When Zionism is racism: Ron Dermer and Bibi Netanyahu, on the record

Imagine if a politician in another country had bragged about lowering a minority group’s birthrate – like Netanyahu and his new ambassador to the U.S. did.

Ron Dermer, who was named by Netanyahu yesterday to be Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, is known as an even more right-wing Republican version of his boss. Haaretz‘s Barak Ravid wrote:

Dermer’s positions on policy are far more extreme than Netanyahu’s. European and American officials have expressed shock by his positions on the settlement issue, on peace talks with the Palestinians, and on the principle of an independent Palestinian state.

It gets worse, though. Dermer is also a proud champion of about the ugliest possible anti-Arab views, having defended Bibi publicly when his mentor made the single most offensively racist remark of his career, which is going some.

This episode took place at the beginning of January 2007, when Netanyahu was out of power, preparing his run for the prime ministership again, and wanting to mend fences with the supremely important ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) voting bloc. They had supported  Netanyahu en masse in his successful 1996 race, but he had alienated them in the early 2000s as finance minister in the Sharon government, when he slashed government child subsidies, which badly hurt large, poor families, who are especially prevalent among two population groups: the Haredim and the Israeli Arabs. So Netanyahu went to talk to a gathering of Haredi municipal officials, putting a positive spin on the cuts he’d imposed. His speech was written up in Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth. From the latter:  

In his speech, Netanyahu referred to the cuts in child pensions, saying that since they were implemented “two positive things happened: members of the Haredi public seriously joined the workforce. And on the national level, the unexpected result was the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birth rate.”

There was a dramatic drop in the “non-Jewish,” i.e. Israeli Arab, birthrate – and Netanyahu, speaking to a Jewish audience, is not only citing this as a “positive thing,” he’s bragging that it was his decision to further impoverish large families that did it!

He didn’t just say this once, either; I’d read that he made the same boast to a group of ultra-Orthodox Knesset members.

Imagine if a politician in just about any other country made such a statement about a minority group. But Israel is, well, special, so Netanyahu’s remarks, reported in Yedioth and Haaretz, made no waves whatsoever. So I decided to write an op-ed about the speech in The Jerusalem Post, and titled it “A bigot called Bibi,” in which I said he’d gone beyond the pale and put himself in the category of racist demagogues like Jean Marie Le Pen and Jorg Haider.

Ron Dermer, at the time the Minister of Economic Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, defended the statement in a sarcastic reply in the Post titled “The nerve of Bibi”:

Netanyahu was caught red-handed. Who would have thought that an Israeli leader circa 2007 could think, let alone say, something so shocking? And we thought the quaint notion that leaders of the Jewish state wanted more Jews than non-Jews in it was passe.

Dermer’s point was that since a Jewish state is legitimate, and since a Jewish state requires a Jewish majority, deterring non-Jewish citizens from having children by hurting them economically is legitimate, too. And there’s nothing wrong with bragging about it in front of Jews, either. He concluded:

But while [Derfner] should be commended for bringing this story to our attention, he is mistaken in calling Bibi a bigot. He is only a Zionist, and apparently even a proud one.

This is Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, and I’m sure he’ll do fine there, playing his Republican friends off the Obama administration. It’s too bad, though, he wasn’t named ambassador to the United Nations; it would have been interesting to hear him chastise the General Assembly for its declaration, since overturned, that “Zionism is racism.” Zionism isn’t racism, but there are plenty of Zionists whose Zionism damn sure is; Netanyahu is one, and he just sent another one to represent this country in Washington.