Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations vowed to introduce a policy of “zero tolerance for the bias and lies” faced by the Jewish state at the international body, as he assumed office this week in New York.
“This means that when someone presents a lie, I will stand up and expose it,” said Danny Danon. “We have answers for those allegations, and we shouldn’t say, ‘Let’s leave it; it’s useless; they will not support us anyway…’ We should be at every committee and fight every resolution.”
Speaking with The Algemeiner in his first interview on the job from his still-bare office just blocks away from the U.N., Danon laid forth his goals, strategies and philosophical approach to handling his new responsibilities.
Broadly, Danon said he has three agendas. The first is to use the U.N. as a vehicle through which to share Israel’s technological, medical, agricultural, scientific and other gifts with the world — especially developing nations. The second is to vociferously fight — in the spirit of his ideological mentor, revisionist-Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky — the systemic prejudice against Israel that plagues the U.N. The third is to “go on the attack” to combat attempts to promote the boycott of Israel and incitement against the Jewish state.
The changing of the guard at the U.N. comes at a challenging time for Israel, as daily stabbing and other Palestinian and Israeli-Arab terror attacks are plaguing the country in a weeks-old wave of violence that some fear will spawn a third intifada.
According to Danon, the current round of attacks itself can be sourced to the United Nations podium, from which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a pointedly incendiary speech late last month, in which he accused Israel of a litany of crimes.
“You heard the speech of Abu Mazen [Abbas] at the U.N., and you see the outcome now in the streets of Israel,” he said. “It shows you the meaning of incitement.”
On Wednesday, true to his word, Danon was out of the gate with a direct and evocative message, his first as ambassador, to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “Such acts of pitiless slaughter do not occur in a vacuum,” he said. “They are a direct result of Palestinian incitement, deliberately directed to inflame Palestinian children’s minds with hate.”
His next task, he said, will likely be to defend the measures that Israel has taken to stem the tide of violence — some enacted on Wednesday by Prime Minister Netanyahu after an emergency security cabinet meeting — against criticism at the U.N.
He also vowed to strongly oppose the language of moral equivalency often used by U.N. bureaucrats when describing the conflict in Israel.
“When someone says that he calls on all sides to stop the violence, I will fight that,” Danon said. “It’s not all sides. It’s one side who is the aggressor — who’s sending kids to murder other kids. And the other side is protecting itself.”
Danon’s fighting spirit and often combative approach are hallmarks of his ideological upbringing as a follower of Jabotinsky and later as a leader of the Betar youth movement founded by the controversial Zionist leader.
His appointment was widely criticized in Israel as being wholly inappropriate for the delicate role of representing Israel to the nations of the world, many hostile to the Jewish state, and none sharing his oft-stated view that a Palestinian state should never be established. The many critics said the bullishness of Israeli political life, where Danon cut his teeth, had no place at the china shop that is Israel’s standing at the U.N.
Pundits and his political opponents invariably described Netanyahu’s choice of Danon as “odd,” “short-sighted, shameful and damaging,” “curious,” “cynical,” “a strategic mistake,” and “driven by petty politics.” Israeli daily Haaretz even listed the “six reasons to worry” about Danon’s appointment.
But Danon insisted that the critics have nothing to fear.
“When I accepted this position, I understood that I would be representing the position of the Israeli government,” he said. “Not my personal beliefs.”
He was quick to point out, however, that the government he will be representing is made up of parties with ideologies not so different to his own.
“Lets not forget, the government of Israel is a nationalist government led by a prime minister from the Likud party, and the coalition… [is made up of] people who [have views] not so different from the Likud platform.”
Danon comes across as mild-mannered and soft-spoken in person, and said that he expects this temperament to work to his advantage. “I can tell you that in Israel I was criticized on other issues, by other organizations or the media, but when they actually met me they realized that I am not so scary,” Danon said.
Among Danon’s critics were some leaders of the U.S. Jewish community, who told Haaretz that his appointment would further damage U.S.-Israeli ties. Nevertheless, Danon said, he has already met with a number of major American-Jewish leaders, and expressed the hope that when he enters the U.N., he will “have the support not only of the people here in New York, but the support of the people in Israel and of the Jewish people.”
Danon has also had a tense relationship with Netanyahu at times, challenging the prime minister from the right flank of his own party and eventually inviting his own dismissal from the post of deputy defense minister during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge last summer in Gaza. But, it is precisely this dynamic with Netanyahu that Danon now sees as an advantage in working for his former rival.
“When he saw my conviction in the past when I fought on other issues, he knew I was not afraid and I fought back,” Danon said of the prime minister. “He knows that when I come into the U.N. … I [will] have the strength and conviction to stand up wherever needed.”
And while acknowledging that the task before him is somewhat herculean, Danon is upbeat, and expects results in the long run.
“Next month we will have a ceremony for the 40th anniversary of the [‘Zionism is Racism’] resolution. After that resolution was passed, people said, ‘What can you do? Can you change that? It’s here to stay.’ Others said, ‘No, let’s fight it…’ and eventually ‘Zionism is Racism’ was erased, and I think also other [anti-Israel] decisions will be erased,” he said. “So I think we should fight it, I think we should expose it. I cannot assure you that it will happen in a year or two, but eventually it will.”
Whereas Danon’s predecessor, the cool and charming Ron Prosor, was a master of the rhetorical sweet science, Danon brings a fighter’s spirit to the wayward institution that could perhaps benefit from a good shaking-up.
“I don’t believe that I will come and in a week the U.N. will love Israel,” he concluded bluntly. “But I can assure you, they will know that we will not be silent and sit idly by when someone is bashing us in the U.N. No. We will stand up; we will fight. And before they speak again, they will know that the Israelis are here to talk, and will not sit quietly when bashed.”
The result, for Israel, remains yet to be seen.