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Q&A with Danny Danon, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations

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Danny Danon, left, alongside other officials at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in November 2015. FLICKR

Danny Danon, 46, was appointed as Israel’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations in August 2015. A former Likud member of the Knesset, Danon held a number of portfolios, including minister of science, technology and space, and deputy minister of defence. Danon was in Montreal recently as a guest of Israel Bonds.


I see that you were elected recently as vice-president of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly and prior to that, you were named chair of the UN’s Legal Committee. How significant are those appointments?

My approach is that we are full members of the UN. That’s why we are running for positions and – thank God – we are also winning. The fact that I was elected last year to chair the UN Legal Committee is an outstanding achievement. I’m the first Israeli ever to chair a committee at the UN.

I understand that as vice-president, you have influence over the General Assembly’s agenda. How will you employ your influence over the agenda?

What we will demand from the UN is to be objective. That’s what I will do in every capacity. I’m not trying to change things so that Israel will be in a better place, or to favour Israel. We want the same treatment as any other member state and that is what I will demand in my position as vice-president.

How was Israel able to win this vote, given the way other countries often gang up against it?

The UN is hostile territory, but my approach is that we can win by bringing Judaism into the UN. That’s why I use quotes from the Bible. We had a mock seder inside the halls of the UN and we show the uniqueness of Judaism. Also we show them the real face of Israel by bringing ambassadors to Israel on various trips. It was very successful.

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I came back last month after escorting U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley and then I came back after escorting another nine ambassadors. Those trips are very effective. If we are able to bring more ambassadors to see the real face of Israel, it will be much easier for us.

At the same time you’re bringing ambassadors to Israel to see the country, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other UN agencies are questioning the Jewish connection to Israel. (UNESCO called east Jerusalem occupied territory and it called the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron a Palestinian site.) How can you address that?

We all agree that those resolutions are outrageous and shameful. But if you analyze what’s happening, the Palestinians today cannot win anymore the way they used to win with their hold over the UN. They cannot bring resolutions to the Security Council and to other organs of the UN in New York. That’s why they are looking to different battlegrounds, like UNESCO, where they have in a few committees a majority and they are kidnapping those committees, in order to pass outrageous resolutions.

Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada was known as a strong friend of Israel. Has anything changed since Justin Trudeau became the prime minister?

In terms of support, we haven’t seen any change and we are grateful for that. Canada is one of the greatest friends of Israel at the UN. I have a very close relationship with Ambassador Marc-André Blanchard, who is a good friend of Israel. I think at the UN you can actually see the votes. It’s not only about declarations and if you analyze the votes, you see that Canada is still standing with Israel.

How would you describe relations with the U.S. delegation under Ambassador Haley?

We’ve always had the support of the United States at the UN. There was only one resolution, an unfortunate resolution (2334) that passed last December in the Security Council during the last week of the previous administration. Besides that, we’ve got the support of the United States all the time. That’s what we are seeing today. We’re seeing that support, but it’s not quiet now. Now it’s public. Now I think people are aware of that and it’s important  for us that people hear it. When we come to the Security Council, and in debates in the Security Council, it’s not only me speaking about Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations. We hear another member standing with Israel.

You mentioned Resolution 2334 passed at the tail end of former U.S. president Barack Obama’s administration, when the Americans abstained rather than vetoing it. (The resolution condemns Israeli construction in east Jerusalem and Palestinian territories and calls it illegal.) Has it had any impact at the UN?

We are still in the process of fighting the resolution. So, for example, in every resolution our adversaries will try to rely on that resolution and put it into the language of the new resolution. We will reject it. It’s still going and in the next year, we’ll be able to tell whether it had an impact or not.

It’s not easy to repeal this resolution. I think it will take a lot of time and effort to correct the damage from this resolution.

What would you say are the main challenges facing Israel at the United Nations?

I think we are always on the defensive. We have so many reports and resolutions coming out against Israel. My approach in the last two years is to be on the offence.

That’s why we run for positions. We initiate many events in the UN. We have two major events against BDS inside the General Assembly hall. We had an event last month for the reunification of Jerusalem. And we are continuing to show that we are not afraid, that we walk proud and tall in the halls of the UN.

I think our challenge next year is that we are running for a seat on the Security Council. I think for us, it is a great challenge. If we make it, it will be the first time for Israel.

The interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.