It’s been a long time coming, but finally I’ve been given an opportunity to lock horns with one of my favorite Haaretz columnists, Bradley Burston. My esteemed colleague, no cliché there, wrote that American Jews should reject the appointment of Dani Dayan as Israel’s next Consul General in New York. I think he’s dead wrong.
Bradley’s main argument is that “the appointment sends a message which is contrary to the outlook of most of the very Jews the (New York) Consulate serves.” He’s got it all backwards: Israeli diplomats are supposed to represent the Jews of Israel and the government that they’ve elected, not the Jews or the general population of their place of service.
If the criteria for choosing Israeli envoys to the U.S. were their adherence to the liberal, egalitarian and sometimes politically correct values of the majority of American Jews, most of the diplomats currently serving would need to be recalled and replaced by cadres of Meretz and Labor Party supporters, and even they might not fill the bill.
Dayan, in fact, is a far more accurate reflection of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government than many of the professional diplomats currently representing Israel around the world. In many ways, he’s even more authentic than Netanyahu himself: If he stays true to himself, Dayan won’t beat around the bush, won’t pretend that Israel is dying for a two-state solution and won’t claim that if only Mahmoud Abbas would come around everything would be hunky dory. He’d tell Netanyahu’s unvarnished truth, that settlements are here to stay and annexation is the ultimate goal.
Bradley writes that by protesting Dayan’s appointment, American Jews will be standing up for their cherished values of “democracy, equality, self-determination and human rights in Israel”. On the contrary, by pretending that Dayan is not an appropriate representative of today’s Israel, American Jews will continue to bury their heads in the sand and to delude themselves that two-state supporters of Palestinian self-determination reflect current Israeli reality. Anyone who has read any of Burston’s columns in recent years knows painfully well that this is not the case.
I admit that Dayan’s claim that the withdrawal of his appointment from Brazil and his relocation to Manhattan is somehow a “victory over BDS” is baloney. Israel tried to ram Dayan down Brasilia’s throat and failed miserably. Jerusalem probably could have mitigated the damage had it consulted with Brazilian officials in advance, but hey, that’s not the Israeli way. After months of pretending that he is sticking to his guns, Netanyahu finally withdrew Dayan’s candidacy for Brazil. It was a clear-cut victory for the international boycott movement, not through any fault of Dayan, who wanted New York in the first place.
In fact, Dayan is far from being a man marked by the temper, vindictiveness or self-satisfaction that Burston ascribes to him, though I admit that his promise to “bring about a revolution” in Israeli public relations in U.S. reeks of presumptuous smugness. Ludicrous as the very concept may seem, on most days, Dayan is an amiable, thoughtful and open-minded advocate for settlements and Israeli control of the West Bank, as his multitudes of friends from the center and left will readily testify. This, in fact, is why he is so dangerous: Dayan will be able to sugar coat Israel’s brutal occupation and subjugation of the Palestinians and perhaps convince some American Jews that annexation isn’t as bad as they’d been led to think. This is a better though no more valid reason to oppose Dayan’s appointment: he might be all too effective in advancing his cause.
From that point of view, I take back what I wrote just a few paragraphs above: Dayan doesn’t represent the Israeli government at all. While the Netanyahu government has excelled in its obtuse, insensitive, racially tinged and anti-Diaspora narrative and remarks that provide fodder for its enemies and alienate many of its supporters abroad, Dayan is tolerant of opposing views and often eager to hear them out. He would thus serve as effective camouflage for the kind of harsh policies and unappetizing politicians that Netanyahu’s government often boasts.
As Bradley himself points out, Dayan maintains "There is no practical or moral justification for a different legal policy for Palestinians and Israelis". This certainly deviates from the right-wing norm, which either condones or ignores the injustices meted out to Palestinians on a daily basis. Dayan would put a kinder and gentler face on the ongoing evils of occupation.
Dayan wrote on Twitter today that he will “maintain an open and inclusive dialogue with all parts of the general society and Jewish community. No exclusions.” I don’t think he meant that literally, and I would be flabbergasted if “no exclusions” included BDS-supporting Jewish Voice for Peace, for example. Nonetheless, I assume that Dayan will indeed be open to meeting – and debating – a wide spectrum of American Jews, certainly wider than what other Israeli politicians and many senior American Jewish officials would consider. He relishes appearances before supposedly hostile audiences, as he proved in recent Haaretz conferences.
Ironically, if he keeps it up, he will soon earn the gratitude of the ostracized left but would be quickly condemned by right-wing groups such as Zionist Organization of America. He might even learn a thing or two about the true catalysts of division and disunity, in America as well as back home, and from there, who knows, perhaps he’ll turn into a born-again two-stater.
So American Jews should accept Dayan with the same warmth they usually extend to other Israeli representatives. Together with Danny Danon at the United Nations and Ambassador Ron Dermer in Washington, Dayan is exactly the kind of envoy that should be representing Israel in America. For better or for worse – I happen to believe that the latter is true – the three diplomatic amigos reflect the policies and attitudes of Israel far better than diplomats that Bradley or other American Jews might approve of.
Rejecting Dayan won’t have any impact on the direction Israel is heading, as Burston claims. At best, it will sour the first year or two of Dayan’s tenure. In order to impact the direction Israel is heading, American Jews need to confront Dayan’s senders, not their emissaries. Shooting the messenger, after all, has never done much good.
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