Home Interview Israel at the UN: Marking Progress

Israel at the UN: Marking Progress

An inFOCUS interview with Ambassador Danny Danon

Ambassador Danny Danon Summer 2019

Ambassador Danny Danon is Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, having previously served as a member of the Knesset, as Minister of Science, Technology and Space, and as Deputy Minister of Defense. His term as Permanent Representative has seen several notable achievements: recognition of Yom Kippur as an Official UN holiday; acceptance to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space; consultative status for two Israeli NGOs; adoption of an Israeli UN resolution on Agricultural Technologies for Sustainable Development by the General Assembly. Israel held the first ever international summit at the UN against the boycott, divestment and sanction movement, and the Israeli Mission hosted event in remembrance of the Jews persecuted in Arab countries. In June 2016, Danon was elected as chair of the UN Legal Committee, the first Israeli ever to hold a committee chairmanship.

inFOCUS: ​It seems there’s a difference between Israel’s relations government-to-government with many countries and the way those same countries behave in the United Nations. Is this something that you have seen and is there a way to deal with that?

Amb. Danon: ​I feel that there is a gap between the public UN and the private UN where publicly they will condemn Israel, but privately they will admire Israel. I am pleased to think I was able to close that gap in the time that I was elected to my previous position at the UN, and now more and more countries are publicly supporting Israel. We saw it in the vote that took place last December about a resolution condemning Hamas and its attacks on Israel – where we got 87 of the member states publicly to vote for the condemnation and only 57 voted against the condemnation. [Editors Note: It failed to reach the 2/3 majority needed to pass.]

iF: ​Do you think this is a trend that we’ll see more of, are you looking forward to more of those kinds of votes?

Amb. Danon: ​Yes, I think so, but we have to convince people more. That’s what I have to do and in every bilateral meeting I have with a head of state, I tell him, “The great bilateral relations or trade relations that you have with Israel, we want to see that reflected also here in the multinational arena when it comes to a vote in the UN.” And as we meet more people, the fact that they are afraid or shy about bringing it up – as if it means admitting to it –  to me means that we should bring it up.

iF: ​Is some of that related to the position of the United States government? How we behave in the UN?

Amb. Danon: ​We are very grateful for the position your previous ambassador Nikki Haley took at the UN in public support during the votes of moral clarity. We appreciate that endorsement for us and it is good when other countries see that the U.S. is behind Israel.

iF: ​Do you think that being the first Israeli elected to a UN Committee – the Legal Committee – helped other countries to see Israel in a more positive light? And what do you see coming after it?

Amb. Danon: ​It was a very important precedent when I began to run for that position. Many people in Israel were skeptical about the chances to get elected. But I said that even if we lose it it’s a victory, but I won and I received the support of 109 member states. It was a very important precedent. And when I chaired the committee, many countries recognized that Israel, just like any member state, could handle it properly, professionally and we achieved a lot as the chair of the committee. Now I think all positions are open for Israel at the UN. I think our next role should be a seat in the Security Council of the United Nations. It is about time, after 71 years, that Israel should sit in the Security Council.

iF: ​Do you think that you will get it?

Amb. Danon: ​I don’t believe in my life that we will get anything. We have to fight, to demand and I think we have to start a campaign, collect the support and the votes – and eventually we’ll be there. My philosophy is that I think we can make it happen.

iF: ​Can you talk about Israel’s relations with the African countries. Is there a group of African countries that Israel calls friends in the UN?

Amb. Danon: ​Sure. I have brought many ambassadorial delegations on missions to Poland to visit [the concentration camp at] Auschwitz and then to Israel, and many from Africa joined me. I think today we are experiencing a new era with Africa. Israel is coming back to Africa – and Africa is coming back to Israel and we are very proud of that. I don’t want to name names but I think we have to name at least one name, which is Rwanda, with which we work very closely at the UN and we even opened an embassy a few months ago in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

iF: ​The other group of countries that is interesting to us is the Central European countries and the Visegrad countries, and the difference between those and the Western Europeans. Israel seems to do better with Hungary and Czech Republic and those countries than France and Germany.

Amb. Danon: ​Increasingly, our Eastern European friends are not afraid to take positions supporting Israel within the European Union (EU), within the UN, and we are grateful for that. One example is when President Trump decided to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, a few Western European countries tried to pass a resolution condemning the U.S. in the EU for that. But you need full consensus among the 28 EU member states to pass such a resolution, and some of those countries you mentioned blocked it. I think today we have very important friends, we are grateful for that. We have other issues but we deal with them. Domestic anti-Semitism in Europe is one of them. But we are of between making the distinction between collaborating with them in the international arena but at the same time demanding more action in the domestic arena.

iF: ​Turkey being a special case. Do you have problems with Turkey in the UN?

Amb. Danon: ​Unfortunately, we see that every once in a while, Turkey is trying to lead a fight against Israel in order to score points domestically. Whether it is issues with Gaza or the Palestinians, Turkey tries to stir the pot. We have felt Turkey’s involvement in many resolutions against Israel.

iF: ​Let’s move slightly to a different area, and that is the Sunni Arab countries. First, as Israel and the Gulf Arab states talk to each other in different ways, do you see a problem with what used to be called the Arab Street? And second, the Islamic Block in the UN is a big problem for Israel, anything they don’t want is unlikely to pass. How do you deal with both of those issues?

Amb. Danon: ​We do collaborate with many countries quietly at the UN. I went to Dubai two years ago. And we have quiet relations with many other countries. I think we can expect more. When I speak with my colleagues I tell them they should not be afraid of so-called public opinion. When you hear President Sisi, the way he speaks about the importance of the peace treaty with Israel – I think if he can do that everybody else can do that. So that’s why we expect more from those countries, especially when we have a common enemy and a common threat. Iran is spreading a lot of money around the region and provoking hatred. Against the Sunni Arabs as well as us, so we do have to work together. Not only the leaders but also people-to-people.

Regarding the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and division with the Islamic countries, yes, it’s a large group but we are fortunate because they don’t always vote against Israel. And we can work with many countries in the OIC.

iF: ​In 1967 the UN Security Council passed Security Council Resolution 242, which required the Arabs to do something, to give Israel the recognition of its legitimacy in the region. Most of the peace process conversation we’ve been hearing is not about the Arab states and Arab relations with Israel, but rather the Palestinians. Is the goal of UN resolution 242 still considered Israeli policy and is it still considered UN policy?

Amb. Danon: ​I think that we should respect all UN resolutions, but in order to look forward, the bottom line is to have direct negotiations. That’s what I tell my colleagues in the Security Council. We can speak to you about history, about revolutions but when you look at the actual reality in the Middle East, the only way to move forward is to have direct dialogue exactly like we did with the Egyptians after many wars and with the Jordanians. So yes, we can go back to history and speak about resolutions, but I think the only way to move forward is by having direct dialogue.

iF: ​In the United States sometimes it seems as if American Christians, Evangelical Christians especially, believe more firmly that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people than some of the Jewish organizations. I’m not going to ask you to comment on Jewish organizations but how do you work with them? In your role as ambassador to the United Nations, how do you deal with the American Jewish Community?

Amb. Danon: ​I work very closely with the Jewish community, and in general we have tremendous support coming from them. I marched on Fifth Avenue in the Israel Day parade, and I receive that same support every day. So, we are grateful for that support. Yes, sometimes we have difficulties, we have criticisms – and we are open to that – but overall, I believe that we do have the support of the Jewish community, and we welcome that. And no matter what happens in the U.S., no matter the political situation I think the support will continue.

iF: ​And you meet with them regularly?

Amb. Danon: ​Absolutely, whenever I need them to be involved I will call them to speak about and discuss the challenges that we have, and some of them will offer their help and solutions.

iF: ​One of the things on the table is the Trump administration’s efforts at peacemaking, which has been delayed for different reasons. Does Israel have an opportunity to have input into the thinking of the president’s envoys? Are they doing this while they talk to you or is it more that they’re going to come to Israel with a plan?

Amb. Danon: ​It will be an American plan, not an Israeli plan, and we respect the efforts of the administration and the work that is being done very seriously. The president’s team met with many, many Israelis and they heard a lot of opinions, but at the end they will come up with their own recommendations. But we will respect their offering; we will be open-minded as we will look at it. Unlike the Palestinians, who say in Gaza that they will ignore it and they will reject it without even opening the file. This is not the case with Israel. We will be more open-minded and respectful, both of the plan and of the effort to put it forward.

iF: ​I love that answer. In the context of UN, the United States has been Israel’s closest friend on the UN Security Council and elsewhere. How are you doing with Russia and China? Israel seems to have a new relationship with Russia outside of the UN. Is that reflected in the UN?

Amb. Danon: ​Indeed, the U.S. is our greatest friend. We do have other friends and we are grateful for them – Canada, Australia and many, many other countries as well, and we are grateful for them all. With Russia and China, we have strong bilateral relations but many times when it comes to votes in the Security Council they will oppose the U.S. and they will oppose the position of the U.S. But we do have a dialogue with them; we do speak with them, we engage with them, but we don’t always get their support.

iF: ​My last question, which you can spend the next hour on because the question is, what would you like to tell the countries of the United Nations – friend countries and other countries – about Israel. What should they know that they may not know, that you want them to know?

Amb. Danon: ​It is, actually, a short answer. They should take a step back and look at Israel with a new lens. We are here and want to work with them. I think they can look at what we have achieved in 71 short years, and know we are eager to help them to improve their lives as well.

iF: ​Mister Ambassador thank you.

Amb. Danon: ​My pleasure.