MILWAUKEE – The scuttled Iran nuclear deal was a threat to Israel, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was good for peace, Israel is an important ally for the United States and Israel is the historic Jewish homeland.
These were among the key messages of Israel’s ambassador to the United States on Tuesday, June 5, at the Milwaukee County War Memorial, 750 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive. Ambassador Ron Dermer spoke to more than 250 attendees at the Rotary Club of Milwaukee lunch program, while in the state to attend meetings with legislators, Gov. Scott Walker and others, largely organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israel Center of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
Dermer has visited points around the nation, he said in an exclusive interview with the Chronicle after his public speech. He said, “I’m Israel’s ambassador to the United States, not D.C. …. D.C. is not America.” (For more from the interview, see next Chronicle print edition.)
In his speech, Dermer said Israel opposed President Barack Obama’s negotiated restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program because “all it did was put temporary restrictions on Israel’s nuclear program.” President Donald Trump has since withdrawn from the deal.
“Iran is openly committed to Israel’s destruction,” Dermer said. After a few short years of restraining themselves, they wouldn’t have to sneak into the nuclear club. They could walk right in, he said.
Dermer was careful to draw a distinction between enemies of Israel and those who just disagree. On Obama, he said, “I believe he was being sincere. We just disagree.”
He added, “We were concerned that removing the sanctions would just be fueling Iran’s war machine.”
There’s mutual concern in the region over Iran, he said. When Arabs and Israelis are on the same page, “that’s the ultimate no-spin zone,” he said.
He hopes that relations will improve with some Middle Eastern countries, but he indicated he understands that years of bad press in those nations for Israel is difficult to reverse.
Dermer talked about Israel’s role as the historic Jewish homeland, telling the audience that when a Jewish groom steps on the glass, it’s “at our moment of our greatest rejoicing, to remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.”
The ambassador said the elusiveness of peace for Israelis and Palestinians comes down to one issue: “Do you recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state in their historic homeland?”
Dermer said the reality is that King David had a kingdom there 3,000 years ago, before Islam was born, and that Israel is not a colonialist endeavor. He said that “this is not a foreign land for the Jewish people. This is the land we turn to in prayer and remember at our weddings and funerals.”
If moving the U.S. embassy can help Palestinians recognize this truth, peace will come more easily, according to Dermer.
“I’m proud to say the relationship between Israel and America is stronger than ever,” he said, and then followed up with a statement that he admitted was something to behold, coming from a tiny country. He said. “I believe that Israel will be the most important ally for the United States in the 21st century.”
This is because dangers for America will be coming from the Middle East, and Israel is a cyber-leader second only to the United States, he said.
The crowd gave Dermer its rapt attention, with applause at the end. Even a handful of attendees who have been publicly critical of Israel did not disrupt the speech. A few questions had been submitted by the audience, challenging Dermer: Can a Jewish state be a democracy? Why doesn’t Israel stop building settlements on Palestinian land? Why have American political figures not been able to visit Gaza?
Dermer answered, Israel has many non-Jewish citizens; Israel walked out of Gaza, even removing Jewish graves, and that has not led to peace; Israel does not build on land owned by Palestinians; it’s not fair to assume that Jews could never live in a Palestinian state, just as Palestinians now live in Israel; monitors are allowed in Gaza all the time, but sometimes restrictions come even from the United States for safety.
With that, the ambassador headed to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for an editorial board meeting, to be followed by throwing the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game.
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About Ambassador Ron Dermer
- Born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida.
- Was once a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.
- Co-authored with Natan Sharansky the best-selling book, “The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.”
- From 2009-2013, he served as Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.