By Larry Gordon
Years ago, an appointment with then Likud Knesset member Danny Danon was always on the schedule when we visited Jerusalem. MK Danon was always friendly and congenial and provided us with a great deal of insight into the Israel government agenda, his vision for leadership of Likud, and for the state of Israel.
A few days prior to Pesach I met with the seemingly ageless Ambassador Danon in Manhattan to discuss old times as well as the upcoming completion of his third year in the pivotal position as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, a position almost always contentious for Israel.
On the day we met, he had just returned from Palm Beach, Fla., where the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews held their first dinner reception at Mar-a-Lago. The hope had been that President Trump would be there for the weekend and would make a brief appearance, but the dinner attendees had to make due with a prerecorded message the President delivered prior to his return to Washington.
The UN is a difficult place for an Israeli representative and that has certainly been the case for Ambassador Danon. With the changing of the guard, so to speak, at the White House, with the election of President Trump and the appointment of Nikki Haley as the U.S. Ambassador to the world body — all that has changed.
Israel is still the object of most of the condemnation that emanates from the UN, but the ambassador says it is nowhere as contentious or difficult as it once was.
The ambassador said that there are really two different types of U.N. representatives. There are ambassadors from countries without diplomatic ties to Israel that Danon is able to meet. And then there are ambassadors like those from Iran and the UN imagined and created “state of Palestine” who maintain a stony silence when they cross paths with Ambassador Danon in the hallways of Turtle
The absolute silence is sometimes a little awkward because the various representatives of the respective countries sit in the General Assembly sit in alphabetical order. That means that Iran and Israel are grouped together.
Under Danon’s leadership, Israel has made great progress at the international body. On the issue of the United States recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, Danon points out that a record 65 countries either voted with Israel or abstained.
Indeed the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the United States was a great and historic moment for Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship and a good deal of that dynamic has played itself out at the U.N.
When Danon was first selected by Prime Minister Netanayhu to serve at the U.N., some pundits in Israel believed the move was the acknowledgement that Danny Danon was a serious contender for leadership of the Likud and on a trajectory to become a genuine candidate to lead Israel as Prime Minister.
In our conversation before Pesach Danon and I discussed that it was Netanyahu, who as U.N. Ambassador from 1984-1988, was able to launch the political career that propelled him in the direction of someday soon becoming Israel’s Prime Minister.
Danon, who is just 47 years old, has become a force for Likud leadership to deal with, and as he approaches his third anniversary in New York, he is contemplating returning to Israel to involve himself in the Israel political process that he left in 2015.
Danon and his wife have three children — all teenagers — who attend Hebrew school in New York, but he says that they are a bit jealous of the fact that he returns to Israel fairly often while they get to go just once or twice a year.
We discussed Ron Dermer, the Israel Ambassador to the United States, who has been at his post in Washington D.C. for five years now, and who has stated that he made aliyah from Miami Beach, Fla., in order to raise his children in Israel and not in Washington.
Ambassador Dermer would like to return to Israel, but for now it seems that Prime Minister Netanyahu needs him in Washington. How that dynamic will impact on Danon’s tenure remains to be seen over the coming months.
In the meantime, there are very exciting things happening, and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley tops the list. “Ambassador Haley is a fierce and forceful defender of Israel,” Ambassador Danon says. The contrast with what Israel had to deal with while Barrack Obama was president is difficult to grasp, he adds.
Danon and I met about five days before Pesach and just two days before he would be hosting a Passover Seder at the UN for as many as 50 ambassadors from countries around the world. It was promising to be and it has since been reported to have been a great event that demonstrated a new and greater interest in relations with the Jewish state and a renewed curiosity and attentiveness about Jewish tradition.
We discuss future leadership and who will follow Bibi Netanyahu as prime minister when the time comes. Some of the names that are mentioned are Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, former MK Gideon Saar, MK and cabinet minister Gilad Erdan, Education Minister MK Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister MK Avigdor Lieberman and of course, U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon. When I mention his name the ambassador smiles, seeming to acknowledge a future reality.
Interestingly enough, our meeting did not take place in any official offices of the Israel government in New York, but rather in a coffee shop of an upscale Upper East Side hotel. When his office said we would be meeting there, I thought it was an odd and open place for an Israeli diplomat to have a meeting with a journalist.
I mentioned to Ambassador Danon that I was looking around the room and wondering where the security personnel are that usually accompany an Israeli diplomat. The ambassador looked at me, smiled and said, “They’re here.”
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