Israel's former UN ambassador tells of the hostility he faced every day at the global organisation's HQ

Danny Danon spoke in candid terms about his experience as the Permanent Representative to the UN until 2020


NEW YORK, NY - JULY 24: Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting at UN Headquarters, July 24, 2018 in New York City. The Security Council discussed the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Israel’s former Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) has told the JC of the intense hostility he had to face “every day” in his post.

Appointed in 2015, Danny Danon also had to deal with frosty relations with the Obama administration due to Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, until the election of President Trump reset relations.

Interviewed ahead of the UK publication of his memoir In The Lion’s Den: Israel And The World, Mr Danon spoke in candid terms about his experience as the Permanent Representative to the UN until 2020.

He said: “I knew about the hostility at the UN and I was prepared for that, but nobody can prepare for the volume of attacks against Israel. Some weeks we had to deal with a new crisis every day, such as resolutions, initiatives and reports. So basically you end up working day and night to defend our position.”

Initially overwhelmed, the diplomat eventually opted for a change of strategy: “I decided to play offence, instead of only having to answer questions and criticism, by controlling the narrative and bringing others into the agenda. So we brought delegations of ambassadors to Israel and hosted events.”

One of the most difficult periods was the end of President Obama’s term, when the US abstained from voting on Security Council Resolution 2334, which demanded an immediate halt to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The vote passed, causing furore in Israel, where many saw it as a slap in the face by Obama.

Mr Danon said: “At that point I felt like I was alone against the entire world. Usually it’s us against the Palestinians or the EU, sometimes. But here I was sitting in the Security Council fighting against the US and all our allies. That was the hardest moment in my public life.”

He added: “I think it was mostly personal, between Obama and Netanyahu. I think Obama wanted to be the one who made the last call. It was unfortunate and I think it was a mistake because we did good things with President Obama, but nobody really remembers them. They crashed the minute he put forward that shameful resolution in the Security Council.”

Mr Danon said he enjoyed a good relationship with Obama’s Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers. Still he experienced a dramatic change in the relationship with the US after the election of President Trump, who appointed Powers’s successor, Nikki Haley.

He recalled: “I was close with Samantha Powers, until the moment they brought the resolution against us. With Nikki Haley it was different, because she was all in for Israel, she never thought about appeasing other players in the arena. When Trump stepped in, we didn’t have to explain our positions. We had natural support, and it was much easier for us.

“We started playing offence. We initiated attacks against Hezbollah, and we put forward a resolution against Hamas in the General Assembly. It was very effective when we pushed them into a corner.”

He adds: “Accomplishments, like the Abraham Accords, and moving the embassies of the US, Guatemala, and Honduras to Jerusalem, those are facts that nobody can argue about.”
Mr Danon has one significant regret: the decision to withdraw Israel’s candidacy in the race to become a member of the Security Council. He recounts: “We were competing with Belgium and Germany. I initially convinced Netanyahu that we had a chance of winning it and that we should run. He agreed, and I launched the campaign. But unfortunately, against my recommendation, Netanyahu decided we didn’t have the time, budget or energy for the campaign, so we had to withdraw from the race.

“I was very disappointed and I believed we stood a chance of winning. That was very hard. We could have broken another record by becoming a member of the security council. The first record we broke during my term was when I became Chairman of the legal committee. I became the first Israeli ever to chair a UN committee.”

With his successor, Gilad Erdan, now in post, Mr Danon says the diplomatic battlefield of today is “completely different”.

“Our governments are different. I worked with Netanyahu, when he was also acting Foreign Minister, we came from the same party [Likud]. Now Yair Lapid is Foreign Minister. I don’t think he represents the same values I do. There is also a different US administration. I know it’s very challenging for Erdan.”

Currently chairman of World Likud, Mr Danon has his eyes back on the domestic political front: “We don’t know when the next election is but I intend to put my skills and energy into action. I’m definitely considering being part of the Likud leadership in the Knesset again.”

In The Lion’s Den: Israel And The World by Danny Danon (£20, Permuted Press, 21 July)

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