October 20, 2019

Ambassador Danon Hopes to ‘Close the Gap’ at the United Nations

“You have a public U.N. and you have a private U.N.,” Israel’s United Nations Ambassador, Danny Danon, told a packed audience at Young Israel of North Beverly Hills on Nov 14. “My goal is to close that gap.”

Danon is all too familiar with that gap. In June 2016, he ran for office to head the U.N.’s Legal Committee, which deals with cases such as international terrorism. Election ballots usually are public, but secret ballots can be requested by U.N. members. In this case, the Palestinian representative requested a secret ballot, to avoid Israel influencing fellow ambassadors on how to vote. The tactic backfired.

“That was his mistake,” Danon told the audience. “Many countries told me, if we open [the ballot] and make it public, don’t count on us, yet. But if it’s a secret ballot, 100 percent we support you. You deserve it and it’s about time Israel will chair a committee.”

On that day, Danon became the first Israeli representative to be elected to a U.N. permanent committee, with 109 of 193 votes in his favor. “We broke the glass ceiling,” Danon told The Times of Israel after his victory.

One year and five months after that landmark ballot, Danon was recounting the little victories he and his team have worked to accomplish. Kosher food is now available in the U.N.’s New York cafeteria and, as of 2015, Yom Kippur became an officially recognized holiday. Previously, the U.N. observed 11 official holidays, including the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha and Christian holidays such as Good Friday and Christmas. Now, Yom Kippur has been added to the list.

“We got it done,” he told the audience, which broke out in applause.

Kosher food is now available in the U.N.’s cafeteria and Yom Kippur became an officially recognized holiday.

Danon made it clear that he’s aiming a lot higher. “What happened yesterday with the vote on the human rights violations in Syria, it is a sign that we are closing that important gap,” he said, circling back to issues between public versus private U.N. selves. Notably, the vote was not a secret ballot.

In May, Danon was elected as vice president of the 72nd Session of the U.N. General Assembly. As vice president, Danon chairs meetings of the General Assembly, takes part in setting the GA’s agenda, and oversees the rules and decorum during its sessions.

Before representing Israel at the U.N., Danon, who is in Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, was serving as a member of the Knesset, holding positions such as Minister of Science, Technology and Space and Deputy Minister of Defense. In 2014, Danon was fired from his position as Minister of Defense by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he criticized the way the government handled Operation Protective Edge — namely, how Netanyahu accepted a truce with Hamas. Danon published a public response to his firing with the statement: “The prime minister doesn’t accept that there are other views in his party.”

Soon after, Netanyahu appointed Danon as U.N. ambassador. Critics went to town on this decision, dubbing it as the prime minister’s slap at the U.N. and at Danon, an all-in-one appointment. (Netanyahu served in the U.N. from 1984 to 1988.) Haaretz wrote, “The joke goes that in one move, we see how much Netanyahu hates Danon — hence his decision to send him far away and remove him from the cabinet table — and how much he hates the U.N. — because he sent them Danon.”

Still, Danon is proving to be a force to be reckoned with. He ended his lecture at Young Israel with a promise, speaking on behalf of Israel to the international community:  “We shall prevail.”