The Likud’s Danny Danon, named the member of Knesset “most loyal to the right-wing’s agenda” in a recent survey, was in New York for September’s convening of the UN General Assembly. He was on a mission “to ensure that the world understands the Likud Party and the people of Israel will not accept American pressure on settlement freezes or on construction in Jerusalem.”
Danon characterized President Obama’s policy on Israeli settlements as having “crossed all red lines” and, after the tripartite meeting between Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, challenged the U.S. president “to realize that charisma is not sufficient to bring peace.”
Not afraid to speak his mind and proud of it, Danon has quickly made a name for himself as a “Likud rebel.” He condemned Netanyahu’s endorsement of a Palestinian state and organized a pro-settlements rally in August at the Likud’s Tel Aviv headquarters to counter Netanyahu’s proposal of a temporary settlement freeze.
Danon, 38, has an M.A. in Public Policy and Public Administration from Hebrew University and serves as the current chairman of World Likud. He spoke with The Jewish Press during his September visit about his passion for Eretz Yisrael, his commitment to its integrity and security, and his goal to rally others to its cause.
The Jewish Press: How did you get your start in politics?
Danon: I grew up in a very Zionistic home in Ramat Gan and was active in the Betar youth movement. After the army I started my political career by serving as a shaliach for Betar in Florida for three years. I finished as the chairman of the World Betar Organization. Then I was elected chairman of World Likud. I won the slot because it was shortly after the Gaza disengagement, and I had been very active opposing it.
People all over the world supported me because of my strong opposition to the disengagement. Now people admit it was a mistake. Had we had stronger leaders then in Likud, we could have stopped it. I believe that it’s in politics that you make decisions – when I speak to youngsters and students, I tell them it’s not enough to speak about ideology or demonstrate; you have to get into politics.
You are here to meet with elected officials and Jewish leaders. Are you here with the prime minister’s blessing?
No, I was not sent by Netanyahu. You know, some Americans think we work together – that I attack him and it serves him politically. That is not the case. I have my ideology and I say it clearly. Sometimes it serves Netanyahu, sometimes not.
But I think the pressure – and I’m saying clearly we’re putting pressure on Netanyahu because he’s being pressured from the other side – from the Obama administration can be balanced. I think that’s happening now. Netanyahu knew he could not go too far with Obama. I believe in saying exactly what I think. Sometimes it helps me, sometimes it hurts me.
After Netanyahu gave his speech [on a Palestinian state] at Bar Ilan, at a Likud faction meeting, everyone praised it. I was the first one to tell him that it was a mistake. Even ministers who know we were not elected to promote a Palestinian state still don’t want to publicly oppose the prime minister.
Following the tripartite meeting, AIPAC acknowledged the need “for the Arab states and the Palestinians to match Israel’s commitment to peace with actions” yet emphasized America’s commitment to Israel as “unquestionable.” Do you think American Jewish leaders are on board with your agenda?
I’m not sure about all of them, but I expect Jewish leaders who share the same ideas that I have – that we have no [peace] partner – to say that to Obama. I’m talking to leaders, asking them to tell him: “Deal with other issues, leave the Jewish people in Israel alone.” And I think it’s working.
Obama is trying to force a dialogue when we have no partner. When you have a friend and you know he is making a mistake, you should tell him it’s a mistake. In the past we had pressure from the White House, forcing us to sign agreements, and then we had to deal with the consequences, with bombs and terror attacks.
I was demonstrating [against the Oslo Accords] outside the White House lawn while Peres and Rabin were inside. There was a big ceremony and everything was great. But it collapsed. During the time of Oslo we were the minority. People said, listen, we have to pay a little price for peace. But today we have a majority in Israel who say they do not believe the Arabs.
It’s better to say now it’s not working, because it’s not a matter of freezing a settlement or building here or building there. We have no partner to deal with. These leaders should say to Obama, “We have no viable partner. Don’t push, because if you succeed you will hurt Israel and hurt America’s interest.”
If the Palestinians miraculously agreed to compromise, how would that change your view on concessions?
I think when that happens – if it will happen – we have to be very strong. And I say “we” because it’s not only me. It’s also ministers like Boogie Yahalom and Benny Begin. That’s why it’s very important to encourage these people to stand up and say exactly what they think now.
Sometimes people ask me, “Danny, aren’t you exaggerating? Maybe you’re making too big a deal of a small thing.” I say the opposite. We have to start now and not wait like when Sharon led us to the disengagement. I expect my colleagues to start talking now and not wait until “peace talks” on core issues.
Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution and agreed to a temporary settlement freeze. What then can you say to congressmen and other leaders who may agree with you but are reluctant to oppose official Israeli policy?
From listening to and reading what Netanyahu writes and thinks, [I feel] he’s being pushed. He doesn’t want to be shown as one resisting any efforts. But deep inside himself, he knows we are not going to achieve a Palestinian state. He put forth sets of conditions that are too remote to be accomplished. Also, Israel is a democracy, and today in the Knesset we have a strong majority against a Palestinian state.
I speak with members of Knesset from Avigdor Lieberman’s party, from Shas, from National Union, from Likud, and they are not going to support a Palestinian state. But Netanyahu does not want to be blamed and so took a few steps in order to start negotiations, and I think he was successful in this. But freezing the settlements is a mistake – it’s acknowledging that settlements are the cause of the problem. We saw it in Gush Katif, and it goes against our ideology. We are not Kadima. We are not Labor.
The settlements are not an obstacle to peace. On the contrary, they are an asset for our security. But we are lucky that we have the Palestinians, who are not cooperating with anything. After the UN meeting, I called on Netanyahu to publicly declare his intention of building in Judea and Samaria because he had said he would freeze building in order to start negotiations as a gesture to the Arab world. Well, I haven’t seen any gestures – anything – coming from the Arab world.
Though Netanyahu has endorsed sanctions against Iran, do you think an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites is imminent?
We prefer this should be a global issue and not an Israeli issue. The threat of nuclear weapons is not only against Israel. I was in South America last month and met the president of Colombia. He told me about the infiltration of Hizbullah and Iranian forces in Venezuela. You never know where you will find a nuclear bomb – it can be in New York, Venezuela, anywhere in the world. It’s not only our problem. If nobody will be involved, we will have no choice. But now we’re in the stage of trying to explain that it is a global threat.
I expect the Obama administration – instead of dealing with the settlements, which is a minor issue in the Middle East conflict – to deal with Iran. Iran stands as a major threat to the U.S. Obama’s leadership will be defined by neutralizing the threat of Ahmadinejad and not by forcing Israel to make more concessions.
Israel has long been notorious for losing the propaganda war against the Arabs. What would you suggest to combat this?
All over the world, wherever I go, I get the question about Israeli hasbarah. We have to be more proactive, to take initiative, to start campaigns. I think it is very hard for us to win that war, but we are not even fighting. We need to get more reporters and congressmen to come to Israel. I think when we are dealing with the facts, we can win.
Do you think the Goldstone report will impact future Israeli military operations?
I think it is a problematic report, but we should investigate the investigating committee. We should invite Goldstone to see the missiles in Sderot. No other country in the world would have tolerated as much as we did. It’s problematic, but I would rather have another report by Goldstone than have an Israeli soldier or civilian getting hurt in Sderot.