JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s nominee as ambassador to Rome has withdrawn her candidacy, marking the second time this year a high-profile diplomatic nomination has fallen through and raising questions about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s choices.
Fiamma Nirenstein, an Italian-born journalist and former conservative lawmaker who emigrated to Israel in 2013, was proposed as envoy to Italy last year but withdrew her name on Tuesday citing “personal reasons”. She did not elaborate.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported last month that Italian officials had cited possible conflicts of interest arising from the fact that Nirenstein would continue to receive a salary as a former Italian parliamentarian and that her son works for Italy’s intelligence services.
An official at the Israeli prime minister’s office said Italy’s prime minister had not asked Netanyahu to withdraw her name and Netanyahu had not requested she drop out either.
Her withdrawal marks the second time in as many months that a senior diplomatic appointment has fallen through at a time when Israel’s relations with its key ally the United States and with some European countries have become more testy.
In March, Israel’s nominee as envoy to Brazil, former settler leader Dani Dayan, was reassigned to become Israel’s consul-general in New York after a lengthy stand-off with the Brazilian government.
Dayan, who was born in Argentina and emigrated to Israel in 1971, is a forthright advocate of Jewish settlements and opposes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His views were sharply at odds with those of Brazil’s government.
Tal Schneider, a leading political reporter and blogger in Israel, said the failure to push through the two appointments raised questions about judgment and the selection process, which ultimately rests with Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister.
“He has a problem picking people,” she said, citing among other issues the fractious relationship Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, is said to have with the White House.
“It’s damaging to Israel,” Schneider told Reuters. “When you take an ambassador to an important country like Brazil and the process works like that, it’s embarrassing.”
A foreign ministry official defended the overall appointment process and noted that in Israel the foreign minister is allowed to make up to 11 political appointments to the diplomatic corps following a separate procedure.
The case of Dermer, who was born in Miami but gave up his U.S. citizenship in favor of Israel and was appointed ambassador to Washington in 2013, has been one of the more headline-grabbing of the past 18 months.
Dermer was instrumental in arranging for Netanyahu to address the Republican-led Congress last year, where he was outspokenly critical of the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.
The tensions with the White House have persisted and Israel’s efforts to negotiate a new, 10-year defense agreement with Washington have become bogged down.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post published on Wednesday, Dermer called Netanyahu’s Congress speech the highlight of his time in Washington, saying the prime minister had “fulfilled a fundamental moral obligation to speak out about a potential threat to the survival of our country”.
Schneider said that, while Dermer was clearly committed to Netanyahu, that still raised problems for the nation.
“He’s very loyal. But I’m not sure that everything is being done to the benefit of the state of Israel,” she said, mentioning the stalled defense talks. “It’s very personal.”
Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Gareth Jones