Benjamin Netanyahu sent a bitter political rival into exile and in the process he may have both chosen a future successor and added yet another layer to Israel’s international isolation.
In the short term, the prime minister removed an irritant from his cabinet who has been trying to oust him for several years and shipped him off to an obscure settlement on the West Bank of the East River, where he won’t be running the far Right opposition in the Likud to Netanyahu.
The choice of Minister for Science, Technology, and Space Danny Danon as ambassador to the United Nations is about more than Likud politics. It is an expression of contempt for the international body by a former ambassador who, in a 2011 speech to the General Assembly, called the UN “a house of lies.”
Danon’s appointment is also very likely to create additional friction between Israel and the U.S. government at a time when bilateral relations are at an unprecedented low and still sinking.
The new envoy has been a harsh critic of Barack Obama, who he called a dictator and “not a friend of Israel” who “tries to run to the Muslim people at the expense of the State of Israel.”
Danon has said he does not believe the Palestinians have a right to statehood, which Netanyahu says he supports; Danon also advocates accelerated settlement construction and annexation of most of the West Bank but not extending full civil rights to the Palestinians there.
He has been called a racist for his attitudes toward Palestinians and African asylum seekers (calling them “a national plague”). That should win friends at the United Nations, where Palestine is always a top agenda item.
It could also make it difficult working with the one person whose help he will need most, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, a Pulitzer-prize winning author, liberal human rights activist, and friend of the president Danon delights in disparaging.
He will be the new voice of Israel in America, along with Amb. Ron Dermer in Washington, the former Republican operative whose deep plunge into partisan politics has done so much damage to Israel’s relations with Democrats and the administration.
Danon’s hardline views may go over well in Brooklyn but not across the river in Turtle Bay. They will also cause problems in many other Jewish communities around the country, where young and liberal Jews already are drifting away from support for Israel.
Danon is not without friends in the United States. He has appeared at a Rick Perry political rally and is a friend of another GOP presidential contender, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, who said on Fox News, “I believe we will see him as Prime Minister in our lifetime.” Danon has been successful in raising money for his own political campaigns, including 22 contributions from the State of Arkansas alone for his 2013 Knesset campaign, according to Ha’aretz.
Netanyahu held the UN post 30 years ago and used it as a steppingstone to Likud leadership and eventually the premiership. He is keenly aware of Danon’s desire to follow the same route to the top.
This move takes Danon from a minor ministry to the world stage, where he will get more media attention back home than if he stayed in Israel, can claim some diplomatic credentials and make valuable political contacts in the states.
The relationship between the two men is strained at best. Just last year Netanyahu fired Danon from his post as deputy defense minister for publicly criticizing the PM’s agreeing to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in the latest Gaza war. He accused Netanyahu of “leftist feebleness;” the prime minister called him “irresponsible,” saying his accusations “serve the Hamas…as a tool to attack the government” and sacked him.
Instead of a ceasefire, Danon wanted the army to go in and wipe out Hamas. He has called for cutting off water and electricity service to Gaza.
Danon, who comes from the extreme right of the Likud, has said, “I will do all I can to promote Israel’s legitimate stances,” but it is unclear who will define what is “legitimate,” Danon or Netanyahu. Unlike Dermer, he doesn’t have the ear of the prime minister and could feel free to pursue his own agenda, not Netanyahu’s.
The shoot-from-the-lip Danon succeeds Amb. Ron Prosor, a respected and experienced diplomat. Sending a political hack to the country’s number two diplomatic post is another slap in the face of an already demoralized professional foreign service. Netanyahu, who has kept the foreign minister’s title for himself, has stripped the agency of many of its responsibilities, scattering them among at least half a dozen other ministries.
Herb Keinon wrote in the Jerusalem Post that as a former ambassador himself, Netanyahu knows the UN and its attitude toward Israel and “seems to believe” Danon won’t make much of a difference one way or the other because Israel’s situation there can’t get much worse.
Don’t bet on it.
Many commentators saw the appointment as a demonstration of Netanyahu’s contempt not only for the UN but also for an international leadership that just produced the despised nuclear deal with Iran.
Failure at the UN, however, could translate to success back home for the new envoy. “The more they hate Danon at the UN, the more Israelis at home will love him,” said one of his supporters.
In his 2012 book, Israel: The Will to Prevail, he wrote, “The UN has been at the forefront of delegitimizing Israel, a state it helped legally found.”
David Horovitz, editor of the right-leaning Times of Israel, called Danon’s selection a “short-sighted, shameful, self-defeating and damaging appointment.”
If and when Netanyahu decides to try to repair U.S.-Israel relations following the Iran vote in the Congress, he may find the highly partisan and divisive Dermer in Washington and Danon at the United Nations are not the ones he will need to mend fences. Then again, after his success with President Romney, he may decide to wait for President Trump.