FACT CHECK: Why Israeli UN Envoy's Speech on Jerusalem Missed the Mark

Danny Danon made a fiery speech before the General Assembly voted to reject Trump's Jerusalem decision, but most of his remarks did not reflect the reality on the ground

David Green
David B. Green
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Israel's UN envoy Danny Danon speaks at the UN General Assembly on December 21, 2017
Israel's UN envoy Danny Danon speaks at the UN General Assembly on December 21, 2017Credit: Mark Lennihan/Bloomberg
David Green
David B. Green

When Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon addressed the General Assembly on Thursday, making the case for members voting against the resolution on Jerusalem, he must have known that a few minutes later, when the vote was taken, a majority of member states would disregard his advice.

Perhaps that's why he allowed himself to refer to the UN as a collection of hypocrites and "puppets," who, he said, are "forced to dance while the Palestinian leadership looks on with glee."

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Even if his language had been flattering, the vote would probably not have gone much better for Israel.

A quick analysis of the speech reveals that Danon preferred to make an emotional defense of Israel's legitimacy – an Israel that "made the desert bloom" and that has had its hand extended in peace to the Palestinians for at least 20 years, only to have its offer rejected countless times.

What he didn't do was address the text of the resolution that was before the General Assembly, or even make the case for how Trump's declaration on Jerusalem advanced the cause of peace. Danon's speech wasn't full of inaccuracies, but it did contain a number of misleading statements, and employed the rhetorical device of "whataboutism" that is so in vogue these days in many quarters.

>> UN vote is mild rebuke for Israel but a stinging slap in the face for Trump | Analysis ■ How the countries Netanyahu visited in 2017 voted at UN on Jerusalem

Here are just a few examples of how Danon changed the subject and thus avoided addressing the thrust of the resolution he so vociferously condemned.

Danon: "King David declared Jerusalem the city of the Jewish people 3,000 years ago."

The facts: Aside from the Tel Dan stele, unearthed in 1993 and dated to the ninth century BCE, and which refers to the "House of David," there is no historical evidence of the existence of King David.

This is not to say that the Jewish tradition of David, with its textual roots in the Hebrew Bible, is not worthy of respect – including from Muslims, who demand that the world respect their traditions related to the sacredness of Jerusalem to them. But the connection of Jerusalem to the Jews is not really subject to serious challenge today by most of civilization, and it is not the focus of Thursday's UN resolution.

>> Netanyahu takes pride in Israel's warming diplomatic ties, but UN vote teaches a lesson in humility | Analysis

Danon: "When Prime Minister Barak offered the Palestinians a state in 2000, we were met with suicide bombers on our buses, and shootings in our streets. In 2005, PM Sharon disengaged from Gaza; he removed every single Israeli home. You will not find any settlement, any occupation in Gaza anymore. Since then, we have been attacked again and again with rockets and missiles aimed at our civilians."

The facts: Israel did dismantle its settlements and withdraw its troops from Gaza in 2005, but 12 years later, its blockade of Gaza, which went into effect after Hamas took control of the Strip, is still in place.

This means that not only are residents of Gaza not free to come and go, but also that Israel restricts the goods that can be imported or exported from the Strip. As far as the residents of Gaza are concerned, it's as if they live under a double occupation: the oppressive and corrupt rule of Hamas and the continued closure imposed by Israel.

Danon: "Yet this body was silent. The United States simply stated a fact. They officially declared what has always been true: Jerusalem has been and always will be the capital of the State of Israel."

The facts: Danon is wrong here. President Trump's declaration was a political one, offering de jure recognition to Jerusalem as Israel's capital, without defining which Jerusalem it was referring to.

Trump also did not explaining how he hoped the move might bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to resolving their differences. Based on the events since Trump's speech two weeks ago, including the UN resolution passed Thursday, the U.S. decision has done little to help the "peace process." Nor has the U.S. announced any practical measures that would be evidence that it now intends to treat Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Danon: "This vote is nothing more than a performance of delusion. The Palestinians know this resolution is a fraud. They know this resolution does absolutely nothing for the lives of the Palestinian people. They know it won't create jobs for their people. They know it won't provide better health care for the people of Ramallah or Gaza."

The facts: A look at the resolution's text reveals that it doesn't in any way question the Jewish people's connection to Jerusalem, or the history presented by Danon. What it does is condemn unilateral moves and stress that "Jerusalem is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant United Nations resolutions."

Danon: " when a UN resolution designates Israel's presence in part of Jerusalem as 'illegal,' in reality it designates the presence of the Jewish people at the Western Wall as 'illegal.'

The facts: The GA resolution does not contain the word "illegal," nor does it suggest that the presence of Israelis in Jerusalem generally, or at the Western Wall specifically, is illegal or immoral. Danon is really just changing the subject: instead of addressing the near-consensus of the international community regarding the unilateral nature of the American move, he instead brings his argument back to the far-more comfortable case for the historical connection of the Jews to the city.

Danon: "We know Jerusalem is sacred to billions around the world. Israel respects all religions, and encourages everyone to visit and pray in the holy city."

The facts: Everyone but non-Orthodox Jews, that is. Danon chose to focus on the Western Wall as the site of pilgrimage that Jews were supposedly denied access to for "thousands of years." What he doesn't address is the fact that the government he represents has been unwilling to give access to all Jews to pray as they wish at this most sacred of sites.

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