Nov 11, 2020 - World

Incoming Israeli ambassador will have to win over Democrats

Erdan (L) with Netanyahu. Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Jan. 20 is Inauguration Day for Joe Biden, but another person will also enter a new post in Washington: Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan.

Why it matters: The former minister from Netanyahu's Likud party will have to navigate Biden's Washington, which the Israeli government fears will be far less cozy than Trump’s.

The big picture: Erdan will replace Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s closest confidant who served as ambassador for eight years and was one of the most influential and powerful diplomats in Washington.

  • To be effective, Erdan will have to make sure he's perceived the way Dermer was, as Bibi’s long arm in Washington. 
  • Erdan’s first challenges will be to try to reverse the trend of Israel becoming a partisan issue in Washington, and manage relations with Biden’s White House at a time when big policy differences seem unavoidable.
  • “I hope my friend Gilad Erdan is taking a crash course in spoken Democrat. It is a very special language — very different from the dialect we Israelis speak,” Dani Dayan, Israel’s former consul general in New York, tweeted.
  • Erdan hired former Washington Post Jerusalem correspondent Ruth Eglash as his spokesperson, which should help him in “speaking Democrat.”

The state of play: Erdan’s challenge will be even harder because he'll be juggling two jobs: He's also Israel's ambassador to the UN and lives with his family in New York.

  • After assuming office, Erdan is likely to spend three days a week in Washington. The slowdown of UN activity due to COVID-19 should make it easier for Erdan to manage both jobs.
  • Worth noting: The last Israeli diplomat to hold both posts was the legendary Abba Eban in the 1950s.

Erdan is spending this week in meetings with Dermer in Washington to prepare for the job, an Israeli official said.

  • He has met with several senior Democrats in New York, and he'll likely make his first priority forging ties with Democrats.
  • Erdan posted a photo with Biden on Facebook. It was from several years ago when they met on the train to Washington. Biden was then the vice president and Erdan was a minister in the Israeli government.
  • “We had a great conversation. Things changed a bit since then, but I will do the utmost to bring the U.S.-Israeli relations to a new height," Erdan wrote.

What to watch: Although he is right wing in most of his positions, Erdan hopes his work on climate change as environment minister will help him connect with Democrats, an Israeli official told me.

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