Danny Danon, chairman of World Likud and candidate for Israel's parliament in the upcoming November election, spoke before a July 12th Middle East Forum webinar (video) in an interview with Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum. Danon discussed his experiences as Israel's ambassador to the U.N. in New York from 2015-2020, as detailed in his recent book, In the Lion's Den: Israel and the World.
One of Danon's goals during his tenure as Israel's ambassador to the U.N. was to "close that gap between the private U.N. and the public U.N." He had been surprised to learn, upon his appointment, that although many members and officials of the international organization speak out publicly against Israel, privately there was "very friendly" support for the Jewish state.
At the U.N, Danon set out to "[change] the narrative" against Israel in three ways: (1) Incorporating Jewish tradition, history, and holidays into hosted events; (2) Introducing Israel's technological innovations to solve countries problems; and (3) Bringing ambassadors to Israel to meet its people and see up close the security challenges the country faces.
As Israel's ambassador to the U.N. during the Obama and Trump administrations, Danon said that contrary to what the public believed about relations between Israel and the Obama administration, working with U.S. ambassador Samantha Power "wasn't too bad." Unfortunately, Israel's relationship with the U.S. was damaged in 2016 by Obama's "shameful" decision at the end of his presidency to abstain instead of vetoing U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which enabled it to pass. The resolution declared Israel's presence in the old city of Jerusalem a "flagrant violation of international law."
Resolution 2334 will, Danon said, embolden Israel's enemies to "leverage" their attacks against Israel at "the ICC [International Criminal Court] or other U.N. bodies." In this way, Israel's enemies will control the narrative and "the agenda for the international community" in support of Palestinian claims.
U.S.-Israel relations improved dramatically under the Trump administration when the U.S. brokered the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Danon is optimistic about his country's position "in the international arena" because the accords, which normalize relations with Arab countries in the region, will force the Palestinians "to work with us" as "they will realize that they cannot defeat us."
Danon criticized Israel's current transitional prime minister, Yair Lapid, for his weakness in offering concessions to U.S. president Biden during his visit to the country. The Biden team secured compromises from Lapid in advance of Biden's visit to "an official Palestinian institution in east Jerusalem," which Danon referred to as a "dangerous precedent." The symbolism of the first such visit by a U.S. president will encourage challenges by the Palestinians to Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. European leaders will look to follow Biden's example, which Danon said is an "insult" that creates "false expectations for the Palestinians."
"Jerusalem is united under Israeli sovereignty," Danon declared, adding that Biden's action will be "bad for us and bad for the Palestinians."
Danon's advice for his successor at the U.N. includes a recommendation to reach out to every country, "even if it's small," because their votes are just as important as those of larger countries such as Russia and the U.S. He said that successful ambassadors invest the "time and energy" to learn how to "work the [U.N.] bureaucracy," which operates "like a state." Successful ambassadors must build "strong connections and relations with U.N. organs."
Even though there are "strong, bilateral relations" at the U.N. between Israel and regional countries, Danon said there is a hostile "gang mentality" on the "multilateral level," under which "radical voices dictate resolutions" publicly criticizing Israel. Although more countries are realizing "it's not about us, it's about the Palestinians," he advised: "we have to demand more."
As another round of Israeli elections approaches, Danon is hopeful that the Likud party will be victorious and will "build a stronger government" to face the external threats of Hezbollah in the north, Hamas in Gaza, and Iran. He said Israel must address the threat within Israel that emerged from "a very radical and dangerous minority" among the Arab Israelis who rioted in various locales in Israel last May, as well as from the scourge of "organized crime ... all over Israel." As Likud's candidate, Danon said his priority would be bringing back "law and order" to tackle the "issue of domestic security of Israelis."
Danon, a disciple of Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky, adopts the strategy outlined in the latter's essay, "The Iron Wall." Jabotinsky's idea, Danon explains, is "that we have to be strong to defeat our enemies, and only then we can speak with them about peace." Today, Hamas is the enemy to defeat, Danon said, because it would free the Palestinians to "bring a new kind of leadership that will be able to invest in the people and not in the terror regime."
The Middle East Forum's Israel Victory Project is a "descendant of Jabotinsky's Iron Wall," said Pipes, but questioned why Jabotinsky's vision had not been an idea unambiguously embraced by the Likud in the decades since its inception. Danon said weak leaders succumbed to polls out of fear of public opinion, but he recalled the strength of Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Shamir, who "ignored the polls and ... ignored the media." Shamir had told a younger Danon, "... [W]e will do what is good for the Jewish people, period." Danon said, "in order to be a strong leader and to lead Israel, we have to think about going back to Shamir's mentality of doing what's right and not doing what's popular."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.