Meet Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN
Two years into the job, Danny Danon seems to be enjoying his perch as Israel’s top diplomat at the United Nations. Danon, 46, was Deputy Minister of Defense before being dismissed from his position by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after publicly criticizing the PM’s conduct during Israel’s war with Hamas in 2014. He also challenged Netanyahu for the Likud Party chairmanship earlier in his political career. But since accepting the offer by Netanyahu to exchange his mingling with party activists and tours on the hills of Judea and Samaria for cocktail receptions at Turtle Bay, Danon seems like a natural fit to the job once held by the Prime Minister himself.
So has the UN job tamed the once Likud hardliner? “Absolutely,” Danon tells Jewish Insider in an interview at his 2nd Avenue office. “I understand world diplomacy much better because that is what I do all day. You deal with global issues all day long, so your understanding is much better, but I didn’t change my values. Today I understand that it takes more than what you want to achieve. You need to think how to convince the international arena… So, it gave me better tools.”
Danon’s accomplishments in the first two years at the UN are notable. He became the first Israeli representative to head a permanent UN committee, he served as vice president of the UN General Assembly in September – introducing Prime Minister Netanyahu at the annual gathering, convinced the UN to recognize Yom Kippur as an official holiday, and managed to bring kosher food to UN cafeterias. And since Nikki Haley was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Danon has found a partner in blocking anti-Israel resolutions and pursuing policies in the interest of both the U.S. and Israel.
Contrasting the Obama administration and the Trump administration, Danon said, “I was sitting in the Security Council when the U.S. allowed the shameful resolution to pass in last December. It was a low moment between Israel and the US that the U.S. actually pushed for that resolution to pass. And today we have a great friend, Ambassador Haley, who stands with Israel. Her approach is refreshing, you know, calling the bluff of our enemies and being very practical about supporting Israel, and we are very happy to work together.”
Similar to the current Prime Minister, who started his political career after serving as Israel’s voice at the UN, Danon sees a brighter personal future in Israeli politics. “I plan to be involved, but I believe that I can be more effective here in the UN and I am happy that I took this decision,” Danon stated. “It also personally gave me better tools to serve the people of Israel, and I intend to go back and continue my service. Some people will be very happy about it. Some will be less happy about it, but, you know, I believe that in order to make a change you need to be involved in politics and public service. So, I cannot tell you in which position it will be, but you know, in the past I was not afraid to run into positions and express my own views.”
While in the U.S., Danon meets quite regularly with American business leaders and donors, but insists that he is not following Bibi’s model of using the position to develop personal alliances since he has already served as a Knesset Member and in the cabinet. “I know the Jewish community from before and I’m also a little bit older than the Prime Minister when he was in this position,” Danon explained. “I had connections with donors in the past. And actually, to be frank, we met on more occasions when I was in Israel. I’m in New York now. I don’t get to travel a lot outside of New York. In the past, I used to go to LA, to Canada. Today I travel less because I am focused on the work of the UN and I am not in Israel.”
Favorite activity in private time: “I enjoy walking in Central Park on Shabbat, when it’s not too cold. I like to walk fast. I can allow myself to jog a little bit.”
Favorite Broadway play: “I would say Fiddler on the Roof was the most exciting one I saw.”
Favorite New York dish: “Deli sandwiches. You don’t get them in Israel.”