September 19, 2018

An Evening with The Israeli Ambassador to the United States

Right to left – Ambassador Ron Dermer, Israeli Consul General Sam Grundwerg, and me. (Photo by Rabbi Stanley Davids)

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer is an impressive, intelligent, and well-spoken advocate for Israel and the American-Israel partnership.

In meeting him last evening at Stephen S. Wise Temple I was impressed by his rhetorical skills, intelligence, optimism, and comprehensive presentation that touted all the positives about the State of Israel. Among other things, he noted that Israel is now regarded as the 8th most powerful nation in the world according to US News and World Report (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/power-full-list). Its world leadership in start-ups are second only to the United States. Its ongoing positive diplomatic efforts with large nations around the world along with its strong economy, military, intelligence services, innovative technology, and Jewish values represent the fulfillment of one hundred generations since the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome.

The several hundred in attendance were overwhelmingly friendly and the Ambassador was gracious and felt clearly at home.

He began his talk by arguing why the Iran Agreement must be renegotiated. He saw us walking towards “a cliff” because he said that at the end of the term of the agreement, he claimed that there will be nothing stopping Iran from gaining a nuclear bomb.

Despite his dark assessment, others in the Israeli intelligence and military community believe that this agreement, while imperfect, is effective and must remain in place and that Iran is abiding by what it signed.

I refer you to an article that addresses his fears about what happens after the 15-year term of the agreement and what restrictions and safeguards will remain in place. Though no one, me included, trusts Iran, without this agreement Iran would be within months of the development of nuclear capability. The agreement did in fact result in the destruction of much of Iran’s nuclear capacity.

The Ambassador supported President Trump’s desire to renegotiate this deal which would blow the deal apart altogether and undermine international trust in the United States by our allies.

For a deeper explanation read “The world can’t afford a nuclear Iran. Keep the current deal” –  by Ernest Moniz, one of America’s chief negotiators:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/10/04/the-world-can-afford-nuclear-iran-keep-current-deal/9d7JW61RDyRwQWQNoT2HCP/story.html

Ambassador Dermer noted that the single most existential threat to Israel is the spreading influence of Iran throughout the Middle East. It has armed Hezbollah in the north, has a growing relationship with Hamas in Gaza, and is attempting to take over Yemen so as to threaten Saudi Arabia. Ambassador Dermer said that when Arab countries and Israel are on the same page, one has to take notice. He is right. I had no disagreement with him on the threat against Israel, but I do disagree with his assessment of dangers of the Iran Agreement.

I was pleased to hear the Ambassador thank President Obama for signing a ten-year security agreement with Israel.

There were two other existential threats to the people and state of Israel that Mr. Dermer did not mention. Though he noted in passing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that must be addressed, he said nothing about the corrosive effect of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank on both Palestinians living under the Israeli military administration there and upon Israeli soldiers who serve as occupiers. And he said nothing about the growing ultra-Orthodox stranglehold on the ruling governing coalition.

Before the meeting, with his childhood friend Consul General Sam Grundwerg, I told Mr. Dermer in my role representing the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) that the liberal American Jewish community has lost trust in Prime Minister Netanyahu primarily because he cancelled the Kotel agreement that he has advocated for the passage of the Conversion Law that would disenfranchise all Diaspora Jewry from the State of Israel.

I told him that we liberal American Zionists need Israel and I asked him to communicate our love of Israel and our concerns about his government’s direction to the Prime Minister. He said he would do so, but sadly, I have no expectation that Prime Minister Netanyahu will do anything that threatens his own government’s survivability, including standing up to the anti-democratic hegemonic intentions of the ultra-Orthodox political parties in his coalition.

This week I will be traveling to Israel to participate in meetings of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Vaad HaPoel of the World Zionist Organization. The main challenge in our meetings with the WZO is to fight back the attempts of Israel’s right-wing parties to change the WZO constitution that would weaken Diaspora Zionism with Israel.

I will write from Israel, so stay tuned.