Michael Adler has never been in the foreign service. But Adler, a Miami-based real estate developer and Democratic party donation-bundler, has a close relationship with President Joe Biden going back more than four decades. And Adler, who is turning 70 and has been an amateur pilot since age 21, said he has spent so much time traveling in Israel that he has an “aerial view” of the Jewish state embedded in his mind.
Now, Adler has his eyes on Jerusalem, hoping to to become Biden’s ambassador to Israel, where he believes he can help strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.
“I want to help him where he feels I can do the best, and certainly ambassador is potentially one of those,” Adler said in a recent interview. “I would be very excited and honored if that’s the particular position.”
Adler first met the president in 1973, when Biden was the junior senator from Delaware and Adler’s sister, Karen, started working in his Washington office. When Biden ran for president for the second time, in 2008, Adler was his national finance chair. During the 2020 campaign, Adler, who is on the board of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, served as a Biden campaign surrogate in Florida.
Adler is one of a handful of candidates being considered for the ambassadorship. Others on the short list include Amos Hochstein, who worked on Middle East issues both on Capitol Hill and in the State Department and was a mediator on the 2013-2016 maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, according to people familiar with discussions inside the Biden administration.
Daniel Shapiro, who served in the post for five years under President Barack Obama, is also in the mix, though he may instead be appointed as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Former Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Florida, has also expressed interest in the job.
But Adler appears to be the frontrunner. Two former administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that given his relationship with Biden, if Adler wants the position he will get it. And Adler, in a telephone conversation on Thursday, made clear that he does.
“I know I’m a candidate, there’s no question about that,” Adler said in the interview. “I want for Israel and the United States the role of Ambassador to Israel to be the person that this administration feels could do the best job in fostering the positive relationship there. Do I think that I could potentially be that person? Absolutely. And does that job interest me? Absolutely.”
But Adler said that his commitment to serving the president is not just singularly focused, and he doesn’t want his relationship with Biden “to be the determinant” in the selection. “I’m not interested in grabbing power because I can grab it. I’m interested in serving this nation and this president,” he explained.
Adler’s most memorable trip to Israel was during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, two months after he got married. One of his closest friends at the time was a colonel in the IDF and died during a battle at Mount Hermon. Adler said that he drove up north with the soldier’s father to find the burnt tank while the war was still ongoing.
Since then, Adler said he has visited Israel at least once a year. In the early 1990s, he oversaw a housing project for new emigrants from the Soviet Union in Be’er Sheva. A practicing pilot since age 21, Adler would occasionally charter a twin-engined Apache from the Atarot airport in Jerusalem to the Negev desert in order to avoid traffic,
“I absolutely have a photo of Israel in my mind,” he said. “I feel I have a resume that goes far beyond being a political contributor.”
Like Biden, Adler says he has personally known every prime minister since Golda Meir. He flew Yizhak Rabin on his plane on multiple occasions when the prime minister visited the U.S..
Adler said he sold his plane in February, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic
In the interview, Adler said that he’s hopeful the Israeli government and its citizenry will embrace the new American president, and understand that Biden’s support for Israel is “genuine.” Under President Obama, Adler explained, “the personality of the leaders impacted what was the perception of the U.S.-Israel relationship. I think Biden has demonstrated over the years that he’s genuine in his feelings toward Israel. I think the tone is going to be much more positive.”
But Adler maintained that the Israeli government must also meet the Biden administration halfway. Without naming names, Adler said that there are people in Israel whose “own personal agendas affect the policies in Israel. They have their particular individualism that is more important for them to promote than the totality of the best interest of both countries.”
Adler defended the Biden’s administration’s plan to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal amid objections from the Israeli government as a “starting point” to achieve the goal of neutralizing Iran’s destabilizing influence in the Middle East.
“I think you’ve got to come to the conclusion that if we are not proactive, Iran is going to get nuclear capability,” he said. “It’s not like it’s a decision between right and wrong or good and bad. It is bad. But you need in a bad situation more than any other time to have a coherent strategy to get to your end goals. And so suggesting that a negotiation is not the course, I think is a wrong premise.”
Adler didn’t rule out taking on another role in the administration if he’s not appointed as ambassador to Israel. Asked if he would consider, for example, the special envoy post on antisemitism — which Congress has has elevated to the rank of ambassador — Adler demurred, saying that he has good friends “that have had a specific career where they focused on antisemitism that I think are highly likely to be the ambassador.”
Several people within the administration said that Biden may bring back Ira Forman, who served as antisemitism envoy in the Obama administration. Other candidates include the Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, who is also a contributing columnist to the Forward and member of the Forward Association; Mark Levin, CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry; Abe Foxman, the longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League; and Sharon Nazarian, the ADL’s senior vice president of international affairs.
As for the ambassadorship to Israel, Adler said, “If it happens, I will say it’s bashert.”
Jacob Kornbluh is the Forward’s senior political reporter. Follow him on Twitter @jacobkornbluh or email email@example.com.