Danny Danon has what is no doubt one of the toughest jobs in the world. He is Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations. On March 24, 2016, for example, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women finished its annual meeting by condemning one country for violating women’s rights—Israel. On the same day, the U.N. Human Rights Council ended a month-long meeting in Geneva by condemning Israel five times more than any other of the 192 U.N. member states.
On July 20 Danon spoke at Congregation Beth El-Atereth Israel in Newton. The talk was sponsored by the Israel Bonds/Development Corporation for Israel. “At the U.N.,” said Danon, “when you see a room full of people gathered to talk about Israel, it’s usually a bad sign.” His next words came as a surprise to his audience. “I want you to be optimistic,” he asserted. “I do this every day in the halls of the U.N.”
There seems to be some cause at least for cautious optimism. After years of Israeli ambassadors being blocked from committee chairs, in July Danon was elected vice-president of the 72nd Session of the U.N. General Assembly, a role he assumes in September. “One hundred and nine members voted for,” said Danon. “Only 44 voted against.” In May 2016, Danon was the first Israeli ambassador to chair a permanent committee at the U.N. when he was elected by 109 member-states to chair the U.N.’s Legal Committee.
Danon was appointed to the ambassadorship in October 2015. Previously he served as a member of the Knesset, as Israel’s Minister of Science, Technology and Space and as deputy Minister of Defense. During his time in the Knesset, Danon served as deputy speaker, chair of the Special Committee on the Rights of the Child, and chair of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. He also served as a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces.
In his surprisingly upbeat talk, Danon quoted the Lubavitcher Rebbe: “In a dark place, you have to light a candle.” Acknowledging his challenges, Danon pointed out that, “There are 193 countries in the U.N., but the focus is always on Israel. Israel is an obsession at the U.N.” Once appointed, Danon quickly developed a strategy to deal with these challenges. “I use Judaism. I wear a kippah, I read Torah and I develop relationships with Muslim representatives.” One of his victories was getting the U.N. to recognize Yom Kippur as an official holiday. “The U.N. accepted,“ said Danon, adding, “They need a day of teshuvah (repentance).”
“While the U.N. cafeterias have always had food that is hallal, food allowed under Islamic law, I asked for kosher food,” said Danon. Realizing it would take years for a kosher kitchen to be established, Danon is happy that food is now being brought into the U.N. from a kosher caterer.
Danon also invited ambassadors to a Passover seder. “Sixty attended,” he said, “and stayed for a three-hour seder. They read the Hagaddah and ate matzah. I can’t get my kids to do this!”
Danon’s strategy also includes “bringing Israel to the U.N.” He has made it his mission to expose ambassadors from all nations to the art and culture of Israel, while making them aware of Israel’s many medical, technological and agricultural breakthroughs. He also brings groups of ambassadors to visit Israel.
Danon had words of praise for current U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who visited Israel in June. “She saw the Hezbollah posts on the border between Israel and Lebanon and got a look at the Hamas tunnels in the south near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha,” he said. Danon accompanied Haley on a helicopter tour of Israel. She told him: “You don’t need to show me the borders. Where I see green, I know it’s Israel. The rest is brown,” acknowledging Israel’s success in making the desert bloom.
“When I see the many flags flying at U.N. headquarters, I see many with a cross or a crescent, but only one with a Jewish star,” said Danon. “One day, maybe in two, five or 10 years, nations will give Israel the respect it deserves. I think they are beginning to realize that the Middle East is bigger than the Palestinian issue.”
“We do have support that people are not aware of,” he continued. “There is a public U.N. and a private U.N. For example, I recently met with a Muslim ambassador for breakfast. In public he ignores me.” He added, “When I speak about Iran and Hamas, for example, the Saudis wind up giving the same speech. We share challenges with the more moderate countries in the Middle East. There is still a lot to do at the U.N., but we have to be optimistic.”
Danon also expressed gratitude to the Israel Bonds/Development Corporation for Israel: “They have helped Israel with innovation, infrastructure and education.”
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