The Deceptive Style of Settlement Leader Dani Dayan

Voice of Jacob, Hands of Esau

Sheep’s Clothing?: Dani Dayan is the past head of Yesha, the council that represents the settlement movement.
Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90
Sheep’s Clothing?: Dani Dayan is the past head of Yesha, the council that represents the settlement movement.

By Leonard Fein

Published May 29, 2014.
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“My religion is Zionism,” Dani Dayan says.

It is hard to know quite what to make of him. Is he, as Yariv Oppenheimer, director of Peace Now suggests, the enemy? “His agenda is the same as the most fanatic right-wing settlers. But he has this ability to hide it and to speak with the public with a much more sensible argument and a much more moderate image.” I’d call it moderate intransigence, a carnivore in vegan clothing, expansionism with a human face. But here it is critical to note that the face is not a mask.

Dani Dayan vehemently opposes price-tag attacks, those pernicious attacks carried out by extremist Israeli Jews against Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, attacks that target mosques, churches, Arab and Jewish homes and property, Israeli military bases and vehicles, as well as other Israeli Jews. As defined by the ADL, “they involve the desecration of property with anti-Arab and anti-government slogans, often accompanied by hateful and racist slogans, the name of an illegal settlement, or a reference to an Israeli casualty of Palestinian terrorism, the implication being that the violent incident is the ‘cost’ of Israeli government action on settlements or for anti-Israeli violence.” And, unlike many on the far right here in Jerusalem, where I met with Dayan, he fully accepts that there is a Palestinian people.

“Our challenge,” says Oppenheimer, “is to expose him.” But Dani Dayan has not suffered from lack of exposure. Although he was, not long ago, treated as a leper, these days he is invited to speak at such places as the prestigious Saban Forum (where Obama, Kerry and Netanyahu, among a host of distinguished others, have spoken), dines with the American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, and travels to Washington, London, and other major cities.

“My religion is Zionism.” If that be true, he may rightly be termed a religious zealot, his own conventional secularism notwithstanding. Today, he is the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, having served from 2007 to 2013 as chair of the Yesha Council. [“Yesha” is the Hebrew acronym for Judea and Samaria – i.e., the West Bank.]

What does it mean to say “My religion is Zionism?” Try this: Asked, some years back, what kind of a life he wanted for his daughter, he replied that “If it’s for me to decide, I would like her to establish an outpost on the most challenging hill in Samaria. But she should never forget the road from that hill to the theaters of Tel Aviv and to the museums of Tel Aviv and to the restaurants of Tel Aviv.”

He himself lives in a spacious modern home in Ma’aleh Shomron, a West Bank settlement some 20 miles northeast of Tel Aviv. He lives there out of conviction. As he puts it, “We wouldn’t be able to teach Jewish history were we to give up Yesha — we’d be a shallow society, our kids won’t understand why we are here.”

He’s said that before, many times, ignoring the fact is that the kids will understand if the explanation is clear and compelling. Yet such an explanation Dayan is incapable of providing. As he puts it to me, “there are 2 or 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, and “that’s a problem that bothers me a lot, but my conscience is clear; we are on solid moral ground.” What is that ground? “The Palestinians rejected Partition back in 1947. And when you make a moral mistake, you must pay for it.”

True, he acknowledges, the beliefs of both sides, the Zionists and the Palestinians, are entirely genuine. The Palestinians genuinely believe that Israel is a colonial enterprise. “But the fact that they don’t have a state is entirely their fault. At the same time, their national aspirations are suicide for us.” It follows that “there can be no sovereignty for Palestinians west of the Jordan.” It follows as well that “It is me, my family and my neighbors, who secure the state; it is a duty to hold onto Yesha.”

He says that “those who believe in a two-state solution are either naive or liars.” Which is a curious stance for a man who prefers what he calls a “two stage” solution to the more familiar but currently moribund two-state solution. The two stages, according to Dayan, as reported in The New York Times by Jodi Rudoren: “For the next 30 to 40 years, Jews and Palestinians should continue to expand their communities in the West Bank, with the kind of interaction that is minimal but allows people to live well. Later, he imagines, leadership change in Jordan, where ethnic Palestinians are a majority, will lead to an arrangement in which the West Bank is jointly governed by Israel and Jordan with ‘shared responsibilities for two peoples between two states.’”

“But there will be no negotiated agreement in our time. We need a very long interim period; we need peaceful non-reconciliation.” And still he calls others “naïve.”

Dayan is a wealthy man [software] and when he is not arguing the case for Israel’s expansion — he of course neither calls it that nor thinks of it in those terms — he travels about collecting art and wine. But those are hobbies, not passions. The passion? All Israel, intact; no sovereignty for Palestinians west of the Jordan. “I am sure it is me, my family and my neighbors [meaning those who have chosen to live in the West Bank] who secure the state; it is a duty to hold onto Yesha.”

He goes on: “The strategic hills of Judea and Samaria are the ancient Jewish heartland and the cradle of Jewish civilization; therefore, no other nation state but Israel can exist west of the Jordan River.” “Therefore?” But this is a perfect example of the logical fallacy called “begging the question,” in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself.

The style is cool, rational, appealing; the substance is lethal. The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.

Contact Leonard Fein at

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