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Washington — Dermer’s reputation raised eyebrows when his name first surfaced earlier this year as a possible replacement for Michael Oren, the historian turned diplomat who will wind down his tenure in Washington this fall. But leaders of mainstream Jewish groups, which lavishly praised the pick on Tuesday, said those muddied waters were under the bridge. “He’s coming here as ambassador to the United states, not to get involved in partisan politics,” David Harris, the American Jewish Committee director, told JTA. “The prime minister knows it. He knows it.”
Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, noted that Dan Shapiro, Obama’s envoy to Israel, once was closely identified with positions that upset the Netanyahu government. In his previous position, as the top Middle East official on the National Security Council, Shapiro took the lead in pressing Israel to freeze settlement expansion.
“The relationship is bigger than political nuance,” said Foxman, who added that since Obama’s successful March visit to Israel, the tensions that once divided the governments have passed.
Passed, perhaps, but difficult to forget. Unlike Shapiro and other functionaries turned ambassadors, Dermer made the case for his boss in an abrasive tone. In 2011, he declined a New York Times request for an Op-Ed in a letter that was later leaked to The Jerusalem Post.
“It would seem as if the surest way to get an Op-Ed published in The New York Times these days, no matter how obscure the writer or the viewpoint, is to attack Israel,” Dermer wrote.
Dermer immigrated to Israel in 1997 after several years of involvement in Republican congressional politics. He drew close at first to former Soviet political prisoner Natan Sharansky, co-writing with him “The Case for Democracy,” a book that President George W. Bush later cited as a major influence. In the book, Sharansky treats Dermer as a full partner in shaping its ideas.
Through Sharansky, Dermer met Netanyahu, and they also forged an immediate closeness. Netanyahu, the finance minister in the mid-2000s, sent Dermer to Washington as economic consul.