Israeli envoys around the world hold more than a few meetings they aren’t eager to report to the media. Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, has decided to take that policy to the extreme. Dermer, believe it or not, has refused to reveal who, other than the guest of honor, Secretary of State John Kerry, was invited to the second Passover seder at his Washington home this year.
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On the day of the first seder, Kerry issued a Pesach greeting, which was sent to hundreds of journalists and posted on the State Department. In it, Kerry noted that the following evening he would be attending the second seder at Dermer’s home.
A few days later, I contacted the embassy spokesperson, Aaron Sagui, for details: Who was invited, what they ate and what they gossiped about around the holiday table. I thought it could be a nice post for this blog.
I soon realized I would not obtain the desired information so easily, which only piqued my curiosity further. If Dermer doesn’t want to divulge who came to the seder, then maybe he has something to hide. Maybe there’s a story here.
I contacted Sagui again, repeating my request and adding that if it was not met I would file a formal Freedom of Information application. After a few days went by with no response, I contacted the spokesperson again. This time I was informed that due to my “negative attitude,” (as if I were the one avoiding giving answers to a journalist), he would not cooperate.
At the point I spoke to a few people at the Foreign Ministry, attempting to find out why I couldn’t obtain trivial information like the seder guest list at the ambassador’s home in Washington. After all, President Barack Obama published the guest list for his seder, at the White House. Obama can do it but Dermer can’t?
The Foreign Ministry officials said Dermer was refusing on the grounds that his seder was a private event, not an official state function, and as such he owes no one an account. It seems Dermer is confused. Perhaps it’s a side effect of too many years in the orbit of Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
The home of an Israeli ambassador is not a private home, it is funded and maintained by the taxes of Israeli citizens. The flag waving outside, the security guards everywhere and the state seal on the china all underline that everything that goes on there is an official function. Or, as one veteran ambassador told me, “Even when it’s your in-laws coming to visit, it’s not a private event at the ambassador’s house.”
I’m willing to take a chance and guess that the cost of the holiday meal was billed to the ambassador’s official budget, or to the embassy’s hospitality budget, and not to Dermer’s private account. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s how it should be. But it means the seder was not a private event.
As I told the embassy spokesman, I’ve turned to alternative means to obtain the information. I paid the 20-shekel fee (under $6, thank you Justice Minister Tzipi Livni for cutting the charge by 80 percent) and filed a request with the Foreign Ministry under the Freedom of Information Law. Aryeh Zini, the official responsible for implementing the law in the Foreign Ministy, already got back to me, saying my request is being processed. He has 30 days to issue some kind of response. I’ll keep you informed. It should be interesting.