How much damage, really, can one Israeli ambassador to Washington do?
We're certainly finding out.
Last month, House Speaker John Boehner invited Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on Iran sanctions – an invitation brokered by Dermer – the White House called the move a breach of normal diplomatic protocol.
At issue, in part, is the sense that the Miami-born Dermer - who before moving to Israel in 1996 worked with GOP consultant Frank Luntz on the Contract with America project - is practicing partisan politics on both sides of the Atlantic, effectively stumping for the Republican Party as well as Netanyahu's Likud.
Dermer, sensing a home field advantage at an Israel Bonds dinner in Boca Raton, Florida, fired back at critics on two continents:
"There may be some people who believe that the Prime Minster of Israel should have declined an invitation to speak before the most powerful parliament in the world on an issue that concerns the future and survival of Israel," Dermer said, after stating that Netanyahu's visit was intended neither to show disrespect for Obama or "wade into your political debate."
"But we have learned from our history that the world becomes a more dangerous place for the Jewish people when the Jewish people are silent."
"The Prime Minister feels the deepest moral obligation to appear before the Congress to speak about an existential issue facing the one and only Jewish state."
Even when Dermer seems in a lighthearted mood, as he appeared to be in a Sunday twitter post timed to coincide with the kickoff of the 2015 Super Bowl, he can't seem to resist getting in a dig, or, depending on the observer, a late hit:
"Breaking Protocol, Choosing Sides: Go Patriots," Dermer wrote.
Lest the reference be missed, a Washington Times headline was quick to supply context: "Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to U.S., smacks White House with ‘Go Patriots’ tweet."
In the short time that Ron Dermer has been Israel's point man in the United States, he has already managed to be reprimanded by the Civil Service Commission for campaigning for Prime Minister Netanyahu in violation of civil service regulations specifically forbidding actions or behavior which can be "interpreted as being aimed at promoting the interest of any particular party or candidate.”
The upbraiding followed an American television interview last month, in which Dermer was asked about polls showing Israelis displeased with the country's direction.
“I have no doubt that when they [the Israeli public] look at all the people that stand for the leadership of the country," Dermer told the Fusion network, "that they will have confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
Dermer, a senior aide and speechwriter for Netanyahu, had already come under scrutiny for his role in the perceived assistance the prime minister gave GOP contender Mitt Romney in the 2012 race against Obama, and for other gestures seen as aiding the republican cause.
The flap over the Netanyahu address has spilled over into diminishing Democratic support for further sanctions, and even the possibility of Democratic lawmakers boycotting or walking out of the speech.
Dermer's predecessor Michael Oren has urged Netanyahu to cancel the speech in order to avoid a rift with the American government. Oren noted this week that the prime minister would in any event address the AIPAC policy conference on the eve of the scheduled March 3 Capitol Hill speech, and that Netanyahu could make his case to the large number of Congressional representatives and U.S. senators among AIPAC's 15,000-strong audience.
In America, meanwhile, opposition to the Congressional speech continues to spread. A USA Today editorial on Sunday singled out Dermer ("once a Republican political operative") as it suggested that American lives could hang in the balance of the Iran talks.
Netanyahu, the paper wrote, "risks swapping an alliance between nations for an alliance between his Likud Party and the GOP.
"Even if the ploy succeeds in torpedoing the arms negotiations, it would be a costly win, raising troubling questions about the degree of control Netanyahu has over decisions that could cost American lives."
And it only gets worse. Israeli consuls in San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia have cabled the Foreign Ministry, warning that the Netanyahu speech is a bad error which could harm Israel's relations with the United States and with American Jewry.
On Wednesday, seven strongly pro-Israel Democratic Jewish members of Congress met with Dermer, voicing concern that the speech could turn Israel into a partisan issue, and declaring that "Israel should never be used as a political football."
Israel can no longer afford to keep Dermer in Washington. The danger in leaving him at his post is much too great. He has become a liability even to the Republican Party he once served.
Israel needs to fire Dermer now. Israel cannot afford for its most crucial ambassador to dig the country an even deeper hole.
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