Israel has had a remarkably “varied” string of UN ambassadors. Some were distinguished statesmen like Abba Eban, Gideon Rafael and Yosef Tekoah. Others like Ron Prosor were affable hatchet men doing their country’s biding in the world’s most august body. Dore Gold was a hatchet man with no affable qualities whatsoever. With the impending appointment of Danny Danon to this post, Israel has reached a remarkable milestone: it has named one of its most racist, thuggish and corrupt rising young politicians to represent it before the world body in New York. Aside from these virtues, Danon was fired from his last ministerial post (as deputy defense minister) when he criticized his boss, the prime minister, for not killing more Gazans during Operation Protective Edge.
Danon also challenged Netanyahu for the Likud party leadership post during the last set of primaries. He has, like several other far-right politicians (Avigdor Lieberman, Gideon Saar), his sites set on the premiership. Netanyahu, being the eminent political survivalist he is, knew the surest way to defang his young nemesis was to ship him off to New York. While it will offer Danon a certain political platform, it will also remove him from the Israeli scene physically and politically. If you want to topple a prime minister you can’t do it from New York.
We also shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of an explicit quid pro quo between the two men: Danon goes to New York and in return doesn’t mount a challenge to Bibi till the end of his ambassadorial term (four years). To sell the post, Netanyahu’s aides inevitably pointed to the fact that Bibi exploited his own time as Israel’s UN ambassador to burnish his leadership and diplomatic credentials before returning home to eventual triumph as minister and eventually, premier. None of that would be lost on the ambitious Danon.
Danon, of course, has no qualifications for his post: he speaks English poorly and is barely understood during interviews to which I’ve listened. He is not a charismatic politician or public speaker. He is not known in diplomatic circles, either in the United Nations or in the Obama administration. He vehemently opposes the two-state solution and is saddled with a host of wildly inflammatory racist statements he’s made over the years.
In the accompanying YouTube video he produced to promote his Likud primary challenge against Netanyahu, he featured himself as a western sheriff riding into town to clean up the mess made by ornery, uppity Palestinians like Haneen Zoabi and her fellow Palestinian MKs. To the rollicking strains of Oh Susannah!, he swaggers into a “saloon” over whose front door hangs a sign, “Knesset” (the truest part of the video), throws them behind bars and then boasts that his candidacy represents the “return of the real right wing,” the inheritor of the mantle of Jabotinsky and Begin. Presumably, this means that Netanyahu is simply a placater and poseur. Thanks to Ronnie Barkan for English captions.
Netanyahu has announced two other appointments that will make the heads of veteran Israeli diplomats spin: Mark Regev, Bibi’s English-language spokesperson known for serially lying on behalf of his boss and country on media platforms the world over, will become UK ambassador. Veteran “moderate” settler activist Danny Dayan, will become ambassador to Brazil. Dayan pointedly refused to “bring home the [Olympic] gold” for Israel in the Rio Games. But given his prior experience running the settler political lobby, Yesha Council, the settler should consult with Brazilian oligarchs seeking to dispossess the native tribes of their lands.
The common thread to all these appointments is the desire on Bibi’s part not to mollify or conciliate with the nations and bodies in which these figures will serve, but rather to pour oil on the fires. On Facebook, Israeli Emilie Moatti, using a verse from the traditional haggadah recited each year on Passover (“spill your wrath upon the nations” [“goyim”]), said Bibi, in naming Danon to his new post wanted to offer him the opportunity to vent his wrath not just within Israel, but upon all the nations of the world. Something the ambassadorship offers him in spades.
Brazil, ruled by a leftist government, has a thriving activist community supporting the Palestinian cause and BDS. In the warped mind of a Likudist, the best way to approach such intense anti-Israel sentiment isn’t appointing a diplomat who can win over opponents, or even debate with them on even terms. No, the best approach is to send over a settler who openly detests Palestinians and supports stealing their land and building Israeli settlements on it.
Returning to Danon: he’s known for his fundraising skills among American Jewish circles. He’s also cultivated ties to the GOP leadership including such dubious characters as ex-Rep. Michael Grimm, who was sentenced to eight months in federal prison for tax fraud, which forced him to resign in disgrace. Reports allege that Danon is heard on Israeli police wiretaps defending Grimm and deriding his accuser, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto. Another of Danon’s partners in crime is the New York sleazeball publicist, Ronn Torossian. It is he and Danon heard discussing ways of keeping their pal, Grimm out of jail.
Torossian also hopped on the Grimm-Pinto gravy train and took a cut of the funds that Israeli porn producer and ex-drug dealer Ofer Biton raised by browbeating Pinto followers into donating to Grimm’s 2012 Congressional campaign. Many of them did so illegally, having been falsely told that as Israeli citizens they were permitted to give to U.S. political campaigns. Even worse, they were told that if they donated, the Congressman would help them get their green cards. This resulted in enriching Grimm’s campaign coffers to the tune of $500,000.
After being alerted by Israeli journalist Amir Zohar, I reported yet another bizarre fundraising scheme in which Danon was involved together with several veteran Likud fixers. A wealthy American Jewish donor gave $800,000 to a Danon initiative via the Koch Brothers philanthropic vehicle, the Donors Trust. The attraction of giving through the Donors fund was that the gift was anonymized. No one can trace this gift back to its source, which launders it nicely for anyone concerned their reputation might be tarnished by association with Danon and his confederates.
The venture in question, Community Action Centers Partnership, while registered as a non-profit in the U.S., is not legally registered inside Israel. It’s mission is portrayed differently depending on the context. One such description offered this:
Reduce juvenile delinquency and provide youth education programs and activities with the aim of developing more spiritually aware and diverse individuals who respect Israeli history, culture and traditions.
It received the anonymous donation, but there’s no way to trace how it was spent. We know that CACP donated several hundred thousand dollars to Orthodox Jewish charities. One was sponsored by Young Israel, one of the most rabidly pro-settler groups in the Orthodox community. We also know it sent $45,000 to an unnamed source in Israel on behalf of an “education” project. But there’s no way to know how the funds were used or by whom.
Another figure prominent in this scheme is Michael Eglash, an Israeli-American publicist and promoter of various Israeli state projects sponsored by the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund, various government ministries, and others. Eglash is listed as the president of CACP. But he refused to respond to two separate attempts I made to contact him with questions about his NGO, its mission, and funding.
Eglash is the husband of Washington Post Israel correspondent, Ruth Eglash. Her husband’s flacking for various pro-Israel causes raised red flags with media watchdog outfits like FAIR and Electronic Intifada, which complained that the Post’s objectivity would be compromised by having one of its reporters so intimately tied to a promoter of pro-Israel causes. The Post refused to consider the complaint and Eglash, who once worked for the Likudist shmatteh, the Jerusalem Post, continues to contribute regularly to the Post’s Israel coverage.