Three things have driven Uri Dromi in his personal and public life: devotion to Israel, a commitment to free expression and a quest for common ground.
Dromi burst into the public eye in Israel as the spokesman for two legendary prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, during the dramatic days of Israel’s breakthrough peace agreement with the Palestinians, treaty with Jordan, and the Rabin assassination.
“I was born in Israel to Zionist parents who left Europe in 1934 to start something here. He and my mother left everything behind and came here, settling in the malaria-infested Upper Galilee during an armed Arab insurgency against the Jewish immigrants. This is something that really guided me throughout my life, that there’s something bigger than myself,” Dromi said.
That sense of mission saw him flying as a navigator in the Israeli Air Force for 37 years, first as a career officer, and later, in the reserves, before retiring in 2003 with the rank of colonel.
“After the air force I had all kinds of jobs, but when you’re in the reserves, you leave aside everything once a week to go fly in your squadron, not to mention when there are wars or special operations,” Dromi said. ”I had the kind of career that combined military and civilian careers together. Whatever I’ve done, I’ve done with an eye to contributing to the security of Israel. This was something that was very instrumental in driving me in whatever course I took.”
Today he is on the board of the Israel Air Force Association, devoted to preserving the force’s legacy.
A man of letters, Dromi edited the air force magazine, and was editor in chief of the Israel Defense Force publishing House. He later became a frequent columnist for leading media publications, authored three books, and established himself on the American media landscape with his “Focus on Israel” column for the Miami Herald, which has been running for two decades.
His other accomplishments include director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute, a leading liberal Israeli think tank; and director of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Conference Center, Jerusalem’s foremost venue for international art and culture.
As founding director-general of the Jerusalem Press Club, he established the go-to place for foreign journalists working in Israel, offering access to decision-makers and experts, and upholding the fundamental principle of free expression with international conferences on freedom of the press.
“Something has been lost, in recent years – the importance of truth,” Dromi laments. “This worries me, as does the polarization of discourse. I’m always willing and interested in listening to the other side, and not just brushing it off as nonsense. If you sit down with your political opponent and refrain from mud-slinging, you’ll find out you have more in common than what divides you. The problem is that the discourse has become so vulgar, so rough, that people move to the extremes. And this is something that really bothers me.”
He looks back at the days of Rabin and Peres with a sense of loss. Israel, he noted, recently marked the 56th anniversary of the Six-Day War in 1967, when it defeated a group of Arab armies in a lightning operation, but also occupied lands where millions of Palestinians live.
“The war generated a great euphoria. Every Jew in the world felt a few inches taller,” Dromi said. “But what it did was put us in a situation in which the same number of Arabs and Jews live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
“What drove Rabin when he went to Oslo to make peace with the Palestinians was the understanding that Israel has to separate from the Palestinians to keep Israel proper smaller, but with a strong, sustainable Jewish majority. Otherwise, you’re going to wind up either with a binational state that is no longer a Jewish nation, or you deny the Palestinians the right to vote, and it’s not a democracy.”
“Oslo was a missed opportunity, but you’re talking to a sworn optimist,” he added. “I hope Israelis will come to their senses, and perhaps that will happen through what the country is undergoing now.”
The proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to dramatically weaken the courts – Israel’s strongest check on politicians — has ignited mass protests that have also addressed other ills in Israeli society.
“The discourse is broadening, and the protest is taking a broader and broader aim,” Dromi said. ”It’s a blessing because something will come out of it. Israelis are rising to defend their democracy.”