Hardliner and Tent City Leader Tell Tale of Two Israels

Danny Danon and Daphne Leef Symbolize Visions of Future

By Leonard Fein

Published August 31, 2011, issue of September 09, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

There is a man in Israel of whom you most likely have never heard, though he is among the noisiest people in the country. His name is Danny Danon. He’s 40 years old, has been in the Knesset for all of two years, yet serves as deputy speaker and chair of its Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, as well as sitting on a plethora of other committees, including those dealing with foreign affairs and women’s and children’s issues. He is also chair of World Likud — and a close friend, so both of them say, of Glenn Beck. It was Danon who invited Beck to appear before his Knesset committee in July, and he was deeply involved in Beck’s recent three-day extravaganza in Israel that culminated at the Western Wall. Danon on Beck: “I think Glenn Beck is an example on how to deal with hasbara. Just put out the facts and do not be afraid to reveal the truth.” And he’s almost surely the only member of the Knesset with his own iPhone app.

Danon clearly thinks himself a Zionist, a patriot and a democrat. Those are inherently subjective judgments, and they are not self-evident from his behavior. He is author of the draconian new law declaring anyone who endorses a boycott of West Bank products or institutions liable for civil damages, and he recently remarked, “We [Israel] are very democratic — even too democratic. We have a strong democracy. It should be a strong democracy, but we have to set some limits.” As for patriotism, he is a vehement opponent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s half-hearted housing freeze, and he remains an absolute opponent of a two-state solution. In a New York Times op-ed piece on May 18, he wrote, “A United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood would give Israel an opportunity to rectify the mistake we made in 1967 by failing to annex all of the West Bank.” And, earlier this month, in an interview with Al Jazeera, he said, “There is place only for one state on the land of Israel… I do not believe in a two-state solution.”

There are doubtless some who think Danon’s bluntness charming. Not for him the veiled language of diplomacy. Thus, “Obama is zigzagging in accordance with whatever will bring him more votes and justify his Nobel Peace Prize,” or, “Israel will not pay [Obama’s] private tuition as he tries to understand the essence of the conflict,” or, “Barack Hussein Obama [has] adopted the staged plan of Yasser Arafat for Israel’s destruction, and he is trying to force it on our prime minister.” Danon’s version of Zionism, his indifference to the Israel-America relationship, his delight in Glenn Beck, and his enthusiasm for Christian Zionism cannot be thought of as anomalies. Rather, his positions reflect a gathering danger.

It is time to meet someone else you’ve most likely not heard of before, a 25 year-old Israeli woman named Daphne Leef. She represents a very different Israel from that of Danon. It was her abrupt decision to set up a tent on Rothschild Boulevard, in protest of housing costs in Tel Aviv, that led, very quickly, to the mass protests we have witnessed in recent weeks.

In Tel Aviv, protesters erected 350 tents — around the country, 500 more. What had begun as a protest about the cost of housing has long since morphed into a comprehensive “no” vote against the political echelon. Leef herself has made the transition gracefully. A friend writes, “Leef and her associates are much, much wiser than the whole governmental class. At the age of 25 – 30! Such a group has never before appeared here.”

In fact, two groups are emerging: the activist middle-class — the Rothschild cohort — and the poor, mainly Mizrachi, or Eastern Jewish, tent dwellers in what Israelis call the “peripheria,” the unexpected places, such as Bet She’an and Dimona. For now, the Mizrachim appear mostly to want, simply, a better deal from the government. Whether they can be persuaded to buy into the larger agenda remains an open question.

That “larger agenda” has captivated an older generation that had, by and large, given up on significant social change. It is as if classic Zionism has suddenly been given a shot of adrenalin. My friend writes, “What is new — and it is definitely new — is the depth of intellectual-emotional capacity of the Rothschild tent-dwellers. They definitely understand the immensity of the task of Israel’s refurbishment. I feel how their minds are embracing the whole thing. No words can adequately capture my admiration for such talents.”

So: Israel is suspended between Danon and Leef. The great test of Leef’s Israel comes on September 3, when the hope is that as many as 1 million people from all over the country will join the protest demonstration. “The people demand social justice.”

In the best of circumstances, there remains a major sorting out to be accomplished. The protesters have carefully avoided any explicit link between their disgust with the current leadership and with the occupation, although the linkage is quite clear to many of them. Nor is there any clear political path forward. But something has stirred and, by now, erupted. And if it can be sustained, even against the determined opposition of the militant settlers and the Russians, many of whom evidently equate social protest with treason, then Israel’s precipitous and dispiriting rightward turn, epitomized by Danon, may come to be seen as a snare and a delusion.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.