For weeks there were rumors that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was going to appoint Science, Technology and Space Minister Danny Danon as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. But the official announcement on Friday still suprised many diplomats, journalists and politicians.
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Since then, Danon’s aides have told anyone who would listen that he has changed and his style, if not his positions, has mellowed. They say that the man who attacked Netanyahu, tongue-lashed U.S. President Barack Obama and missed no opportunity for over-the-top populism was Politician Danny. They say Ambassador Danon will represent Netanyahu and government policy perfectly.
Danon is a talented politician who rose through the Likud ranks and into the cabinet after fewer than six years in the Knesset. Netanyahu was himself a successful UN envoy, and he knows something about diplomacy. But no explaining can hide the fact that Danon is the wrong ambassador in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For six years he was a fierce rival to Netanyahu, who just one year ago fired him for harshly criticizing him at the height of the Gaza war.
Although the government is clearly right-wing, Danon is not the obvious choice to represent it. His style in recent years is far from that of statesmanlike right-wingers like Benny Begin or Tzachi Hanegbi. He does not do Netanyahu’s bidding like Ofir Akunis, nor is he the prime minister’s mouthpiece, like Yuval Steinitz. He will have difficulty persuading his UN colleagues that he speaks for Netanyahu.
Foreign diplomats who send a cable to their capitals in the coming days will explain that Danon’s appointment is purely political. Some will write that Netanyahu had to create a vacant chair at the cabinet table to compensate Begin or Hanegbi, and others will say the prime minister wanted to keep Danon far from a position of power in the Likud Central Committee.
Some foreign diplomats will say there was a deal between Netanyahu and Danon that began with a change to the Likud constitution according to Netanyahu’s wishes and ended with the science minister being sent to New York. Each of the three political explanations contains a kernel of truth.
Danon’s positions and style will not go down well in Turtle Bay. A quick Google search will show that he opposes a two-state solution and supports annexing most of the West Bank to Israel and cutting off electricity and water supplies to the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN has to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on an almost daily basis. The opinions Danon brings with him are like a red flag to Israel’s best friends, from the United States to Germany and from Canada to the Czech Republic.
The timing of the appointment is particularly bad. Israel’s international situation, especially in the UN, is at its lowest ebb since November 10, 1975, when the General Assembly adopted the “Zionist is racism” resolution.
In the UN of 2015, Israel needs massive help from its friends, first and foremost the United States. It’s hard to see how chemistry could develop between Danon and the intellectual, leftist, liberal human-rights activist and Obama appointee Ambassador Samantha Power. And that is even before the new Israeli ambassador tries to explain his past statements against Obama.
Danon will want Power and other ambassadors to work with him and take him seriously. He will not have automatic credit; he will have to work hard to earn it. He will have to make a true turnaround, not only in word but also in deed. Perhaps Danon will surprise is all, as he has promised over the past 24 hours. Let’s hope so.