An Interview with Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., speaking at the Security Council.
Kim Haughton
Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., speaking at the Security Council.

By Penny Schwartz

Published May 19, 2016, issue of May 19, 2016.

To mark Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s sixty-eighth Indepen­dence Day, Danny Danon, Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations, turned to the bright lights of Broadway.

Recently, Danon hosted more than 1,200 of his diplomat colleagues and other community members at a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which was recently nominated for a Tony award for best musical revival. Diplomats from 70 countries, including Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Malta, Guatemala and the Vatican, were represented at the largest Independence Day celebration ever hosted by the Israel mission.

“Events like these provide us with the opportunity to present our heritage and further strengthen the diplomatic ties between Israel and countries around the world,” Danon said in a statement.

In a one-on-one interview in April, during his first visit to Boston in many years, Danon, who just turned 45, revealed his plans for the “Fiddler” outing as one part of his hope to advance a positive agenda to promote Israel in the halls of the U.N.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unexpected pick last August to replace former ambassador Ron Proser was headline-grabbing news because over the years, Danon has been known as a provocative and often harsh critic of Netanyahu, especially on the issue of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At the time of his appointment, Danon, part of the Prime Minister’s Likud party, was serving as Israel’s Minister of Science and Technology.

During the wide-ranging conversation with the Journal, Danon expressed regret that Israel is unfairly singled out and condemned among U.N. member nations. But in his new role, Danon said he sees some glimmers of small breakthroughs, including the recent adoption of Yom Kippur as an official U.N. holiday.

In the excerpted interview below, Danon discussed how he squares his hard-line stance against a two-state solution with his new role as an ambassador and elaborated on his diplomatic approach for bringing support for Israel out of the shadows in the halls of the U.N.

Jewish Journal: You’ve been ambassador since October. What’s it been like?

Danny Danon: It’s exciting, and it’s very demanding. I was surprised to see the gap between the public and the private U.N.

JJ: What does that mean?

DD: I came from politics. I was a member of Knesset, [deputy] Minister of Defense and Minister of Science and Technology. In politics, usually people support you publicly, but quietly they speak differently. In the U.N., it’s completely the opposite. Publicly they [opponents] speak against Israel but privately, they appreciate and admire Israel. My challenge and goal of the mission is to move the support from the private rooms into the halls of the U.N.

JJ: Was that unexpected?

DD: That was the most surprising … But I see a change. We’ve had some victories. For instance, we got Yom Kippur to be recognized an official holiday of the U.N. Finally …. On Yom Kippur, next year, there’ll be no debates, no voting. For us, it was very important. You can see that there are some friends at the U.N. We work very closely with the American mission and other countries that support us and understand the difficult position for us at the U.N. For that we are very grateful.

Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. (left) with Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., and Daniel Shapiro, Ambassador of the U.S. to Israel.
Avi Dodi
Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. (left) with Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., and Daniel Shapiro, Ambassador of the U.S. to Israel.

JJ: How does your experience as Minister of Science and Technology relate to the U.N.’s diplomatic mission?

DD: We always try to show the real face of Israel. [The ambassador referred to the recent gathering of the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women] We brought many executives… We had three events. One about Israeli women in high tech. The second was young Israelis to share their new startups and the third was women in politics.

[Ambassador Danon then described his disappointment in a vote taken by the Commission condemning only Israel for human rights violations against Palestinian women.]

It shows you can … show the facts but still it is a political environment… Of all the countries in the world … we were blamed for domestic violence against the Palestinians. That was shocking… That is the reality today at the U.N.

JJ: Many American Jews would be surprised to learn you don’t support the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

DD: When I decided to assume this position, I made it very clear that I am coming to represent the government of Israel… I am not a member of Knesset… I would represent the government of Israel, as does every other ambassador in the world. The government will decide about the policy. It is a Likkud-led coalition. Today, there is no real partner to sign an agreement [with the Palestinians]… even to negotiate anything. I hope there will be a scenario that will lead to negotiations. But today, we are very far away from this point.

JJ: At the U.N., you represent Israel, but Jews in the U.S., and worldwide, pay attention to your work.

DD: When I take the podium [at the U.N.] I feel I am representing not only Israel. I am representing the Jewish people. I take a lot of pride in it. For example, for Holocaust Memorial Day, I decided… to bring a Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz… It was more meaningful [than if I delivered a speech]. People will remember that.

JJ: In describing a typical day, you said you have to be on daily guard, like in the military, as if you are protecting Israel’s borders. What’s an example?

DD: Recently, the Palestinians announced that they will submit a resolution to the Security Council [condemning Israel over settlements] that according to the media would be put to a vote on April 22, on Erev Pesach [the night of the first Passover seder]. My schedule was that we are going to sign the Climate Agreement and I’ll speak at the General Assembly. Now, we… are speaking with colleagues… explaining that it [the Palestinian resolution] will not be constructive.

[On April 21, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki announced that the plan to advance a resolution at the U.N. Security Council was put on hold.]

JJ: What are some of the issues that you think will help promote a positive agenda?

DD: [Issues] of water, technology, counter-terrorism. We have expertise and we want to share it and we are doing it… We took a lot of pride when we opened a hospital in Nepal after the disaster. …Now we are involved with helping with the Zika virus. …We also push Israelis to work at the U.N., in peacekeeping missions.

JJ: What is your vision as ambassador?

DD: Lighting the candle of truth about Israel is my vision and my goal. When you come to the U.N. and speak to people here, the main issue is … the conflict. I don’t know if we can solve the conflict in the near future. It’s not only up to us. But I want to achieve that people will know about Israel and will appreciate what we are doing. I think we can do that.

Meet Danny Danon

Born in Israel in 1971, Danon went to college in the U.S., earning a B.A. in International Relations from Florida International University and an M.A. in public policy from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he also studied law. He’s served as chairman of the World Likud and on boards of the Jewish Agency, among others.

Married and the father of three children, Danon was a member of Knesset from 2009 until 2015. He served as Deputy Minister of Defense from March 2013 through July 2014, when he was dismissed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his vocal opposition to Netanyahu during the 2014 war in Gaza. Netanyahu later tapped him as Minister of Science, Technology and Space, a position he held until August, 2015, when he was appointed U.N. ambassador.

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