Settler Council elects secular businessman as leader

Dani Dayan says he hopes that under the new leadership, the Israeli public will see that the population in Judea and Samaria is very diverse.

Dani Dayan 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy [file])
Dani Dayan 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy [file])
The new face of the settler movement is a businessman named Dani Dayan from Ma'aleh Shomron. On Friday, in a move that counteracted the stereotype that settler leaders are religious and male, the secular Dayan was voted in as the new chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip while Sarah Eliash of Kedumim took over as his deputy. It's the first time that the council has had a female deputy chairman and the second time that it has had a secular leader. Dayan is the sixth person to head the council since its inception. He replaces Benzi Lieberman, who held the position from 2002 until Friday. Lieberman's term expired in 2006, but he had agreed to remain at the council's head until a replacement could be found. Speaking with The Jerusalem Post after Friday's election by the newly formed council plenum, Dayan said he hoped that under the new leadership, the Israeli public would see that the population in Judea and Samaria was very diverse. "My language is different, but make no mistake," he said - he is strongly committed to the Zionist ideal of increasing settlement in the West Bank. It is also one of his top priorities while in office. Following that, he said he wanted to change the public's view of the settler movement and the significance of the West Bank to the country's fate. Speaking to the plenum following his election, Dayan said that since the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in northern Samaria, the "council has been almost non-existent in the public landscape. Someone told me that it was as if the organization suffered from prolonged post-traumatic stress." Such a retreat from the public eye, he said, "was a mistake, even it if was an understandable. This has to stop. We have to enter into dialogue with everyone." To do so effectively, Dayan said, the movement had to unite the diverse camps within its ranks. "There is room for all the different nuances of the color orange," Dayan said. The time was ripe for such an initiative given the diplomatic failures that had given rise to Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah on Lebanon's southern border, he noted. "We can all see the failure of the diplomacy of retreat. Hamas and Hizbullah reign every place we've withdrawn from," Dayan said. The same was true within Israeli society, which had been harmed by the transition from social values to one of a business model in which everything had been turned into terms of profit and loss, said Dayan. He said the settler movement could be the antithesis to that problem and could help the larger Israeli public return to its core values. "I believe that at the end of the day, Israeli society is thirsty for another alternative that's Jewish and Zionist," he added. "The time has come to speak simple Zionist words such as 'immigration' and 'settlement' to the Israeli public," said Dayan. Security was also an important argument for the retention of the West Bank, he said. But in the past, the settler movement had relied too heavily on the security argument and had not emphasized the more important Zionist values that could create a common bond. "We are an important part of Israeli society and we have no intention to separate from it," Dayan told the Post. Nor, he said, did he plan to make use of violent threats or extremist language to get his point across. In his home, he said, "I don't threaten my wife, and I shouldn't threaten the Israeli public. I want to sway them." On the issue of the unauthorized outposts, Dayan said, he did not yet have a position on whether or not the council under his leadership would pursue a compromise with the government. "I have to study it," he said. But he stood firmly behind the push to return to the former settlement of Homesh in Samaria. The return of a settlement there was viable and realistic, and there was no reason not to rectify the mistake the government made in evacuating the settlement, Dayan said. "A responsible government that sees the terrible failure of disengagement should have come by itself to the [former] residents and said, 'we made a mistake - let's go back to the way things were before,'" Dayan said. If this government didn't do it, the next one would, he said. As a major in the reserves, Dayan said he strongly supported service in the IDF. But he admitted it was true that he refused a request to volunteer for reserve service in the summer of 2005. In addressing the plenum, he said that his position was a volunteer one and, referring to a famous speech by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, added, "this isn't my workplace, this is my mission." But, he warned, the success of that mission rested on the support and joint efforts of everyone. He thanked Lieberman, who had stood at the head of what Dayan termed the largest, most important and just public campaigns ever seen in Israel. Dayan likened Lieberman's leadership of the council to that of former prime minister Menachem Begin when headed the Irgun. Twice, he said, Begin refrained from ordering Jews to fire on each other, declaring, "there won't be a civil war." Dayan, 51, was born in Argentina and came to Israel with his family in 1971, when he was 15. He moved from Tel Aviv to Ma'aleh Shomron in 1986, where he still lives with his wife and their 13-year-old daughter. At age 26, he created and then headed a software company, which he sold a few years ago. He now teaches economics and finance at the College of Judea and Samaria. He is a former member of the council's executive committee and the former director-general of the right-wing Tehiya Party. His cousin is television personality Ilana Dayan and his brother, Arye, is a journalist. Dayan was elected by an almost unanimous vote of the newly-formed council plenum. His appointment is not expected to be ratified until December.