Analysis: The rise of Danny Danon – from little pisher to the Big Apple

Danon is off to the Big Apple, in part because he was not afraid to show Israelis and the world that he is not a little pisher.

August 17, 2015 07:20
2 minute read.
Danny Danon

Science, Technology and Space Minister Danny Danon. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Throughout his political career, Science, Technology and Space Minister Danny Danon surprised friend and foe with his chutzpah.

When he first ran for leader of Likud in 2007, veteran Likud activists asked who is this “little pisher” Danon who dared challenge Benjamin Netanyahu? He only got 3.7 percent of the vote, but after that a lot more people knew who Danon was.

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The year before, in 2006, Danon ran and beat Netanyahu’s closest political ally, Yuval Steinitz, in a race for head of World Likud.

The year before that, Danon challenged then prime minister Ariel Sharon from behind the scenes when he tried to run an alternative candidate for chairman of the Jewish Agency, a post the prime minister usually picks without opposition.

When he ran for Knesset in December 2008, he managed to beat an Israeli icon and veteran basketball star Tal Brody for a slot on the Likud list. Brody had famously “put Israel on the map.” But Danon had mapped out the Likud activists who decided the race.

He also was elected chairman of the Likud central committee despite opposition from Netanyahu and other top figures in the party.

Danon is not the first Likud politician who succeeded by building support among the party’s rank-in-file. But he is the first, at least in many years, to employ the strategy of building himself internationally concurrently with his work among grassroots Likud activists. He employed respected public relations advisers – the late Charley Levine, Jonny Daniels and Elie Bennett. While many Likud MKs fight for good press in Israel Hayom and Yediot Aharonot, for more than a decade Danon has actively sought as many headlines as he could in The Jerusalem Post.

Danon wanted politicians in Washington and pastors in Texas to know who he was just as much as he wanted to reach out to Likud activists in Petah Tikva and Ashkelon.

He reached out to Christian Evangelicals and Republican congressmen and even wrote a book criticizing US President Barack Obama as a freshman MK.

Before too long, he was much more known in America than higher ranking Likud officials like Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan, who did not try as hard to build themselves abroad.

Building his reputation internationally made Danon seem worldly and bigger for the Likud activists who decided his political fate.

His rebelliousness repeatedly irked Netanyahu but also forced him to take him seriously, which built Danon up further.

When it came time to pick an ambassador to the United Nations, Netanyahu could have picked an ally like Minister-without-Portfolio Ophir Akunis. But instead he picked Danon, whose rebelliousness Netanyahu preferred to see in a different country.

If Danon is the Likud’s troublemaker, Netanyahu wants to sic him on the UN and have him wreak a little havoc over there among Israel’s enemies. Netanyahu’s associates said the prime minister learned to respect Danon’s chutzpah and thinks it could help Israel in the hardest of international arenas.

So Danon is off to the Big Apple, in part because he was not afraid to show Israelis and the world that he is not a little pisher.

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