In America, Lapid would see that Dermer is a rock star

It is not an exaggeration to say that, with the sole exception of the legendary eloquence of Benjamin Netanyahu himself, Ron is the single most persuasive English-language defender of Israel.

July 31, 2019 10:57
US Ambassador Ron Dermer

US Ambassador Ron Dermer . (photo credit: REUTERS)

I know and like Yair Lapid, even though our politics diverge in substantial ways. He is an engaging and direct man who has honored his father’s legacy as a Holocaust survivor by ably serving the State of Israel. Yair’s wife, Lihi, is an excellent, moving and honest writer on the topic of relationships, and a warm and wonderful woman with whom I have shared public stages.

It is therefore Yair’s essential fairness and decency that so shocked me about his utterly inaccurate comments about Ambassador Ron Dermer, the most consequential and eloquent diplomat Israel has ever sent to the American capital.

Yair wrote, “I strongly oppose the extension of Dermer’s appointment as the ambassador to the United States by a transitional government. Dermer is not really an ambassador, he is [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s political emissary... there hasn’t been an ambassador who has caused more damage to Israeli-American relations.”

Yair is a good man, so I will chalk up his comments to an understandable ignorance of the American political scene.

In truth, Dermer has emerged as the doyen of the Washington ambassadorial corps, highly respected in all diplomatic circles and revered at all levels of the Trump administration. To American audiences he is an Israeli rock star to whom people flock in the thousands just to hear. Israel has arguably never had an ambassador with greater access, or who has been more respected by an American administration. President Donald Trump demonstrated his unequaled respect for Ambassador Dermer when he asked him to accompany him to pay his respects in Pittsburgh after 11 Jews were murdered in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

I have known Ron since we were boys growing up together in Miami Beach, Florida, where we both attended the Hebrew Academy. But it was when I served as rabbi at Oxford University – with Ron serving as my student president – that I got the full measure of the man. The Oxford L’Chaim Society, the University’s second largest student organization, flourished under Ron’s charismatic presidency like never before. At Oxford he debated and eviscerated Israel’s adversaries even as he befriended the scions of leading Arab families who loved and respected him. He was a loyal and devoted friend to all in his circle.

And he has forever remained so. After graduating from Oxford he chose to move to Israel and cast his lot with the Israeli people amid limitless opportunities in the United States. He quickly rose to become senior adviser to the prime minister of Israel by virtue of his kaleidoscopic knowledge, sterling character and exceptional wisdom.

Recently, Ron and I spent a Shabbat together in Alaska, where we studied Torah and talked about Israel for most of the day. Even as I have listened to him for thousands of hours, I could not help but be mesmerized by the depth of his understanding of what makes Israel special and how it can be kept safe.

It is not an exaggeration to say that, with the sole exception of the legendary eloquence of Benjamin Netanyahu himself, Ron is the single most persuasive English-language defender of Israel in the world today.

It was that unrivaled eloquence that earned him the job of ambassador.

In my many years of communal involvement I have learned that there are two kinds of leaders: those who will do everything to remain personally relevant, and those who will risk all for the welfare of their people. Ron cares little for personal viability and is bereft of vanity. His every waking moment is focused on the safety of Israel and the security of the Jewish people. He is that rare man defined almost entirely by unshakable values and convictions.

LAPID SEEMS upset that Ron took on then-president Barack Obama at the time of the Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA. But Yair is the son of survivors. What did he expect of Israel’s ambassador? To remain silent as Iran threatened to annihilate the Jewish people, even as they were rewarded with $150 billion in unfrozen assets for doing so?

Obama and former secretary of state John Kerry’s deal threatened America’s foremost ally in the Middle East and bolstered dictators like Ayatollah Khamenei and his client, Syria’s Bashar Assad, himself guilty of the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent Arabs. Under Obama’s deal, Iran agreed to wait just 10 years before being able to cultivate the ingredients for a nuclear bomb.

Worse, they instantly received $150 billion in global assets – the equivalent, as Dermer recently pointed out, of the United States’ economy getting an $8 trillion windfall – and the international legitimacy to both accept lucrative investments and sell oil with impunity. The world’s most powerful man was giving the world’s most dangerous man the funds the latter needed to reinforce his well-documented support for terror worldwide. Indeed, since the deal was signed, Israel has been forced to strike Iranian targets inside Syria more than 200 times in order to stem the plan of Iranian expansion set squarely on Israel’s annihilation.

A political firestorm would engulf discussions on the Iran deal. At its center stood Israel, the canary that thought to scream before Obama led the world into a nuclear coal mine. To the extent that Israel helped frame the dangers of the deal with Iran, few deserve credit as much as Dermer. Considering Trump’s recent departure from the agreement, it seems that the Israeli ambassador did so effectively enough. But in the calm after the storm, one cannot forget just how rough the seas were for Dermer at the time.

In his tireless campaign to lobby members of Congress to push for a better deal with Iran, Dermer met with more than two dozen congressional leaders, authored brilliantly lucid columns, and addressed dozens of political leadership groups and action committees on both sides of the aisle. Whether on TV or at the lectern, Ron clarified the perils that faced both Israel and the United States with facts, insight, eloquence and passion. But his finest moment by far was the central role he played in Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress to oppose the catastrophic deal.

It was the finest moment of any Israeli ambassador’s tenure in Washington, seeing as it spoke truth to power at a time when an American president was prepared to overlook the genocidal aspirations of the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, against a nation that just 70 years ago saw six million of its number annihilated at a rate of 10,000 per day.

I attended Netanyahu’s brilliant speech with Elie Wiesel, himself a vocal opponent of the Iran deal, despite his close relationship with and deep respect for Obama. I watched the foremost representative of the world’s only Jewish state boldly enjoin the most powerful government on Earth that it take a stand against the newest genocide being planned against the Jews.

Dermer would face torrential criticism from the Left for what it considered a snub of the American president. One former deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv even said the speech episode rendered Dermer “damaged goods,” and “practically persona non grata among senior policy makers” in the US government. The New York Times quoted that same diplomat demanding Netanyahu ensure Dermer be “gone within a month.”

Despite the harshness and scope of the criticism, Ron never backed down. Trump’s removal of the US from the disastrous JCPOA has provided historic validation to the ambassador. Today, Ron is revered in the American pro-Israel community, particularly among American Christians, for his unparalleled courage. People clamor to hear his speeches, and he is the must-get orator for the largest pro-Israel dinners in the country.

Israel would be making a catastrophic error were Dermer to be replaced. And Yair Lapid, who loves Israel with all his heart, should hear the thunderous applause at a Dermer speech before he repeats the mistake of attempting to deny Israel its most eloquent spokesperson in the USA.

The writer, whom The Washington Post calls ‘the most famous rabbi in America,’ is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including Judaism for Everyone. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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