Amb. Ron Dermer discusses his tenure in Washington

HEARD LAST NIGHT — Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer discussed his tenure in Washington, including serving as Israel’s envoy at critical moments during the Obama and Trump administrations. The event, moderated by Bloomberg senior editor Ethan Bronner, was cohosted by The Jewish Week and Sutton Place Synagogue on the Upper East Side. [Pic; Pic]

HIGHLIGHTS – Dermer: “For me, the highlight of my time since I’ve been ambassador was certainly when the prime minister came and spoke to the American Congress (in March 2015) against the [Iranian] nuclear deal. That was a matter that was controversial in some quarters, maybe in this synagogue, but for me, it’s not controversial at all. It is the most fundamental moral duty of a prime minister of the State of Israel to speak up on a matter that he believes is a threat to the survival of his country… A prime minister who wouldn’t come to give that speech does not deserve to be a prime minister… It was my proudest moment as Ambassador that he went and he gave that speech. I think without that speech, we would not be where we are today. I have no doubt about it… Ultimately, you had President Trump get elected saying he was going to withdraw from the nuclear deal, and he did withdraw.”

Dermer on Trump exiting the Iran deal: “That has been, to my mind, the single most important decision that any U.S. president has made that affects the national security of the State of Israel. The only other decision that is close is a decision that Nixon made in 1973 to re-arm us… I’m sure people have big disagreements with President Trump on a lot of issues, but on this decision, President Trump took that decision against the wishes of his Secretary of State at the time, Secretary of Defense at the time, National Security Advisor at the time, and all the allies… That’s why I have a great deal of respect for the boldness of making this decision that is so critical for our security.”

Dermer on why he hasn’t met with J Street: “We in Israel are a free country. We have to make the decisions necessary for our future. The problem that you have here is not that they have positions. It is that they work to pressure to Israel to accept their decisions. That’s not Zionism. Zionism means respecting the will of the Israeli public even if you disagree with it… Two weeks after I arrived as an ambassador, there was the interim agreement with Iran. There wasn’t, if I recall correctly, any Zionist party in Israel that supported it. But here you had an organization that not only supported it but lobbied for it… To be pro-Israel, I think means, that on matters of life and death, when all of the Israeli public are united about something, that if you take an opposite view to that and you press to have that view imposed on Israel, I don’t think that’s a Zionist response.”

Bronner: It’s about Iran is what you’re telling me, not about the settlements or the Palestinians?

Dermer: “It’s not about Iran. It’s about crossing the line to pressuring Israel’s free people to accept the decision that you reject — to use that government to press them to make a decision. By the way, it could happen on the other side of the aisle. Israel’s government could make a decision for peace, to make a big concession, and then the question is: will there be an organization here in the United States that will go to an administration to lobby to force Israel to accept something that its free people do not want?”

Bronner: And if you’re still here, will you not meet with them?

Dermer: “I will not.”

Dermer on Israel’s praise of Trump’s response to the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre: “What surprised me is how fast people politicized what had happened… I don’t think that anti-Semitism began in 2015 when he announced his candidacy for the presidency. I don’t think it’s going to end in 2021 or 2025, whenever it is. It predates it by about 2500 years… All of Americans should have stood with President Trump and say, ‘We disagree with you on this, and we have this problem, we have this problem.’ And they can say, ‘On Charlottesville, we think you got it wrong, but now you are standing here, you said the right thing and you’re doing the thing.’ And that would send a message to all of these evil people like the ones who did this action that this is totally unacceptable, that we are spitting them out, and I thought it was a missed opportunity to rise… Unfortunately, it should have united everybody in the fight against anti-Semitism… It was a time to depoliticize the event, to rise up and to unite all Americans in the battle against anti-Semitism.”

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