Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, says he has helped “change the rules of the game” at the UN, becoming chair of its legal committee and vice-president of the General Assembly, the first time Israelis have been represented in such a way.
Ambassador Danon, a former minister of science and technology and deputy minister of defence in a previous Likud-led government, was in London this week as the guest of Israel Bonds. He was the keynote speaker at a lunch hosted by Lord Haskel and attended by peers, MPs, and investors from the UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany.
Mr Danon said: “I try to speak to everyone at the UN. I came from Israeli politics — where people will say good things about you publicly, and privately say something else. At the UN it’s the opposite. Publicly they will say bad things about Israel, but privately they will appreciate and admire Israel, and you can build a strong relationship.
“It’s not easy: at first, it was hard for me, I would have one of the ambassadors for breakfast in my house, and we would discuss everything, family, politics, the Middle East. An hour later I would see him in the corridors of the UN and we would ignore each other. We even discussed that, and I challenged them to be bolder — but I understand where they are coming from, and they need to educate their population”.
He felt that there was an “obsession” with Israel in the UN and said that his great friend, American Ambassador Nikki Haley, “when she came to the UN she couldn’t believe it. Now she understands how much time she has had to spend blocking the Israel-bashing”.
Mr Danon, like other diplomats, was taken by surprise at the news of Mrs Haley’s decision to stand down at the end of the year. He said: “We are very grateful to Nikki Haley for everything she did at the UN for us. She stood for truth and common values and she will always be a friend of Israel, wherever she may be”.
He added: “She did things for us [at the UN] which cannot be undone. She will always be our friend, wherever she goes and whatever she chooses to do”.
Mr Danon, as befits his former ministerial role in promoting Israel’s technological expertise, is still enthusiastic about the work of the “start-up nation”. In April this year he took 40 foreign ambassadors to Israel and is a firm believer in the value and impact of Israeli technology, saying “we have a lot to offer and the ambassadors were really interested. We can provide more to developing countries, particularly in the field of security devices. Israeli drones and security devices, for example, protected the Pope on his visit to Africa” [in 2015].
The ambassador refused to speculate about Israel’s relationship with Britain should Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn become prime minister. He said: “We tend not to interfere or comment on local politics — but I call out antisemitism, in the UN, wherever I see it. It bothers me as a Jew. But we are a democracy and we don’t choose and decide who to speak to and who not to speak to. Our goal is to speak to even more countries than we do at the moment.” And, he added: “Israel has a stronger democracy than some of the countries which criticise us”.