Politics & Policy

The Right Moment for Israel’s Danny Danon?

His principles and vision could make him a rising star.

‘Lunacy.” That’s how Danny Danon describes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to hand over 104 killers to the Palestinian Authority as a “goodwill gesture.”

He’s hardly alone, as many observers (including myself) are outraged by this move. But Danon, 42, has a unique place in this debate because 1) he sits in Israel’s parliament as a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, 2) he is chairman of Likud’s powerful Central Committee, and 3) he serves as Israel’s deputy minister of defense. In American terms, his criticism resembles General Stanley McChrystal’s 2010 interview mocking Vice President Joe Biden. But McChrystal was gone within days whereas Danon continues to gain influence and stature.

#ad#Danon’s ability to denounce his own prime minister’s actions points to his not being a routine politician. Three qualities stand out: a devotion to principle, a mastery of tactics, and the ability to articulate a vision.

Danon has remained true to the core principles of his party and his country. His righteous opposition when his party makes mistakes — such as the 2009 freeze on building residences for Jews on the West Bank or accepting the two-state solution — shows a strength of character. As he points out, “it’s not easy being in a room of 30 people, alone saying no.”

His rise through Israel’s national camp institutions reveals tactical skill: serving as assistant to Uzi Landau, as head of the World Betar Organization and then head of the World Likud Organization, as organizer of street protests and challenger to the prime minister for the party’s leadership. These efforts culminated in his strong showing in his party’s electoral list (coming in No. 5) and the jaw-dropping 85 percent of the vote he won in elections to lead Likud’s Central Committee. With reason, the Forward newspaper calls him “a master of social and conventional media” and the Times of Israel deems him “a major stumbling block toward Palestinian statehood.”

Danon’s moment may have arrived. As Netanyahu appears to be making excessive and immoral concessions to the Palestinian Authority, Danon has emerged as a leading dissident ready to challenge his prime minister (remember “lunacy”). Should Netanyahu feel no longer welcome in his own party and leave it to found a new one (following exactly in Ariel Sharon’s 2005 footsteps), Danon will be a potential candidate to lead Likud and win a subsequent election.Finally, the vision: Its fullest articulation is found in his 2012 book, Israel: The Will to Prevail, where he sketches an ambitious and contrarian view of his country’s foreign policy. Arguing that “history shows us Israel is often better off when she acts on her own behalf . . . even if that means contravening the wishes of U.S. administrations,” he concludes that the Jewish state “fares best when she makes decisions based on her own best interests.” Jerusalem, he holds, should pursue its goals “with or without backing from her allies.” This argument, commonplace enough for most states, is audacious in the case of small, beleaguered Israel.

One sign of his rise is the invective used against him. Justice minister Tzipi Livni coined the term “Danonism” and demanded that Netanyahu reject it. Gideon Levy, an extreme-left columnist for the newspaper Ha’aretz, disdainfully but fearfully writes that “little Danny Danon will be big, the sugar of the Israeli right. . . .  [He] will go far.”

On a personal note, through the two decades since Shamir, I have constantly looked for someone with the character, energy, skills, and vision to lead Israel. I have known Danon since 2009 and have concluded that he has the necessary qualities. I hope and expect he stays true to his principles and rises to the point where he can end the recent desultory politics of the Jewish state and bring them in line with the country’s many remarkable achievements. Much hangs in the balance. Looked at in historical perspective, since the taciturn but principled Yitzhak Shamir left the prime ministry in 1992, his six successors variously engaged in political betrayal, ethical corruption, and delusional egotism. Sharon (2001–06) abandoned his electoral mandate to the point that he had to flee his own party, even as his financial shenanigans had him in constant trouble with the law. Ehud Olmert (2006–09) had to resign owing to a cloud of corruption charges. Focused on the Iranian threat, Netanyahu has done well since he was first elected in 2009, but his recent offer of 104 murderers disturbingly contradicts the electoral platform of a half-year ago.

Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2013 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

Daniel Pipes — Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum. A former official in the U.S. departments of State and Defense, he has taught history at Chicago, Harvard, and Pepperdine universities, ...

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Top Trump Attorney Resigns

John Dowd, the lead attorney representing President Donald Trump in the special-counsel investigation, resigned Thursday, two sources briefed on the matter told the New York Times. [jwplayer PCWBu1GF-wKJ9CRQU] Dowd, who began leading Trump's legal team last summer, has repeatedly floated the idea of ... Read More

Bunnies and the Art of Total Political War

Vice President Mike Pence is a gentleman. In spite of unceasing abuse from political opponents, including the effrontery of a gratuitous lecture from the cast of Hamilton, the veep’s commitment to good manners has never wavered. The same can be said of his 24-year-old daughter Charlotte, even after the ... Read More

Thursday Links

It's William Shatner's birthday: Here he is in 1978 'singing' Rocket Man, plus a Star Trek/Monty Python mashup. Sold: Isaac Newton’s Notes on the Philosopher’s Stone. It was a long time before anyone admitted that he was interested in alchemy. High-tech forgery: Computer-generated 'Rembrandt' ... Read More

Louie Gohmert Says Mueller Should Be Fired

The handful of congressional Republicans calling for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be fired added a high-profile member of the House Judiciary Committee to their ranks on Wednesday. Texas representative Louie Gohmert said in no uncertain terms Wednesday that he wants Mueller's Russia investigation ... Read More
Economy & Business

Two Conservative Causes, in Conflict

Conservatives have argued for decades that the capital-gains tax should be indexed to inflation. When George H. W. Bush was president, some conservatives argued that he could interpret the tax laws in a way that let him adopt this policy without a vote of Congress. Now that Larry Kudlow is director of the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Nazis, Rap Songs, and McDougals

In 1991, Edwin Edwards, a Democrat, and David Duke, a Republican, ran for governor of Louisiana. There was a memorable bumper sticker: “Vote for the Crook, Not the Nazi.” The crook, in fact, won -- beating the Nazi (and Klansman) by about 61 percent to 39 percent. I thought of this when contemplating ... Read More