Ron Dermer, who served as the Israeli Ambassador to the United States from 2013-2019, spoke at the second annual “Am Olam” conference held by Hebrew-language news service Makor Rishon in Jerusalem on Sunday. Dermer discussed issues that arose during the difficult years under President Obama when relations between Israel and the US were far less than ideal. One questioner suggested that under Netanyahu, too much emphasis was placed on building a relationship with evangelical Christian.
Dermer responded by emphasizing that one of the keys to having a pro-Israel influence in the White House, according to Dermer, was the evangelical Christian community, even more than the Jewish community in the US. Dermer described the evangelical support for Israel as “passionate and unequivocal” whereas the US Jews were “disproportionately among our critics.”
“People have to understand that the backbone of Israel’s support in the United States is the evangelical Christians. It’s true because of numbers and also because of their passionate and unequivocal support for Israel,” Dermer said.
“About 25% [of Americans] — some people think more — are evangelical Christians. Less than two percent of Americans are Jews,” he said. “Reform Jews are about one-third of American Jews. The largest group of American Jews are those who are not affiliated with any denomination. So if you look just at numbers, you should be spending a lot more time doing outreach to evangelical Christians than you would do to Jews.”
Dermer also noted that the impact of evangelical support of Israel was qualitative as well as quantitative, especially in key issues like the Iran nuclear deal and combatting the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement.
“For most evangelicals in the United States, certainly for many of them, Israel is one of the most important issues,” Dermer said.
In a jaw-dropping interview Former Israeli ambassador in Washington Ron Dermer tells @amit_segal the backbone of Israel’s support in the U.S. is the evangelical Christians and not American Jews @MakorRishon pic.twitter.com/g8UASanwDx
— Yonit Levi (@LeviYonit) May 9, 2021
“Much more support came from the Christians [than American Jews] in our struggle against the nuclear deal and to move the embassy to Jerusalem, so I think we are obliged to invest more in support from the Christians.”
Dermer’s criticism of the US Jews is well-placed as almost 70% of Jewish voters put their support behind Obama in his second bid for the White House despite his clear anti-Israel bias in policy.
Nonetheless, Dermer emphasized that connecting to US Jews was essential to Israel.
“The raison d’être of the Jewish state is to build these connections with Jews throughout the Diaspora and certainly with American Jews as well. We have an obligation and a duty to strengthen that connection and we do,” he said. “I spent at least as much time doing outreach to Jews as I did with Christians.”
Dermer also discussed the impact of President Trump’s loss in the 2020 elections, speculating that it delayed a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia by at least one and a half years.
The former ambassador also took the opportunity to praise his long-time boss, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was unable to form a government and may soon be replaced.
“There is no question at all that without Netanyahu, there will be a significant change in the US-Israel relationship,” Dermer said. When asked if he would consider being his former boss’s successor, Dermer demurred.
“I hope that the successor to Benjamin Netanyahu will be Benjamin Netanyahu,” Dermer said. “We are a nation of many virtues. Gratitude is not one of them, and there are occasional days where… the people of Israel are less than grateful for the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said, giving a Biblical precedent for this ingratitude. “I remember years ago, I told him when… Israelis were particularly ungrateful, ‘What are you complaining about. Look at Moses? He does the ten plagues, he splits the sea, he goes up for 40 days and 40 nights.’ We’re a tough people to govern. It makes us a great nation too because we’re never satisfied.”
“I feel, having worked with Netanyahu for 20 years, really blessed to have him leading the State of Israel. I think he has made Israel safer. It’s the safest decade we’ve ever had. He’s made Israel much more prosperous because of a lot of economic reforms he did. He stood up to a lot of pressure in the international community for Israel to make dangerous concessions. He mobilized the world, sometimes single-handedly, to confront the threat of a nuclear Iran.”
רון דרמר, שגריר ישראל היוצא בוושינגטון: pic.twitter.com/snOSGpmnRb
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) May 9, 2021
Dermer went on to praise Netanyahu’s “obsessive” response to the COVID pandemic.
“Israel’s been blessed with his leadership,” Dermer went on. “He’s been something of a Gulliver in Israel. You don’t get a Gulliver every day… but what I see happening over the past couple of years is some Lilliputians doing their best to tie Gulliver down. So I hope that Gulliver will stand up and continue to lead Israel for many, many years to come,” he said.
Rabbi Tuly Weisz, the head of Israel365, was enthusiastic about Dermer’s advocacy for strengthening the connection with evangelical Christians.
“His statement comes at the perfect time for a Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) reminder how grateful we are for our Christian friends,” Rabbi Weisz said, citing Psalms.
When Hashem restores the fortunes of Tzion —we see it as in a dream, our mouths shall be filled with laughter, our tongues, with songs of joy. Then shall they say among the nations, “Hashem has done great things for them!” Hashem will do great things for us and we shall rejoice. Psalms 126:1-3
Rabbi Weisz noted that the Talmud explains this verse in a prophetic context.
“The Jews will only be fully happy about the return of the exiles when the nations also praise hashem (God) for the fulfillment of prophecy,” Rabbi Weisz said.
Josh Reinstein, Director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus and President of the Israel Allies Foundation, noted that evangelical support for Israel has grown enormously.
Faith-based diplomacy is the most important diplomacy for the State of Israel,” Reinstein said. “Faith-based diplomacy has proven itself over recent years. Israel has benefitted from its connections with Christian, not just in America but all over the world. And it is growing exponentially. It needs to be developed as it is essential to the safety and security of Israel and the well-being of its people.”
“I don’t think it has to come at the expense of our connection with the American Jews,” Reinstein said. “These are two separate issues. We will focus on anyone who supports Israel. This was our vision when we established the Israel allies Foundation in 2004 and it has already exceeded our most optimistic expectations.”