The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Israel ambassador to U.S. speaks at Milwaukee Rotary Club

Bill Glauber and Amed Elbenni, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 6, 2018

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said America’s recent move to relocate its embassy to Israel will help advance the cause of Middle East peace.

During an address Tuesday at the Milwaukee Rotary Club, Dermer called President Donald Trump’s decision to open the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem “historic” and “one of the greatest decisions in the history of Zionism.”

“I know some people are concerned that this decision will set back the cause of peace. I disagree,” he said.

“This is our historic home and peace can come to the region and the Palestinians can cross a psychological Rubicon and say, ‘You have a right to be here, too,’ ” he added.

The event was co-sponsored by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. The Rotary has invited the Islamic Society of Milwaukee to a future presentation.

There were protests outside the War Memorial Center organized by Jewish Voice for Peace-Milwaukee, an organization that advocates for full Palestinian citizenship that has labeled Dermer “Israel’s apartheid ambassador.” Peace Action Wisconsin also was an organizer of the protest, which attracted about 60 people from various backgrounds — Jewish, Palestinian, Lebanese, black.

The groups criticized Israel’s recent actions in Gaza, where more than 115 people have been killed since March. Hamas has organized what it called the Great March of Return.

The protests come on the heel of a recent explosion of violence in Gaza and at the Israeli border that left more than 100 people killed and thousands more injured. The Friday killing of Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old Palestinian medic who was shot by an Israel Defense Forces soldier, has inspired a fresh wave of outrage.

“It’s an atrocity,” said Tony Peressini, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Jodi Melamed, co-founder of the Milwaukee chapter of JVP, attended the address but was not impressed. “As a Jew of conscience,” she said, she was “disgusted that he was joking about ‘Laverne & Shirley’ and baseball” without ever acknowledging the recent violence in Gaza.

Near the end of the protest, the names of recent Palestinian victims were read out. After each name, the protesters said, “We remember you.”

Inside, Dermer said: “The relationship between Israel and the U.S. is stronger than ever.”

Dermer noted that he was the first Israel ambassador to visit Milwaukee but emphasized the historic links between Israel and Wisconsin.

“The place where Golda Meir was forged, where her Zionism was forged,” Dermer said of Milwaukee, where Israel’s fourth prime minister once lived.

Dermer said Trump had a “faithful decision” to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

“Iran is a regime that openly calls for the eradication of Israel,” Dermer said. “They don’t hide it, they tweet it.”

“For Israel, any deal that would permanently prevent Iran from getting any nuclear weapons is one that we would support,” he said, adding that Israel opposed the deal with Iran because the restrictions against Iran’s nuclear program were temporary.

“All they had to do was wait for the calendar to change,” he said.

He said Iran is dominating the region and becoming a threat in the Middle East and hoped for more countries to put more pressure on Iran.

He said that a “silver lining” is that other countries in the region realize that Iran is a common enemy.

“We’d like to expand that peace to all of our Arab neighbors, especially the Palestinians,” he said.

In an earlier version of this article, a protester incorrectly asserted that Hamas had recognized Israel.