In an interview a week before President Trump is set to visit Israel on his first overseas trip, Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, presented an image of a government supremely confident in its own moral position, and committed to maintenance of the status quo in the West Bank.
“If I take a look at the big picture, my conscience – as an Israeli, as a Jew, as a Zionist, as a resident of Judea and Samaria – is completely clear,” said Dayan, a former settler leader.
Dayan called Israel’s military occupation “unfortunate,” and a “problematic” situation. But he said he saw no way to end the occupation in the short term, blaming “Palestinian intransigence.”
Asked about the movement to impose boycotts on Israel, Dayan said that his disagreement with this tactic was not with its legitimacy as such. He said that he himself participated in a boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era, not traveling to the country before the regime ended in 1994.
“The biggest problem with [the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement] is they target the good guy in the conflict,” the former settler leader said in an interview at the Forward’s offices. “Israel has the upper moral hand in the conflict.”
Asked what Israel’s response will be if West Bank Palestinians demand the right to vote in Israeli elections, Dayan said, “To reject it.”
A fluent speaker with a quick wit, the Argentine native arrived in New York as consul general nine months ago. He served from 2007 until 2013 as head of the Yesha Council, the leading settler group, and was chief spokesman for the mainstream of the settler movement.
In his interview with the Forward, Dayan refused to speak about American domestic politics or individual American political leaders, citing diplomatic rules. He spoke on May 8 at the Forward’s offices, a day after addressing The Jerusalem Post’s New York conference.
Dayan said that he sees Trump’s upcoming trip to Israel as an important gesture. “The first presidential visit is always significant as a message,” Dayan said. “If I look at that and compare it with the fact that President Obama… in his first presidential trip to the area skipped Jerusalem, I think that is very significant, the fact that President Trump includes Jerusalem in the visit.”
Since Trump’s inauguration in January, Dayan said that his job as Israel’s envoy to New York has, in certain ways, grown easier, thanks to “a more favorable attitude of the administration.”
Still, he called the notion that Israel and the Trump administration have a shared policy “an optical illusion, because the strategy of Israel is to work as closely as we can with any administration.”
Dayan also downplayed the potential impact of controversial new Israeli laws that block supporters of the BDS movement from entering Israel. The law has drawn broad condemnation from liberal American Jews, who worry that it could bar even moderate opponents of the settlement movement from visiting Israel.
Dayan defended the spirit of the law. “The main point is, yes, Israel has the right to prevent staunch anti-Israeli activists that call for the destruction of Israel from entering Israel,” Dayan said.
He said that, as far as he knows, the law has been applied only twice, and that it will not bar critics of the Israeli government from visiting the state.
“I can tell you categorically, this legislation has nothing to do with groups that oppose Israeli policy on the Palestinian issue, that are in favor of a two-state solution, and not even for… individuals that do not buy products of Judea and Samaria,” he said.
Israel has been allowed since 1952 to deny entry to supporters of boycotts, according to Haaretz. The new law, according to Haaretz, makes those bans automatic. Haaretz also reports that the number of visitors turned away by customs officials has skyrocketed in recent years.
Dayan said that he was unfamiliar with new rules that could bar entry to Israel for people who plan to spend the night in Palestinian-controlled portions of the West Bank.
He also defended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to cancel a meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier if the president met the anti-occupation group Breaking The Silence. Dayan argued that meeting with the nongovernmental organization would have been a statement that Israel’s democracy lacks legitimacy.
“Israeli democracy is strong,” he said. Of Breaking The Silence, Dayan said, “It’s really a very problematic organization.”
This story "Dani Dayan Says ‘My Conscience Is Clear’" was written by Josh Nathan-Kazis.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.