Outgoing U.S. Envoy Dan Shapiro to Stay in Israel After Trump Takes Office

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U.S. President Barack Obama greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and Ambassador Dan Shapiro and members of his family before departing from Tel Aviv, March 22, 2013.Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Already packing up boxes and preparing a new - and far smaller - private home in Israel than their sprawling seaside official residence, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro and his family are getting ready for the moment when President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office and Shapiro officially leaves his job on January 20.

Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, say they feel personally unaffected by the new sweeping rules set down by Trump preventing Obama administration appointees from spending one extra minute in their ambassadorial posts, according to sources close to the family. The New York Times reported on Thursday that, in a break with precedent, the Trump transition staff issued a “blanket edict requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration day ... declining to provide even the briefest of grace periods,” and that the hard and fast deadline had “upended the personal lives” of many of the ambassadors. 

Unlike the distressed diplomats in the Times article, however, the Shapiro family is not “scrambling” to organize their life after his stint ends, and do not need the extended grace period granted in the past by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, which Trump is being criticized for denying to ambassadors. 

The family’s plans were already firmly in place. Regardless of the result of the U.S. elections, they had decided to remain in Israel at least until the summer, so that their three daughters - Liat, 16, Merav, 12, and Shira, 10 - can complete their school year. 

Their circumstances caused them to make the highly unusual move of choosing to remain in Israel as private citizens after Shapiro leaves his job as ambassador. They have already rented a new home, which they are in the process of furnishing. 

The family is “busy preparing to transition from being diplomats to being expats,” Shapiro’s wife has told friends. 

Shapiro’s departure takes place after six turbulent years during which he served as President Barack Obama’s envoy in Israel, working to keep the channels of communication between the two countries together at a time of unparallelled personal animosity between the White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Shapiro did not expect to see his tenure as ambassador extended beyond that of Obama, even if Hillary Clinton had been elected president. His six-year service already exceeds the usual overseas stint for an ambassador - he is currently the longest-serving U.S. envoy abroad.  

It was with these plans in mind that a seasoned Middle East diplomat, Leslie Tsou, was chosen to be Shapiro’s deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv in August, the sources said. When Shapiro departs on January 20, Tsou will head the embassy between the new president’s swearing-in and the installation of Trump’s chosen ambassador. Trump’s choice for the post - attorney David Friedman, will only be able to begin serving after his nomination is ratified by the Senate. 

Even if his family had been asked to stay on in the ambassador’s residence until Friedman took over, it is unlikely that Shapiro would have been enthusiastic about serving as the face of a Trump administration. Shapiro isn’t simply a political appointee - he has a long and close relationship with Obama that preceded his arrival as ambassador in Israel in 2011, and was deeply involved in crafting the Middle East policies that Trump appears intent on changing radically. Shapiro advised Obama on Middle East policy in his first presidential campaign in 2008, and then followed him to the White House where he became senior director for the Middle East and North Africa on the National Security Staff, before he was named ambassador.  

Moreover, Fisher and Shapiro are liberal American Jewish Democrats whose personal politics are highly incompatible with Trump administration and Republican policies both foreign and domestic.

Outspoken in their support for LGBT rights, they have hosted events for the Israeli LGBT community on several occasions. Shapiro made appearances at the Gay Pride Parade. Under Shapiro’s watch, not only was the rainbow flag alongside the American one on Gay Pride Week, but in the 2016 parade, the building was swathed in rainbow banners. Supportive of immigrant causes, Fisher has also volunteered at a day-care center for the children of African asylum seekers, and been active in supporting their community in Tel Aviv. Active members in Conservative congregations both in Washington, D.C. and in Israel, they are supporters of Women of the Wall. 

Both Shapiro and Fisher plan to work in their post-ambassadorial life in Israel, though they haven’t announced where. It seems probable that an Israeli university, think tank or company  will be interested in Shapiro’s expertise and experience in Middle East policy - he holds a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard.  

Fisher is an educator who has devoted full-time to family and diplomatic spouse duties over the past six years. 

Before coming to Israel, she spent 14 years, teaching and serving as vice principal at the Jewish Primary Day School, where many of the capital’s prominent Jews send their children - and which, ironically, is the closest Jewish school to the future residence of Ivanka Trump - although the future president’s Jewish daughter has not yet revealed where she intends to educate her children.

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