Michael Oren has served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States since 2009. He soon will step down from that post, although whether he does so willingly is a matter of much conjecture. He will be replaced by Ron Dermer, one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest advisers, and perhaps his most loyal. Some media reports insist Oren was pushed aside because Dermer wanted the job.
This marks the first time that two United States-born former citizens held the Washington post in succession. Oren was born in upstate New York and raised in New Jersey. Dermer is a Floridian by birth. Both men moved to Israel in the mid-1990s.
That, however, is where comparisons end. Oren, who is a historian, not a politician, was a bridge-builder. For example, in the wake of American Jewish concern for the treatment of women in Israel, and especially the monthly harassment of the Women of the Wall, it was Oren who helped broker the egalitarian prayer compromise proposed earlier this year by Natan Sharansky.
Dermer, on the other hand, is a politician, raised in a family of politicians. Both his late father and his brother were conservative Democratic mayors of Miami Beach, and he was involved in conservative Republican politics in Florida. Until now, Dermer has demonstrated a penchant for dividing, not uniting. He has said, for example, that he sees no point in Israel’s engaging with the more liberal elements within the American Jewish community. He also is a vehement opponent of Israel’s human rights organizations.
Netanyahu’s March 23, 2010 evening visit to the White House stands out in comparing the two men. The next morning, the London Telegraph reported that “Netanyahu was left to stew in a White House meeting room for over an hour after President Barack Obama abruptly walked out of tense talks to have supperâ€¦.”
Oren quickly and publicly debunked that story with a point-by-point refutation. Dermer, on the other hand, is widely regarded as the story’s source.
American Jewish leaders have been quick to say that the past is the past, and that Dermer the Israel envoy will be vastly different from Dermer the Netanyahu partisan.
We hope so. We hope he understands the difference between diplomacy and divisiveness, whether between nations, or among the various shades of opinion on matters religious and political within the American Jewish community.
As for Michael Oren, he will be missed as Israel’s spokesman in the United States, but we are certain we have not heard the last from him.