Newly appointed ambassador to the UN Danny Danon on Saturday night sought to allay his critics’ fears, issuing a statement saying that despite previous criticism of US Mideast policies, his appreciation of America’s strategic importance to Israel has grown while serving as a minister.
Danon, the science, technology and space minister, was appointed to the UN position by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. He will replace Ron Prosor.
As envoy to the UN, Danon said he will represent Netanyahu’s positions, “including his longstanding commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons and his vision of two states for two peoples – a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”
His statement came after the announcement of his appointment unleashed a tsunami of criticism, with the Zionist Union issuing a statement saying the move “is another nail in the coffin that Bibi is putting in Israel’s foreign relations.”
Danon opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, and was fired by Netanyahu as deputy defense minister last summer because of his intense criticism of the government for not being more forceful in waging the most recent war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. He also was critical of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace-making efforts, calling him “disconnected from reality.”
“In the past, I have been outspoken in my criticism of the US administration’s Middle East policy. But as a full minister who participates in cabinet deliberations, my appreciation has grown for the depth and breadth of Israel’s security cooperation with the United States and its strategic importance to Israel,” Danon said, pledging to fulfill his duties as ambassador “respectfully and proudly,” and saying, “I intend to surprise my critics.”
In making the appointment on Friday, Netanyahu said, “The United Nations is an important forum right now and I am sure that Danny will represent the truth with full force in the international arena.”
The Zionist Union responded to the appointment by saying “Houston, we have a problem,” referring to his current post.
“The appointment of Space Minister Danon as ambassador to the UN is another nail in the coffin that Bibi is putting in Israel’s foreign relations. The prime minister is acting to find jobs for Likudniks instead of the strategic leader that Israel needs,” a statement released by the Zionist Union read.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) called the appointment cynical and one made by a small-minded politician, claiming Danon’s views would lead Israel to international isolation.
Danon was elected to the Knesset in 2009 and was appointed deputy defense minister after the 2013 election.
He was fired during Operation Protective Edge after he publicly said Netanyahu was not aggressive enough against Hamas. The prime minister’s associates said Danon crossed a redline and emboldened Hamas by making such statements.
Before entering politics on the national stage, Danon was chairman of World Betar and was elected chairman of World Likud in 2006, a position he still holds. Danon was voted in as Likud central committee chairman in 2013, and lost to Netanyahu twice in elections for the party’s leadership.
Danon’s departure will free up a cabinet position and the chairmanship of the Likud central committee, which has sparked competition within his party.
Likud sources say Netanyahu may run for chairman of the central committee because the position in someone else’s hands can be used to embarrass, inconvenience and challenge him.
Meanwhile, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev announced that she would run for the job, saying she received many calls from party activists asking her to do so, and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) said he, too, will throw his name into the hat for the position he held from 1997-2005, when he left the party to join Kadima.
Hangebi, who has held six cabinet portfolios in the past, including Justice and Public Security, also asked to be made a minister.
Another possible Likud ministerial candidate is MK Bennie Begin who Netanyahu appointed as a minister-without-portfolio when the government was formed, but who resigned shortly thereafter so Gilad Erdan could be appointed public security minister without the Likud exceeding its number of cabinet members.
Upon his resignation from the Knesset, Danon will be replaced by Sharren Haskel, who is 31st on the Likud candidates list.
Haskel, 31, was born in Canada and was a year old when her family made aliya. She is a veterinary nurse – a profession she studied in Australia – and a former Israeli debate champion who has competed around the world.
“I’d like to congratulate Minister Danny Danon on his appointment to the post of ambassador to the UN and I’m happy that it will enable me to serve the citizens of Israel from the Knesset,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
When Haskel is sworn in, there will be 30 female MKs, more than ever before, moving Israel up from 66th to 62nd place in female parliamentary representation worldwide.
Haskel was expected to get into the Knesset because of the “Mini-Norwegian Law,” loosely based on the model of the Scandinavian country’s government, which requires each minister to be replaced in the legislature by a candidate from his or her party’s ballot.
The recently legislated Israeli version would apply to one minister from each party.
If the minister is fired or resigns, he or she would reclaim a place in the Knesset and the substitute would no longer be a lawmaker.
Now that Haskel will become an MK instead of Danon, should a Likud minister resign, he will be replaced in the legislature by Amir Ohana, who would be the first openly gay parliamentarian from the right-wing party.Gil Hoffman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.