U.S. Jewish Leaders Must Demand Dayan Support Two States - or Resign

As Dani Dayan settles into his new job as consul general in New York, it’s time for the American Jewish establishment to realize that uncritically tolerating his views undermines the fight against BDS.

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Dani Dayan at a conference in Jerusalem, February 15, 2016.
Dani Dayan at a conference in Jerusalem, February 15, 2016.Credit: AFP

Dani Dayan, the former head of Israel’s settler movement, has been busy over the last month. Since assuming the position of Israel’s consul general in New York, on August 1 – an appointment that came after he was spurned by Brazil as Israel’s prospective envoy – he’s met with an eclectic assortment of high-profile figures: the actress and director Natalie Portman; Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times; Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism; and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. 

He also wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post, in which he admitted that, “representing an Israel led by a mostly conservative government in a predominantly liberal New York is not an easy task,” and declared his complete willingness to discuss “our long and seemingly interminable dispute with the Palestinians.” To that end, Dayan pledged to convince us “that a Palestinian State does not exist because our neighbors have always preferred to continue their struggle to eliminate Israel from the map, instead of taking any of the far-reaching offers made to them by successive Israeli governments.”

At this point, one should recall that Dayan, in a 2012 opinion piece in the New York Times, wrote that a Palestinian state would be “a manifestly immoral outcome” to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and deemed global apathy toward the Palestinians’ plight “wonderful news.” Thus Dayan’s opposition to two states is not rooted in historical analysis of peace talks, but is in fact a deeply held moral belief. It’s also worth mentioning that Dayan believes a 1922 League of Nations resolution gives Israel all the authority it needs to settle “the entire area.”

It is disappointing and unsurprising that Dayan’s transition from unwavering opponent of the two-state solution to imperturbable diplomat in New York has been so seamless. It is a reflection, in part, of the American Jewish establishment's unwillingness to express public disagreement with Israel on issues related to the conflict. Last year, when hardline Likud MK Danny Danon was tapped as Israel's ambassador to the UN, it was met with little to no objection from these quarters. It appears the same process of normalization, however reluctant, is now underway with Dayan. 

American Jewish leaders who understand the perils of the status quo should not stay silent this time. They should hold Dayan accountable and demand that he publicly and unequivocally reverse his position on two states. If he refuses, the likeliest outcome, American Jewish leaders should call on him to resign.

A simple statement from Dayan that he now advocates the position of the Israeli government, something he merely came close to doing in an interview with the Times, will not suffice for several reasons. First, given the extent of Dayan’s career-long opposition to two states, such a dubious statement would only serve to reinforce the main arguments against his appointment, mainly that he is still an avowed opponent of the two-state solution. 

But more important, uncritically tolerating Dayan’s personal views will undermine a central objective of many American Jewish organizations: to halt the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on campuses and elsewhere. 

Opposition to the radical BDS movement is, after all, based on support for the mainstream two-state solution. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “The BDS campaign does not support Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and rejects a two-state solution to the conflict.” 

That such a claim can now be said of Israel’s consul general in New York, whose responsibilities include meeting with local communities, is alarming. It is at the very least an indication that, despite its claims to the contrary, the Netanyahu government does not view the threat of BDS with any seriousness whatsoever. If establishment organizations don’t speak out against the appointments of individuals who oppose the two-state solution – and soon – their inconsistency will be called out by less friendly voices. The argument that, “one-staters are acceptable in my camp but not yours” isn’t logically sustainable. 

Most troubling about Dayan is his callous approach to Palestinian national aspirations. In March, Bradley Burston observed in these pages that Dayan has never endorsed the principle of national self-determination or equal rights for Palestinians in the West Bank. As late as 2013, he was promoting a form of the “Jordanian option,” a position one wouldn’t expect to hear from a presumably serious Israeli representative in the 21st century.

What makes the BDS movement objectionable, inter alia, is its cruel disregard for Israel’s legitimacy. Therefore, those of us committed to opposing BDS and promoting the two-state solution can no longer afford to differentiate between our extremists and theirs. Dayan’s uncompromising stance is no more high-minded than that of boycott leader Omar Barghouti. 

Only by accepting the basic principle that both Israelis and Palestinians are entitled to national self-determination can the American Jewish community oppose the boycott movement with any sense of integrity. 

Abe Silberstein writes on Israeli politics and U.S.-Israel relations from New York. Follow him on Twitter: @abesilbe