US officials are “fuming” in the AP’s words at the barrage of Israeli criticism of Secretary of States John Kerry. But as Chemi Shalev notes in Haaretz, there’s a deeper backstory. Nothing gets the Obama administration’s ire up like the perception (very often grounded in reality) that Netanyahu and his government ministers are trying to scuttle his initiatives by inveigling themselves into domestic partisan conflict in the US. Specifically, using GOP proxies as cut-outs to push back against the President’s initiatives.
This is not entirely new. There was an episode during the first Bush administration when the shoe was on the other partisan foot. But Netanyahu, who speaks perfect English and lived a number of years in the United States, is better able to do it than many of his predecessors. And the US partisan alignment creates more tools to do it with.
In one very notable example, Israel’s current Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, is a former GOP political operative who once worked for Frank Luntz, and only made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) in 1998. He even reportedly played some role (though I suspect a small one since he was just out of college at the time) in creating the 1994 Contract with America. It’s usually good for both countries when a country’s ambassador has a deep relationship with the country’s head of government. It makes more seamless and reliable communication possible. And all seem to agree that Dermer’s relationship with Netanyahu is very, very deep – this article refers to him as “Bibi’s Brain.”
So Dermer is tight with Netanyahu and he, by definition, has a ready grasp of the the minute intricacies of US politics, particularly Washington politics. But his background makes Democrats and especially this White House suspicious.
I don’t know what role Dermer himself plays in the working the general ties with US Republicans, though I suspect it’s substantial. But Netanyahu has made the de facto alliance between the Likud or what remains of the faction he owns (that part gets very complicated) and the US Republican party increasingly explicit. And that’s dangerous. Dangerous for all concerned but particularly for Israel. I wish Netanyahu and his government had a better sense of the toxic repercussions of mobilizing GOP proxies as cut-outs in this way. It should go without saying that the Israel-US alliance becomes more brittle as it becomes more clearly identified with a single US political party. And perhaps more than that, as it becomes more clearly identified with the ties between Netanyahu and US Republicans.
Correction: This article originally originally said Dermer made aliyah in 2005 rather than 1998. Dermer renounced his US citizenship in 2005.