While the well known aphorism states that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, members of the Jewish community can count on one more certainty—that the United Nations seems to regularly devote disproportionate and distorted attention to Israel and its efforts at legitimate self-defense.
Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon served as Israel’s chief diplomat in the United Nations from October 2015 to May 2020 and in that role, he led Israel’s efforts in the most visible and widely recognized international diplomatic forum in the world. In his new book, “In the Lion’s Den: Israel and the World” [A Wicked Son Book, An Imprint of Post Hill Press, May 2022], Danon shares Israel’s and his own triumphs and setbacks during that time period, as well as the insights he has gained from his service in this highly consequential capacity.
The Jewish Link previewed parts of the book and spoke with Danon, current chairman of the World Likud, to gain additional perspective on his experiences. What follows are excerpts from the interview and the book.
Danon’s Biggest Personal Successes
Danon takes pride in having offered a consistent, frank and robust defense of Israel’s military and diplomatic initiatives at the U.N., asserting, “The right to live and prosper on our land is a constant in my resolve to secure Israel’s future, as it should be for anyone fighting for the same goal.” (p. 23).
When asked by The Jewish Link, Danon identified his greatest personal accomplishment in his term at the U.N. as his successfully campaigning for and winning election in June 2016 as the chair of the United Nations Legal Committee, one of six permanent committees of the United Nations. His election to the role was precedent-setting, as no previous Israeli ambassador served as chair of a standing U.N. committee. Despite vocal opposition to his candidacy, Danon was elected with a strong majority in a secret ballot, winning 109 “yes” votes versus 44 “no” votes. As Danon stated to The Jewish Link, his service in this role “showed that an Israeli can be very professional, at the United Nations, and it set the stage for other Israelis to be elected to leadership roles in the U.N.”
Danon identifies other successes in his term at the U.N.: “Facilitating the inclusion of kosher food in the U.N. cafeteria, recognizing and celebrating Jewish holidays, and promoting and encouraging the purchase of Israeli innovations and products by the U.N. itself,” as well as “visiting Arab countries in my official capacity as a U.N. ambassador … although the visits were conducted under secrecy and tight security.” (P. 22).
He also told The Jewish Link that he took pride in his work “to bring more than 100 ambassadors to Israel” during his tenure in the U.N. Danon points to the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in 2017 as Israel’s greatest diplomatic triumph during his term.
Two Biggest Disappointments
Asked to identify the greatest setbacks he faced in his term at the U.N., Danon shared two. In late December 2016, as the Obama administration faced its last weeks in office, the U.N. Security Council took up consideration of Resolution 2334, which asserted that: “Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.” (Source: U.N. press release, Dec. 23, 2016).
Danon learned from a U.N. colleague that the U.S. administration and other countries were behind the resolution and it was scheduled for a vote the next day. Though he and Prime Minister Netanyahu worked with great energy to stop or postpone the resolution from consideration, it ultimately passed, with 14 “yes” votes, no “no” votes, and the U.S. abstaining from a vote that in better times it would have vetoed. Danon recalled the feeling of isolation, right after the vote: “I was the only one sitting in the room while people clapped and hugged each other.” He then stood and delivered a speech, mentioning different low periods in Jewish history and telling those present: “We will also overcome this shameful resolution, and no resolution will remove us from Jerusalem.” (p. 35).
Danon also shared with The Jewish Link his personal disappointment with the decision of Prime Minister Netanyahu to cancel Danon’s bid for Israel to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2018. Though he initially received the full support of the prime minister, invested months in the effort, and felt that their chances were good, Netanyahu later instructed him to discontinue the campaign. Danon shared that the public statement he made, to announce Israel’s decision (despite his views to the contrary) was one of the harder speeches in his career.
Asked by The Jewish Link about the influence that NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) have at the U.N., Danon asserted that they have a lot of influence, in that “they can take initiatives that countries can or will not, and they can make statements that countries can’t.”
Invited to identify the countries and ambassadors that have shown Israel the greatest friendship in the U.N., Danon spoke warmly of the Ambassador of Palau, Dr. Caleb T.O. Otto, who demonstrated “pure love for Israel’ from his standpoint as the representative of a small country of devout Christians. Danon also spoke highly of Australia, which has been “very supportive” of Israel at many different times. In terms of surprising and persistent critics of Israel, Danon pointed to France and Ireland, the later of which went so far as to oppose a resolution criticizing the terrorist activity of Hamas.
Invited to share his future plans, Danon stated that “I definitely intend to be active” in advancing Israel’s cause, and said that he is proud to have “more tools, and a better understanding of the international arena and the world political scene.”
For more information on Danon’s new book, “In The Lion’s Den,” and promotional events for the book, please see: www.inthelionsdenbook.com
Harry Glazer invites feedback on this news story and suggestions of other stories to cover. He can be reached at [email protected]