Israeli Ambassador in U.S. Reprimanded for Forbidden Political Campaigning on Behalf of Netanyahu

Ron Dermer criticized for violating Civil Service Commission rules, endorsing Israeli premier for re-election in interviews he gave to American television.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then adviser Ron Dermer, now Israel's ambassador in Washington.
Government Press Office

Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer was reprimanded last Thursday for violating the Civil Service Commission rules and taking part in forbidden political campaigning on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in interviews he gave to the American media.

In late December, Dermer was interviewed on the American Fusion Television network, which is aimed at young English speakers with a Hispanic background. Interviewer Jorge Ramos asked Dermer about the upcoming elections in Israel and mentioned that polls show the Israeli public thinks the country is not moving in the right direction.

In response, Dermer said that during the last U.S. presidential election there was a certain percentage of Americans who believed their country was moving in the wrong direction, but it didn’t prevent U.S. President Barack Obama from being reelected. He then added: “I have no doubt that when they [the Israeli public] look at all the people that stand for the leadership of the country, that they will have confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

A few weeks before the interview took place, Civil Service Commissioner Moshe Dayan issued instructions in a December 10 memo, saying, “A state employee must be careful that his actions or behavior cannot be interpreted as being aimed at promoting the interest of any particular party or candidate.” Anyone violating these instructions, he said, “will face criminal or disciplinary proceedings in accordance with the law.”

As a result of the report in Haaretz about Dermer's comments on American television, Meretz lawmaker Issawi Freij sent a letter to Dayan demanding that he summon Dermer for clarifications. Ignoring such a remark, especially when it is made to the press, is tantamount to the commission allowing civil servants to violate its guidelines, Freij wrote in his letter. "It is the commission's duty to take immediate disciplinary action against Dermer, so as to make the validity of its instructions clear," Freij said.

The spokesman of the Civil Service Commission Aryeh Greenblatt told Haaretz that Freij's letter had been passed on by the Civil Service Commission's disciplinary division to Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, the director general of the Foreign Ministry. Ben-Sheetrit ordered an internal examination of the matter by the ministry's inspector general Yaakov Keidar.

The Civil Service Commission said that after examining the matter, Keidar determined that Dermer had indeed violated the instructions to civil servants and expressed public support for a candidate in the elections. Dermer told Keidar during the clarification that he had not intended to express political support for Netanyahu's candidacy during the interview.

The spokesman for the Civil Service Commission said Dermer made it clear this was a "one - time mistake." Keidar accepted Dermer's explanations and also made it clear that his remarks were made on a television station that is not targeted at Israeli voters. Nonetheless, Keidar recommended that placing a disciplinary note in Dermer's personnel file.

Dermer had previously been a close political adviser of Netanyahu’s and was actively involved in the 2009 and 2013 election campaigns. After the last elections he was appointed ambassador to the United States. Since arriving in Washington he has continued to advise Netanyahu on a wide range of issues. He was a central figure in arranging the controversial speech Netanyahu is scheduled to give to the Congress in March, two weeks before the elections - along with House Speaker John Boehner ad other members of the Republican Congressional leadership.