Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to the US Congress last year, an address that strained ties with the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats who viewed it as an affront to the president, has been the highlight so far of Israel Ambassador Ron Dermer’s period in Washington, he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview.
Asked what have been the highlights and lowest points of his tenure in the US capital, Dermer replied: “From a national point of view, the highlight for me was definitely Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.
“In my eyes, the prime minister fulfilled a fundamental moral obligation to speak out about a potential threat to the survival of our country. This was a sovereign right that the Jewish people were long denied, and the failure to exercise that right would have been a gross dereliction of his duty as prime minister of Israel,” he said.
Dermer rejected the criticism that Netanyahu’s decision to go ahead with the speech against the Iran deal despite US President Barack Obama’s bitter opposition was a colossal mistake that set back Israel-US ties.
“The fact that the prime minister spoke up in the face of so much unjust criticism is not just a highlight of my tenure in Washington but, in my view, one of the highlights of his premiership and one of the many reasons I am so proud to serve him,” he said.
As to whether the bruising battle over the Iran deal caused permanent damage to Israel-US ties, Dermer said “the fallout of the deal will prove much more lasting than the fallout over fighting that deal. In fact, in my view, real lasting damage would have come from not opposing something that poses an existential threat to our country.”
Dermer said that while Israel’s fierce and vocal opposition to the deal “was not popular in certain quarters,” he had no doubt that Israel’s willingness to stand up for its interests even over the opposition of its greatest ally “did not go unnoticed in the region and among our enemies.”
Dermer, who is considered one of Netanyahu’s closest confidants and has been Israel’s envoy in Washington since October 2013, said his greatest challenge as ambassador has been “to fight a nuclear deal made between our greatest enemy and our greatest friend, while reminding people that after this deal Iran remains our greatest enemy and America remains our greatest friend.”
Regarding continuous reports of a growing alienation of American Jewry from Israel because of the Netanyahu government’s polices, Dermer said that while there was opposition by some to Israel’s current policies, “the fiercest critics make a ‘disproportionate’ share of the noise.”
While saying there is “broad, strong and deep support for Israel” among American Jewry, he added that if there was alienation of some Jews from Israel it was generally a function of the alienation of these Jews from their Jewish identity.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that Jews with a weaker Jewish identity will tend to have a weaker identification with the Jewish state,” he said.
Paraphrasing what Dermer said both David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin once told his late father, a former mayor of Miami Beach, the most important thing American Jews can do for Israel is give their children a Jewish education and knowledge of Jewish history.
Regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Dermer said that while it does not pose an economic threat to the Jewish state, it is a moral attack on the country’s legitimacy.
As a moral attack, he said, BDS must be fought in moral terms, by exposing the national or international organizations that single out Israel for boycotts, divestment and sanctions as “the anti-Semites they are.”
“To fight BDS effectively, Israel should not try to explain itself to these organizations. These organizations must be asked to explain themselves – to explain why they are not anti-Semites,” he said. “Ask them a simple question: What is the principle by which you singled out Israel, alone among the nations, for boycott or divestment? They cannot answer that question because there is no such principle other than anti-Semitism.”
The full interview will appear in Friday’s Jerusalem Post Magazine. Click here to register for The Jerusalem Post's Annual Conference in New York.