Opinion

Dermer or Friedman – Does It Even Matter?

David Friedman and Ron Dermer.
Matty Stern, Perry Bindelglass

Donald Trump’s remark that Jews who vote Democratic are either ignorant or disloyal was interpreted as an accusation of “dual loyalty.” That is, lack of loyalty to the United States. The next day, he clarified that he meant that Jews who vote Democratic were “being disloyal to Israel.” In fact, both the original statement and the clarification skirt the issue of “dual loyalty” in an original way.

They reveal that under Trump, Jews are immune to any such dilemma because there can be no conflict of interests between Israel and the United States. Loyalty to the United States means loyalty to Israel and vice versa. On condition, of course, that loyalty to both countries means loyalty to the policy of its current leader.

It’s hard to think of two people who better personify this symbiosis between the interests of Trump’s United States and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel than Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Imagine: Would something change in the world if Dermer and Friedman were to switch roles?

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Technically, they could do so. Dermer was born in Florida and made aliyah at the age of 26. He gave up his U.S. citizenship eight years later, in 2005, when Netanyahu appointed him economic attaché in Washington. Friedman is an Orthodox Jew, born on Long Island, speaks Hebrew and is an enthusiastic supporter of the settlements. He owns an apartment in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talbieh where he spends the holidays with his children and grandchildren, and at any moment is five minutes away from Israeli citizenship thanks to the Law of Return.

Their responses are so synchronized it’s almost as if they were composed by the same team. When Trump is assailed as anti-Semitic, Dermer is the first to defend him. After the massacre in Pittsburgh, Dermer rejected any connection between increased anti-Semitism and Trump’s conduct. When Netanyahu banned Democratic Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from Israel, Friedman backed him up.

And why should Friedman not justify Netanyahu’s decision to keep Tlaib and Omar out of Israel? This was at his president’s request. But it is unclear in this Judeo-American stew whether Friedman was following Trump or Trump was following Friedman. After all, it may be that Trump got the idea of saying Jewish Democrats betray Israel from Friedman, who said years ago that the members of the liberal Jewish organization J Street were “worse than kapos.”

Not long ago, Netanyahu marked Dermer as his possible successor, along with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. Would anyone in Israel raise an eyebrow if Friedman was also on the list? And Sara Netanyahu herself said her husband could be president of the United States had he been born there. And why not? He also gave up his U.S. citizenship when he joined the Israeli army. Then he asked for it back when he got out. And he gave it up again when he was appointed No. 2 in the Israeli Embassy in Washington. What’s to stop him from asking for it back a third time?

Trump only called Jewish Democrats what Netanyahu called leftists in Israel: traitors. He did not accuse the Jews of dual loyalty, but of dual treason. Dual loyalty has changed from being an accusation against American Jews to being a demand upon them. Where we go from here, God knows.