NEW YORK – Longtime American Jewish community leaders are warning that Danny Danon’s appointment as Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations may become a diplomatic disaster — and that, at the very least, it signals disregard for the views of many American Jews.
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Danon, the controversial former Science, Technology and Space Minister opposes a two-state solution with the Palestinians, believes Israel should annex most of the West Bank and has advocated cutting electricity and water to the Gaza Strip. Like Netanyahu, Danon has close relationships with members of the Republican Party and has been viewed as a key player in the Israeli government’s outreach to American Evangelicals. But he has also been viewed as extreme, even within the Likud Party, and was fired by Netanyahu as deputy defense minister last summer after criticizing the prime minister’s agreement to a cease-fire with Hamas.
“Once again the prime minister of Israel has made a strategic mistake,” Dov Zakheim told Haaretz. The appointment of Danon to the critical diplomatic post at the UN,“undermines the credibility of Netanyahu’s assertion that he really supports a two-state solution.”
Zakheim, a Republican who served as Undersecretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration and now chairs the American Jewish Committee’s Jewish Religious Equality Coalition said, “strategically it’s a disaster.”
Sources see Danon’s appointment as signalling that the prime minister is more concerned with the internal dynamics of his cabinet and political party than with the message it sends –, to the international community, to the U.S. administration, long Israel’s only real ally at the UN, and to an American Jewish community which overwhelmingly backs the idea of a two-state solution.
“I honestly don’t know what the prime minister is trying to do when he sends an ultra-nationalistic extremist who has nothing but disdain for the majority of American Jews and the positions of most Israelis,” said Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the progressive human rights organization the New Israel Fund.
“He is the face within the Likud party of annexation, of no two-state solution. He’s been considered too extreme even for his own party,” said Sokatch. Sending him to represent Israel at the UN “is a powerful, powerful message sent to the American Jewish community.”
It is also “a stick in the eye to the possibilities” of regional cooperation on a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, said Peter Joseph, chairman of the Israel Policy Forum, an organization devoted to working toward a two-state solution. The appointment of Danon to the UN “at a time when Israel needs to work on its relationship with the world community and the U.S., sends a very unfortunate message about Netanyahu’s views as to the importance of the UN and this position,” Joseph told Haaretz.
It is “a great disappointment, great frustration, and the end of a hope and an aspiration for a better time,” said Joseph, a former private equity investor who is currently developing technology to convert food waste into energy.
One organization welcoming Danon’s appointment, however, is the Zionist Organization of America. In a statement on Monday, ZOA President Morton Klein called it “an inspired selection” and described Danon as “a principled and courageous promoter of the truth of the ongoing Arab war against Israel.”
In an interview with Haaretz, Klein disputed the idea that Danon as UN ambassador will be an obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. “It is absolutely ludicrous to think that with someone other than Danon there would be a dramatic likelihood of the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state,” he said. “We are now 22 years since Oslo, a Palestinian state was offered twice and rejected because they have no interest in accepting statehood if it means accepting Israel and relinquishing all claims.”
Jerry Levin, former president and chairman of the board of UJA-Federation of New York, told Haaretz that Danon “is going to be different” as UN ambassador. “He’s not a professional diplomat.”
Levin and his wife Carol hosted a $5,400 per couple fundraising brunch for Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio at their Westhampton Beach weekend home on Sunday, a day after Rubio got a standing ovation at the area’s modern Orthodox synagogue.
Levin, who has hosted every previous Israeli ambassador to the UN in his home, said: “I have always viewed with pride the ability of our ambassadors to the UN to meet and work with the ambassadors of our neighbors, whatever their views.”
“I don’t know how diplomatic [Danon] is, but we would certainly hope that he maintains those relationships,” said Levin, who is also a former CEO of Revlon.
Some two years ago Letty Cottin Pogrebin sat in an Israeli cabinet minister’s waiting room before a meeting. Danon swept in, she told Haaretz, shepherding a well-known American evangelical minister. “That’s who he travels with,” she said.
Pogrebin, a founder of Ms. magazine, fiction writer and former president of Americans for Peace Now, said, “To me [his appointment] is like a capstone, a death knell for all of our hopes that the American-Israeli relationship could be repaired, and that there was some life left in the possibility of renewed negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinians. The attitude communicated by Netanyahu with Danon’s appointment is “ ‘take it or leave it, my way or the highway.’ “
“This is a very, very tragic turn of events,” Pogrebin said.
Said NIF’s Sokatch, “however expedient these moves may seem in terms of domestic [Israeli] priorities, they are exacerbating and furthering the current rift [between the U.S. and Israel], and frankly throwing fuel on a fire.”