The Right Moment for Israel's Danny Danon?
by Daniel Pipes
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He's hardly alone, as many observers (including myself) are outraged by this move. But Danon, 42, has a unique place in this debate because he (1) sits in Israel's parliament as a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, he (2) is chairman of Likud's powerful Central Committee, and he (3) serves as Israel's deputy minister of Defense. In American terms, his criticism resembles Gen. Stanley McChrystal's 2010 interview mocking Vice President Joe Biden. But McChrystal was gone within days whereas Danon continues to gain influence and stature.
Danon has remained true to the core principles of his party and his country. His righteous opposition when his party makes mistakes – such as the 2009 freeze on building residences for Jews on the West Bank or accepting the two-state solution – shows a strength of character. As he points out, "It's not easy being in a room of thirty people, alone saying no."
His rise through Israel's national camp institutions reveals tactical skill: serving as assistant to Uzi Landau, as head of the World Betar Organization, then head of the World Likud Organization, as organizer of street protests and challenger to the prime minister for the party's leadership. These efforts culminated in his strong showing in his party's electoral list (coming in No. 5) and the jaw-dropping 85 percent of the vote he won in elections to lead Likud's Central Committee. With reason, the Forward newspaper calls him "a master of social and conventional media" and the Times of Israel deems him "a major stumbling block toward Palestinian statehood."
Danon's moment may have arrived. As Netanyahu appears to be making excessive and immoral concessions to the Palestinian Authority, Danon has emerged as a leading dissident ready to challenge his prime minister (remember "lunacy"). Should Netanyahu feel no longer welcome in his own party and leave it to found a new one (following exactly in Ariel Sharon's 2005 footsteps), Danon will be a potential candidate to lead Likud and win a subsequent election.
One sign of his rise is the invective used against him. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni coined the term "Danonism" and demanded that Netanyahu reject it. Gideon Levy, an extreme left columnist for Ha'aretz newspaper, disdainfully but fearfully writes that "little Danny Danon will be big, the sugar of the Israeli right. ... [he] will go far."
On a personal note, through the two decades since Shamir, I have constantly looked for someone with the character, energy, skills, and vision to lead Israel. I have known Danon since 2009 and have concluded that he has the necessary qualities. I hope and expect he stays true to his principles and rises to the point where he can end the recent desultory politics of the Jewish state and bring them in line with the country's many remarkable achievements. Much hangs in the balance.
July 15, 2014 update: Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fired Danon from his defence position today, issuing a statement at 8:35 p.m. that
At 8:36 p.m., Danon replied:
Opinion polls released about the same time as these statements found support for both politicians. As the Jerusalem Post noted, "A poll broadcast on Channel 10 found that 73 percent of Israelis opposed the ceasefire. When a Channel 2 poll asked whether a ceasefire would bring about quiet, 92% of respondents said yes and six percent said no."
May 15, 2015 update: Netanyahu has appointed Danon as Israel's 34th Minister of Science, Technology and Space and today he took office. Comment: It's a very impressive comeback by Danon, who hereby gets experience in his country's most dynamic sector.
Aug. 14, 2015 update: Netanyahu has appointed Danon as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, a high-profile position that will likely turn Danon into an international figure. The opposition has predictably twisted its knickers over the appointment, both accusing Netanyahu of doing anything to remove Danon from his Likud Party positions and seeing this as "another nail in the coffin of Israel's foreign relations."
Predictions: (1) Facing the UN, Netanyahu and Danon will finally be on the same page. (2) Danon will use this as a platform eloquently to promote his country's interests and to promote his own eventual candidacy for prime minister. A star has been born.
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