Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday appointed Ron Dermer, a close advisor with ties to Miami Beach, to be Israel’s next ambassador to the United States. The long-anticipated pick had raised some concern in Washington because of Dermer’s connections to Republicans.
Dermer, 42, has been Netanyahu’s top diplomatic advisor for the past four years. He will replace Michael Oren, the outspoken and telegenic New Jersey-born historian who has served in Washington for four years. In an announcement Tuesday, Netanyahu said Dermer has “all the necessarily characteristics to successfully fill this important role.”
Dermer, a neoconservative who once worked for Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant, was seen by some as questioning President Barack Obama’s commitment to Israel during his first term, and of supporting Obama’s GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, in last fall’s presidential election. But since November, he has worked to repair his reputation in Washington and has won over many in the White House with the critical roles he played in negotiating a cease-fire after Israel’s eight-day operation in the Gaza Strip, reconciling relations between Turkey and Israel and planning Obama’s much-heralded March visit to Israel.
Now, several people close to the Obama administration said, any suspicions about Dermer’s political leanings are outweighed by the benefit of having an ambassador in Netanyahu’s inner circle. He is expected to start the job in the fall.
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“If you have someone you know is well-connected to the prime minister, it means you can always use that channel, no matter how sensitive the message is, and understand it’s going to be communicated the way you want it,” noted Dennis B. Ross, a former Middle East envoy who is now counselor to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It reduces the prospect of surprise, it reduces the prospect of misunderstanding — that’s something that’s highly desired.”
Dermer was raised in Miami Beach, where his father and brother both served as mayor. He likes to point out that they were Democrats, although the family also supported former President George W. Bush and his brother, former Gov. Jeb Bush. He has a bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University.
His mother, Yaffa Dermer, who still lives in Miami Beach, said she is “all for it” when asked about her son’s new position. “I’m excited. I think he’ll do a wonderful job because he’s a red-blooded American,” she said Tuesday. “He told me he’s going to visit me a lot.”
His mother, who was born and raised in Israel before moving to the U.S., said that Ron was constantly involved with Israel while growing up in their Miami Beach home, adding that he “loves” the country.
Former U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, applauded the choice on Tuesday and described Dermer as a smart man who knows how essential the job is.
“It’s great to have someone from Florida to take on this very central role of Israel’s ambassador to the United States,” said Klein. “It’s exciting for someone from the United States and from our community to be represented with this opportunity.”
While Klein supports the selection, he also pointed out that Dermer’s career has mainly been behind the scenes in politics and he will need more than just his relationship with the prime minister to make a strong impression, especially with many in the Jewish community.
“The Jewish community in the United States looks to the U.S. ambassador,” Klein said. “What he says reflects on how the Jewish community looks at the relationship between Israel and the U.S.”
After immigrating to Israel in 1997, Dermer co-authored a book with Natan Sharansky, the Soviet dissident turned Israeli leader — The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. In 2005, he renounced his U.S. citizenship to take a job in the Israeli Embassy in Washington. When Netanyahu returned as premier in 2009, Dermer became his chief speechwriter and strategist, summoned frequently — and at all hours — for consultations and covert assignments on politics and foreign policy. He has often expressed skepticism about whether Palestinians truly want a state of their own and about their reliability as a peace partner.
“I left America because I wanted to help another nation I love defend the freedoms that Americans have long taken for granted,’’ he once said in a 2005 New York Sun interview. “I left America to help another people I love fight not merely for their survival but also for their right to survive.’’
A 2011 profile in Tablet, an online magazine, was titled “Bibi’s Brain,” using Netanyahu’s nickname, and said Dermer “comes across as equal parts George Stephanopoulos and Karl Rove.” In appointing him Tuesday, Netanyahu said in a statement that Dermer “has all the qualities necessary to successfully fill this important post.”
Dermer, a yarmulke-wearing modern Orthodox Jew, and his wife, Rhoda, a Yale-educated lawyer, have four sons and a daughter born last month. He did not respond to requests for interviews.
Abraham H. Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, said American Jewish leaders and Washington politicians alike would welcome Dermer’s appointment because his “life epitomizes the relationship between Israel and America,” and “most importantly, he’s got the ear and trust of the prime minister.”
“The issue of whether or not he would be persona non grata, I think, has dissipated,” Foxman said. “It’s important that whoever sits in that seat has a close working relationship with the prime minister. You don’t need vacuums in that relationship, because vacuums are mischievous.”
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, who serves as chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee in Congress, was also supportive of Dermer’s appointment.
“I have known Ron and his family for many years, and I look forward to working with him in his new role,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement Tuesday.
Miami Herald staff writer Lance Dixon contributed to this report, which also contains material from The New York Time, the Associated Press, and a previous Herald staff story.