‘Lunacy.” That’s how Danny Danon describes Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
decision to hand over 104 killers to the Palestinian Authority as a “goodwill
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 the parliament as a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, (2) is
chairman of Likud’s powerful central committee, and (3) serves as the country’s
deputy defense minister. In American terms, his criticism resembles
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’s ability to denounce his own prime
minister’s actions points to his not being a routine politician. Three qualities
stand out: a devotion to principle, a mastery of tactics, and the ability to
articulate a vision.
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 in the West
Bank, or accepting the two-state solution – shows a strength of
As he points out, “It’s not easy being in a room of 30 people,
alone saying no.”
His rise through the country’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
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.
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
Finally, the vision: Its fullest articulation is found in his
2012 book, Israel: The Will to Prevail (Palgrave), where he sketches an
ambitious and contrarian view of his country’s foreign policy.
that “history shows us Israel is often better off when she acts on her own
behalf... even if that means contravening the wishes of US administrations,” he
concludes that the Jewish state “fares best when she makes decisions based on
her own best interests.”
Jerusalem, he holds, should pursue its goals
“with or without backing from her allies.” This argument, commonplace enough for
most states, is audacious in the case of small, beleaguered
Danon’s moment may have arrived.
As Netanyahu appears to
be making excessive and immoral concessions to the PA, Danon has emerged as a
leading dissident ready to challenge his prime minister (remember
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 the Likud and win a
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 Haaretz,
disdainfully but fearfully writes that “little Danny Danon will be big, the
sugar of the Israeli right.... [He] will go far.”
Viewed in historical
perspective, since the taciturn but principled Yitzhak Shamir left the prime
ministry in 1992, his six successors have variously engaged in political
betrayal, ethical corruption and delusional egotism. Sharon (2001-06) abandoned
his electoral mandate to the point that he had to flee his own party, even as
his financial shenanigans had him in constant trouble with the law.
Olmert (2006-09) had to resign due to a cloud of corruption
Focused on the Iranian threat, Netanyahu was doing well since
2009, but his recent offer of 104 murderers disturbingly contradicts the
electoral platform of half a year ago.
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 will stay true to his principles and rise 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.The writer is president of the Middle East Forum.