Ron Dermer Faces Big Challenges as Israel’s New Ambassador to the U.S.

Brings GOP Baggage as Tension Rises Over Iran

American Born: Ron Dermer renounced his U.S. citizenship to serve in Israel’s government.
Courtesy of the Embassy of israel
American Born: Ron Dermer renounced his U.S. citizenship to serve in Israel’s government.

By Nathan Guttman

Published November 26, 2013, issue of November 29, 2013.
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As international talks with Iran have gained momentum, so has the tension between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration. Harsh words from Secretary of State John Kerry recently regarding Israel’s settlement policy have made the atmosphere even more toxic.

And then, there is one more task Dermer has had to deal with amid all this: finding a new home in Washington. The Foreign Ministry judged the current ambassadorial residence, which has served all Israeli representatives since the 1970s, when Yitzhak Rabin was ambassador, as in need of a major renovation and unsuitable for Dermer’s family of seven. The new ambassador currently lives in a rented home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington as the search continues for a new home that would also be in walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue. Dermer, who is traditionally observant, does not drive on the Sabbath.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington has also been operating for the past several months without a deputy chief of mission, an embassy’s traditional second in command. That post will be filled only in the coming weeks.

Dermer, 42, like his immediate predecessor, Michael Oren, was born and raised in the United States but renounced his citizenship in order to serve in senior positions in Israel’s government.

With English as his mother tongue, and an intimate knowledge of American politics (his father and brother were mayors of Miami Beach), Dermer operates with a cultural and political fluency that’s hard to match. His first meetings on Capitol Hill were with fellow Floridians, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of the most active House members on Middle East issues.

“I have known Miami Beach native Ron Dermer and his family for many years,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an email to the Forward. “I find Ron to be an exceptional individual who understands the political process in Washington and will help strengthen the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship.”

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