From settlers’ ambassador to Knesset hopeful

Yesha Council foreign envoy Danny Dayan sees himself as Naftali Bennett’s ideological mentor, and seeks to promote their views in the Knesset.

Dani Dayan and Naftali Bennett. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Dani Dayan and Naftali Bennett.
With over 50 contenders for slots on Bayit Yehudi’s list for the next Knesset, and the number growing every day, the list of primary candidates seems to have become a blur of crocheted kippot and other head coverings.
There’s one name on the list that stands out as the best-known, and it happens to be someone bare-headed: former Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Yesha) head Danny Dayan.
Nearly two years ago, Dayan resigned from the chairmanship and endorsed the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shortly before the 2013 election.
The endorsement was based on the years preceding the election – “There was a boom in construction in Judea and Samaria that we hadn’t seen in many years, following the construction freeze, and I felt a Palestinian state was further away than ever,” Dayan explained in a Tel Aviv café this week, occasionally interrupted by well-wishers shaking his hand.
However, in Netanyahu’s most recent term, Dayan saw a change, reciting a litany of what he saw as errors on the prime minister’s part: “There has been a freeze in planning and new tenders [in Judea and Samaria] in the past eight months.
“Although the talks led by [US Secretary of State John] Kerry collapsed, as far as I know, Netanyahu made commitments to continuing negotiations based on pre-1967 lines that he shouldn’t have made. Those were obviously filed in the State Department and White House and will be taken out at the proper time.
“There’s a pattern in which Netanyahu gives a central political portfolio to a minister who is not part of the nationalist camp,” he added, pointing to Ehud Barak’s tenure as defense minister and Tzipi Livni being put in charge of talks with the Palestinians.
Now, Dayan says, “I hope Bayit Yehudi gets votes at the expense of the Likud,” and is not concerned that weakening the Likud by moving votes to Bayit Yehudi will keep Netanyahu away from the premiership.
According to Dayan’s analysis, in 2013, the Likud was the only pillar of the “nationalist camp”; but in the 2015 election, the Likud and Bayit Yehudi are of the same magnitude and the number of seats each side has separately is inconsequential.
“Leaving the Likud for Bayit Yehudi doesn’t jeopardize the bloc and the ability to form a government.
I can now free myself of tactical considerations, and ideologically, I was always in favor of saying no to a Palestinian state, rather than saying ‘yes, but’ like Netanyahu,” he said.
Dayan is leaving his Likud endorsement behind despite past clashes with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, when the latter was director-general of the Yesha Council.
While Dayan denied reports that the two fell out over Bennett joining the 2011 social justice protests and taking Yesha activists with him, saying he favored joining the demonstrations, he admitted that he thought Bennett was “young and impulsive” ahead of the last election.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but much more ups than people know about. We did good work together,” Dayan recalled. “I was wrong about Bennett… I feared that sometimes he may be too trigger -happy [in taking apart a Netanyahu-led coalition], but I’m happy to say that wasn’t true. Even though Bayit Yehudi was the only party with an interest in calling this early election, he didn’t want it.”
The new Dayan-Bennett partnership was formed at the Saban Forum in Washington earlier this month, after the former saw the latter debate former US special envoy on Israel-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk and asked him to “join the revolution.”
Dayan was in DC as the Yesha Council’s chief foreign envoy, a position he has held since resigning from the chairmanship. In that capacity, Dayan has spoken with countless foreign officials, both in Israel and in his travels abroad; written articles for The New York Times, among other important publications; and has become an avid user of Twitter, which he called an addiction.
“If you asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that I would sit in the White House, UN Security Council and External Service of the EU and have very cordial relations with all the ambassadors stationed here, even with [New York Times columnist] Thomas Friedman,” he chuckled, mentioning they met during Dayan’s trip to Washington.
“People say they saw my fingerprints in his last op-ed about the impossibility of a two-state solution and the benefits of economic cooperation.”
Dayan believes he made a serious breakthrough in Europe – “even if they won’t admit it” – in convincing the EU External Service that a Palestinian state won’t be established in the near future, and that the parliamentary votes on the issue are a reaction to that, a move from actual state-building to declarations in absence of real possibilities.
However, he recognizes a failure in changing American and European positions about settlement construction, saying diplomats are ignorant.
“How dare they say they understand settlements if they refuse to visit and only recently started meeting with us [settlers]?” Dayan asked.
DAYAN LANDED in Ben-Gurion Airport at 5 a.m. on Friday, December 12, called to give Bennett a positive answer and by 8 a.m., was at the party leader’s home in Ra’anana to discuss their plans.
Bennett and Dayan have a lot in common. Though Dayan is 17 years Bennett’s senior, the two went through similar stages in their professional lives before entering electoral politics. Both came from hi-tech backgrounds, founding start-ups, and both were involved in political activity before running for office.
“The development of my involvement is the right one. First I established a business, then I went into public life without being economically dependent on anyone. First I did non-parliamentary activity, and now parliamentary. I see others go in the opposite direction – go into politics and then business – and I don’t like it,” he said.
Dayan’s Elad Systems, which he founded in 1982 at age 26, was one of the first private software houses in Israel. Under Dayan’s tenure as CEO and chairman for over 20 years, the company grew to over 500 employees and NIS 100 million turnover. He sold his shares in 2005 to focus on Yesha full time.
A decade before founding Elad Systems, Dayan made aliya from Buenos Aires with his extended family – including his first cousin, renowned journalist Ilana Dayan – and maintains a slight Argentinian accent to this day.
Dayan is married to Einat, director of marketing and advertising for Ariel University, and they have one daughter who is currently serving in the IDF.
The family lives in Ma’aleh Shomron, which is a mixed religious-secular settlement. Dayan cites that fact in explaining why he is comfortable in Bayit Yehudi, despite its religious majority, saying he seeks out such diverse environments.
“We didn’t want to live in a secular ghetto or a religious ghetto,” he added.
The Dayans met in political activity in Tehiya, a party that broke off from the Likud in 1979 following the Camp David accords, and the Bayit Yehudi candidate still maintains that hardline on territorial concessions.
There is “no ideological daylight” between his views and Bennett’s, he explained, just a difference in framing.
Bennett stresses annexation of Area C more than Dayan, although he also favors such action. In fact, Dayan believes that as chairman of Yesha Council while Bennett was director-general, he influenced the Bayit Yehudi leader’s position.
“In some respects, I was a mentor, and I am very happy to see the results,” he said.
Dayan sees the current paradigms in talks with the Palestinians as a mirage: “First you’re in the desert and you’re certain you see water on the horizon, but when you approach, it’s all air. That’s the twostate solution.”
Instead, Dayan says the governments of Israel and the US must recognize there is no solution to the conflict at the moment, and the next-best option is to bring positive developments – and there are hundreds of ways to do this, like increasing economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis.
For example: “I would like to see software engineers from Ramallah in Kiryat Atidim in Tel Aviv, where I worked for years. I don’t see why that can’t happen.”
In addition, Dayan would like the security barrier to eventually be taken down and for an ambitious, international plan, in which Israel is a partner, to rehabilitate refugee camps in the West Bank.
Dayan expressed strong opinions on other domestic issues, like the need for Ethiopian immigrants to be better absorbed and for Jewish, Zionist culture and values to be taught in non-Jewish schools, saying that, as someone who is secular, he is better-equipped to advocate for that than most of Bayit Yehudi.
But the issue that comes first for Dayan is settlement expansion, and he would like to be a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to promote his views.
“On matters of Zionism, I am haredi. I am not Reform or Conservative or even Modern Orthodox. I am a maximalist Zionist – and that is the reason I believe, unequivocally, in the full Land of Israel.
That’s what made me move from Argentina to Tel Aviv, and Tel Aviv to Ma’aleh Shomron.
“I hope the Bayit Yehudi will be a home for all those who believe in the kind of Zionism that I believe in, whether religious or secular,” he concluded.
First, though, he will have to do get enough votes in the crowded Bayit Yehudi primary race on January 14.
“Bayit Yehudi members will have to decide if I am enough of a mensch to be in the Knesset,” quipped Dayan