Political junkie takes show from Miami to Netanyahu
Though Tal Brody failed to get a realistic spot on the Likud's Knesset slate, two other American immigrants are playing important behind-the-scenes roles in the party's election campaign. Ron Dermer, 37, who hails from Miami Beach, Florida, is prime ministerial candidate Benjamin Netanyahu's senior campaign and policy advisor. Ari Harow, 36, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, built Likud's Anglo division and was a foreign policy advisor to Netanyahu before becoming his bureau chief for the current campaign.
"It just goes to show you that when you deal with Anglos, you get a promotion," Dermer joked in an interview with Anglo File earlier this week. Turning more serious, he added that his party places a lot of emphasis on its English-speaking constituents. "We have a very committed and effective Anglos division, which Ari Harow started in early 2007" (see box).
Dermer, who moved to Israel in 1996 after earning degrees at the Wharton School of Business and Oxford University, said the Likud invested enormous resources into its English-speaking branch, "because we think Likud is the natural home for Anglos." He says he believes that "big picture issues" such as diplomatic and security-related matters are among Anglos' prime concerns, yet they also care strongly about Jewish and Zionist education. "I believe that democracy and the rule of law are also big issues for them."
Native English speakers have "something of an affinity for Netanyahu," Dermer said, "because he spent a good deal of time abroad and he's the most fluent English speaker there is in Israeli political life. I think they have a way of connecting with him that they don't necessarily have with the other candidates for prime minister."
Should Netanyahu become Israel's next prime minister, as polls predict, it would not be Dermer's first successful campaign. Years ago, he helped Natan Sharansky's Yisrael B'aliyah party win several Knesset seats. Yet, Dermer, who returned a few months ago from Washington, D.C., where he served as minister of economic affairs in the Israeli embassy, says his favorite campaign was one of a much smaller scale: a mayoral race in Miami Beach. "The issues at stake there weren't quite what they are in Israel, mainly about parking and real estate development," Dermer said. "But since it was my brother who got elected it was the most gratifying campaign I've ever worked on." In 2001, Dermer's brother David followed his late father's footsteps as mayor of the 90,000-citizen resort town and is now in his third term.
Small or big, Dermer is a professed political campaign junkie. He said he remembers following the presidential races of the 1970s, as a young boy. In 2008, of course, he closely analyzed Barack Obama's campaign, taking some pages out of its playbook. Dermer admits that Netanyahu's Web site is modeled after that of the new U.S. president. "Things have changed so fast with technology that you can always find new ways, like sending out a ring tone, or a song, or a viral video that goes out," said Dermer. "There are a couple of things we tried to learn from Obama but Israel is a very different political environment than the United States."
Despite press speculation that Israel's policies under a Netanyahu government might clash with those of the Obama administration, Dermer , doesn't think his boss will be at loggerheads with the U.S. President. "I've been in both meetings Netanyahu had with Obama and they were both excellent meetings. I think that they both agree that they want a peace agreement that will succeed. There's nothing more important than success."