Israel’s appointment of a settler leader to replace a well-liked career diplomat as the country’s top official representative in New York is unsettling groups on the left, such as the dovish pro-Israel group J Street.
Dani Dayan, the former leader of Israel’s settler movement, will replace career foreign service officer Ido Aharoni as Israel’s consul general in New York after Aharoni’s posting expires in July.
“Dayan is but the latest appointment to a senior diplomatic post of an adamant opponent of the two-state solution, whose posting will serve to inflame opponents of Israel’s policies,” J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.
The March 28 appointment of Dayan to the New York post comes after Brazil rebuffed Israel’s attempt to appoint him ambassador there in December. Brazilian officials reportedly objected to Dayan’s settlement ties, and to not having been given notice of Dayan’s impending appointment before the announcement was made.
Asked whether the U.S. Department of State was alerted beforehand to Dayan’s appointment as consul general in New York, a spokesperson said the Department could not immediately respond. Israel’s embassy in Washington, D.C. did not respond to a similar query.
Dayan was exultant about his new role in an interview with the Forward. “Those that didn’t want to see me in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, they are going to see me now in the capital of the world, in New York,” he said.
Dayan is the second right-wing politician assigned to replace a career foreign service officer for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New York in recent months. This past summer, the firebrand Likud politician Danny Danon replaced career diplomat Ron Prosor as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Aharoni, who has led the New York consulate since 2010, was a regular at Jewish communal events in New York City. Tall and voluble, he focused on outreach along cultural lines. Aharoni “was not politically doctrinaire,” said Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “He understood the big tent. And he reached out, and he was comfortable with various political views.”
Like Aharoni, Dayan is a polished advocate. But while Aharoni’s background was in Israel’s foreign service, Dayan’s is in the leadership of Israel’s settler movement.
A wealthy Argentinian-born Israeli, Dayan is former chairman of the Yesha Council, which represents hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Dayan is also a member of a prominent and politically diverse elite Israeli family that includes the general and politician Moshe Dayan, the poet Yonatan Geffen, the prominent television journalist Ilana Dayan, the ‘90s-era leftist rock star Aviv Geffen, the actress Shira Geffen, and, by marriage, the short story writer Etgar Keret.
Dayan presents himself as a gentler face of the settler movement, an opponent of the two-state solution who is also ready to criticize the settlers’ violent elements. In an interview with the Forward, he cited a friendly 2012 New York Times profile as evidence of his broad appeal. Dayan told the Forward that he would be open to speaking with all parts of the Jewish community. “Liberal New Yorkers will find in many issues much more affinity with me than others,” Dayan said. “For instance, civil rights, and other issues.”
Dayan said that he hoped to visit college campuses and advocate for Israel there. “I will make the case for Israel’s policy on every aspect, including the settlement issue,” he said. “My agenda is a liberal agenda in many respects… I have no doubt I will find the path to dialog with every sector of American Jewry, and American society as a whole.”
Opposition to Dayan’s appointment has been intense. Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston wrote in an essay March 28 that Dayan “will effectively be Israel’s New York advocate for apartheid,” citing Dayan’s one-state position and his opposition to Palestinian suffrage.
J Street, in Ben-Ami’s statement, praised Dayan for his willingness to “engage in dialogue and debate with those he disagrees with, including J Street.” But Ben-Ami wrote that the message of the appointment is that “Israel’s government is far more serious about legitimizing and entrenching settlements than they are about the two-state solution to which the Prime Minister maintains he is at least nominally committed.”
Others on the left said that the appointment of Dayan clarified Netanyahu’s own positions. “I think it offers a more honest look at who is running Israel,” said Matt Duss, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a dovish group in Washington. “Like Danny Danon, Dayan is not somebody who favors equal rights for Palestinians… This is someone whose vision for Israel is deeply at odds with American values.”
Foxman, for his part, welcomed Dayan’s appointment. “I think Dani is warm, is open, is bright, is articulate, and has been stigmatized by one part of his life where he was the chairman of the settlers’ council,” Foxman said. “Even as chairman of the settlers’ council, under his leadership there was more openness, more dialog, more understanding between the elements of Israeli society.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.