Nobody expected Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint a left-winger to the sensitive position of Israel’s ambassador to the UN, or even a centrist. They might have crossed their fingers and hoped for an appointment like current ambassador Ron Prosor or the newly named ambassador to the UK Mark Regev - a career diplomat who has makes Israel’s case strongly but with utter professionalism - but the odds were still on him handing the plum post to a Likudnik like Gilad Erdan or Ofir Akunis (who had let it be known publicly that he was interested in the job)
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But the nomination of perennial Netanyahu rival Danny Danon, the minister of science, technology, and space came as a shock - and is being viewed as essentially driving Israel’s diplomacy over a cliff.
The joke goes that in one move, we see how much Netanyahu hates Danon - hence his decision to send him far away and remove him from the cabinet table - and how much he hates the UN - because he sent them Danon.
Being a relative newcomer to the major leagues of the Israeli political scene - Danon only joined the Knesset in 2009 - the world hasn’t yet gotten to know him very well. But here are some of the reasons Israelis - even those in his ideological camp and who are not fans of the UN, are less than thrilled about Danon’s being named to represent Israel in the sensitive post conveniently located in media capital of the world, New York City. It is also the post that successfully thrust Netanyahu’s own political career into overdrive.
1. Danon, 44, is the face of opposition to the two-state solution and annexation of the West Bank within the Likud Party, so much so that the word “Danonism” was coined to describe the challenge to Netanyahu from extreme right-wing Likud members.
Last November, Danon challenged Netanyahu for Likud leadership declaring “Netanyahu, you abandoned the Likud’s path long ago,” he said. “I’m here to return the movement to its historic path.” He charged that “The prime minister froze construction [in the settlements], something left-wing governments never did. He freed dozens of terrorists with blood on their hands. He agreed to a cease-fire [in Gaza] when the tunnels were still burning under the earth. He stopped the Israel Defense Forces from destroying Hamas. He has ignored the cost of living, he turned his back on our political allies, the ultra-Orthodox, and joined up with the left.”
It was far from the first time he got in Netanyahu’s way, challenging him from the right. Even before he hit the Knesset, he challenged Bibi for Likud leadership in 2006 - a move that was viewed as chutzpah. He lost, of course, but it put him on the map and was a bellwether for what became a consistent role as a thorn in Netanyahu’s (right) side.
2. Danon’s attacks on Netanyahu came to a head last summer, as Operation Protective Edge was raging. Netanyahu fired Danon as deputy defense minister after Danon publicly criticized the Prime Minister’s willingness to accept a truce with Hamas. The scathing letter announcing the decision of July 15, 2014 read:
"At a time when the Government of Israel and the IDF are in the midst of a military campaign against the terrorist organizations and is taking determined action to maintain the security of Israel's citizens, it cannot be that the Deputy Defense Minister will sharply attack the leadership of the country regarding the campaign. These sharp remarks on the Deputy Defense Minister's part are irresponsible, especially given his position. They also serve the Hamas terrorist organization as a tool to attack the government with as may be seen on the media networks of Hamas itself. In light of his remarks, which express a lack of confidence in the government and in the prime minister personally, it was expected that the Deputy Defense Minister would take responsibility for his actions and resign. Since he has not done so, I have decided – pursuant to the authority granted to me by Article 26(3) of Basic Law: The Government – to dismiss him from his post."
3. Danon’s campaign video in the Likud primaries was slammed as racist and inciteful and triggered a lawsuit from MK Hanin Zoabi.
To the cheery tune of the the American classic "Oh, Susanna" the animated YouTube video portrays the Likud MK as a U.S. western sheriff enforcing the laws – with efforts including physically throwing Zoabi out of an old-time bar with the sign "Knesset" and locking her up with Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh and former Israeli MK Azmi Bishara. (In 2008, Danon unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to rescind Bishara’s citizenship in order to deny him a pension.)
Whipping up an angry crowd at a 2012 rally against African migrants in South Tel Aviv that ended in rioting and assaults, Danon declared: “The infiltrators are a national plague and we must deport them immediately before it’s too late – the Sudanese can go back to Sudan and the rest should be deported to other countries in Africa and Eastern Europe the State of Israel is engaged in a war against an enemy state composed of infiltrators and located within Israel. Its capital is south Tel Aviv. ‘Deportation Now’ is the only solution.”
4. Danon issued a mock apology when nine people were killed aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in 2010, part of the Gaza flotilla - he said he regretted that only nine terrorists were killed - there should have been more.
In his his letter to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan he wrote that "We are sorry that due to the IDF's over-cautious behavior, only nine terrorists were killed in self-defense by our soldiers after they were brutally attacked. Had our government and army known from the outset that this boat had violent terrorists aboard, our soldiers would have received orders to act with a much larger show of force then was deployed in the end, possibly even orders to simply destroy the boat completely without risking lives by attempting a boarding.
5. Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren says that he once tried to keep a Danon Op-Ed out of the New York Times because it would “make Israel look more extreme.”
According to Oren in his memoir, “Ally,” the ambassador got on the phone in 2011 in order to to convince the Times to run a pro-Israel piece to balance an article it had run by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called “The Long Overdue Palestinian State.”
The Times, he was told by the Op-Ed editor Andrew Rosenthal, was already preparing to publish Danon’s article “Making the Land of Israel Whole” - which called on Netanyahu to “annex the Jewish communities of the West Bank, or as Israelis prefer to refer to our historic heartland, Judea and Samaria” Oren wrote in his book: “I urged him to publish a response by President Shimon Peres Rosenthal said that he already had an article by Knesset member Danny Danon. A rightist who opposed the two-state solution, Danon would only make Israel look more extreme, I knew, which is perhaps what Rosenthal wanted. “Hold off on Danon,” I urged the editor. “I’ll get you the Peres piece in time to go to press tomorrow.”
Oren was disappointed and felt cheated when, in the end, the Times published Danon. (Rosenthal, for the record, has disputed Oren’s recounting of events.)
6. The UN job will bring him closer to his friends in influential far-right pro-Israel circles, relationships he has cultivated for years. Though he has protested that he is neither a Democrat nor Republican, just a “Zionist” - just like Israel’s ambassador in Washington Ron Dermer, his close pals seem to all be located on one side of the aisle, notably current Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee.
Here he is appearing at a rally for Perry in September 2011 during Perry’s last presidential bid.
And here he is giving Huckabee a tour of the settlements in Gush Etzion. Huckabee has said of Danon, who appeared frequently on his Fox News program: “I believe we will see him as Prime Minister in our lifetime.”
Clearly a popular tour guide among GOP politicians, in addition to accompanying Huckabee, Danon has also given former Alaska governor and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, a staunch pro-Israel evangelical a tour of the Western Wall tunnels. Another former Fox host who is an old friend of Danon’s is controversial right-wing media mogul Glenn Beck, whom Danon invited to the Knesset to address his committee when Beck came to Israel for his “Restoring Courage” rally - in which Danon appeared prominently.
His ties to the wealthy pro-Israel circles the US have paid off for Danon - as they have in the past for Netanyahu. In Danon’s case, they paid off a little too much. The Jerusalem Post reported in 2013, the state controller decided that out of 98 candidates who ran in the Likud primary, 28 had raised too much money abroad. Fines were handed out accordingly - and the highest fine went to Danon, who raised the most money from foreign donors of any Likud member - including 22 contributions from the state of Arkansas alone.