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July 30, 2019 6:17 am

The Unfair Criticism of Ambassador Ron Dermer

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

Opinion

Benny Gantz, head of Resilience party and Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, Moshe Yaalon and Gabi Ashkenazi react at the end of a news conference to announce the formation of their joint party, following an alliance between their parties, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 21, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen.

I know and like Yair Lapid, even as 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.

But I was shocked by Lapid’s inaccurate comments about Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, perhaps the most consequential and eloquent diplomat Israel has ever sent to the American capital.

Lapid 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.”

In truth, Ambassador Dermer has emerged as 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 their thousands just to hear.

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I have known Ron since we were boys growing up together in Miami Beach, Florida. But it was when I served as rabbi at Oxford University, where Ron served 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. 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 opportunity in the United States. He quickly rose to become senior adviser to the prime minister of Israel by virtue of his knowledge, sterling character, and exceptional wisdom.

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.

Lapid seems upset that Ron took on President Obama at the time of the Iran nuclear agreement. But 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 John Kerry’s deal threatened America and America’s foremost ally in the Middle East, and bolstered dictators like Ayatollah Khamenei and his client, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, himself guilty of the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent Arabs. In Obama’s deal, Iran agreed to wait just ten years before being able to cultivate the ingredients for a nuclear bomb. Worse, they instantly received $150 billion dollars 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.

To the extent that Israel helped frame the dangers of the deal with Iran, few deserve credit as much as Ambassador Dermer. Considering Trump’s recent departure from the agreement, it seems Dermer 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, Ambassador 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 Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress to oppose the catastrophic deal.

Dermer would face torrential criticism from the left for what they 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 Mr. Dermer “damaged goods,” and “practically persona non grata among senior policy makers” in the United States government. Despite the harshness and scope of the criticism, Ron never backed down. President Trump’s removal of the United States from the disastrous JCPOA has provided the ambassador historic validation. Today, Ron is revered in the American pro-Israel community, particularly among American Christians, for his unparalleled courage.

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

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books, including Judaism for Everyone and The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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