dermer a confidant and a trusted connection to the White House.

“We will extend Ron Dermer’s term as ambassador in Washington by at least a year,” Netanyahu said in a live Facebook video broadcast, during which he answered questions on policy. “He is an excellent ambassador.”

Blue and White party No. 2 MK Yair Lapid responded saying “Ron Dermer is almost certainly the most damaging ambassador ever for ties between Israel and the United States.”

“That man caused the Democratic Party to not want to talk to him, American Jewry doesn’t want to talk to him. Aside from the Republicans, not one wants to talk to him. I call on the attorney general to not approve extending his term. This is a transitional government and a transition government can’t extend an ambassador’s term.”

Lapid said that if his party wins the upcoming September 17 election, Dermer will not continue in his position.

Earlier Lapid had tweeted that he is “strongly opposed” to extending Dermer’s term because, he said, Dermer is acting as a personal envoy for Netanyahu.

“Dermer is not an ambassador, he is a political messenger for Netanyahu,” Lapid wrote.

Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid addressing party activists in the coastal town of Shefayim, July 14, 2019. (Jane Peimer)

Netanyahu had asked to extend Dermer’s time in the position by another year in light of the September elections, Israel’s second round at the polls in six months, Channel 12 news reported on Saturday.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz reportedly backed Netanyahu’s request, to no avail.

Dermer is set to wrap up his stint in Washington at the end of September after serving six years as Israel’s envoy to the US.

Dermer began serving as Israel’s envoy in Washington in 2013, shortly after former president Barack Obama began his second term.

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 lambasting 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 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about Iran during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol on March 3, 2015, in Washington. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP/File)

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.

Dermer was addressing a Republican Jewish Coalition leadership meeting in Washington, DC. The Republican Jewish Coalition tweeted paraphrased portions of his address.

“There has been, for 40 years, a gap between Republicans and Democrats in their support for Israel,” one tweet said. “He notes that this predates, by decades, Trump, Netanyahu, Obama and any other reason that Democrats would cite.”

His remarks drew rebukes from the liberal wing of the pro-Israel community, which accused Ron Dermer 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 Obama and his closeness to Trump. A nadir was Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in 2015, in which the premier opposed Obama’s Iran policy. Dermer helped organize the event without consulting Democrats.

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