Profile of MK Danny Danon, Israel’s Rising Star of the Right

PNN – Palestine News Network –  01.08.11 – 11:06

Jack Weston/AIC- A key promoter in Israel’s recently passed anti-BDS and other anti-democratic legislation, Knesset Member Danny Danon is a rising star of the Likud party. Jack Weston profiles the man who some say wishes to be prime minister of Israel.

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MK Danny Danon

A joint proposal by Israeli Knesset Members Danny Danon (Likud) and Faina Kirschenbaum (Yisrael Beitenu) to investigate funding and land purchases by leftist organizations was rejected by Israel’s Knesset on 20 July. After government crackdowns on activists involved in the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign, and the recent passing of anti-boycott legislation in the Knesset, this is a small victory for the left. MK Danon and MK Kirschenbaum’s move to probe left-wing organizations is over for now, but their message is clear. “These are political organizations outside the consensus,” Danon said. And to him, this is unacceptable: “Funding from the EU for [left-wing] organizations that fight against Israel, it is something we should stop. I think they are not part of the system.”

Danon was born in Ramat Gan and now lives with his wife and three children in Moshav Mishmeret. Chairman of the Immigration Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Danon expresses a strong will to preserve Israel as a democratic state. Recent remarks, however, tell a different story however: “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.”

Political speech is one limit Danon seems to be referring to. In a recent interview, Danon asserts that leftist opposition to the recently passed anti-boycott legislation, deemed undemocratic by many, is hypocritical. As the democratically chosen representative of the Israeli people, Danon said, Likud has the right to pass this law, which bans public advocacy for “a boycott against the state of Israel[1].”

With a promising career, Danon, who received a B.A. in International Relations at Florida International University, and a M.A. in Public Policy and Public Administration from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is a competitive Likud member. Towing the party line, while also making a name for himself through criticism of PM Netanyahu, has allowed Danon to stand out amongst the ranks. His fierce opposition to settlement construction freezes in 2010 gave him the platform to launch a huge campaign criticising Netanyahu for soft policy, and the Obama administration for “racism,” even appearing across the pond on New York’s 770 WABC radio.

Solidifying his strong-willed patriotic character, Danon adopts an aggressively “pro-Israel” stance on the Palestinian question, rejecting a two-state solution and believing there can be no peace between two states based on 1967 lines. Danon’s vision is to annex “Judea and Sumaria,” giving Israel “maximum control over the land and minimum [civil] control of the Palestinian people.” Marking the Palestinian Authority’s move for UN membership this September as an opportune time to do so, Danon contends that annexation would give Israel security, allow for consolidation of the Palestinian population and fulfill the “Jewish right to control the land of Israel”.

Danon is an ambitious MK who has run for party leader, and rumors have spread that he may aspire to become Prime Minister. Active in Knesset lobbies advantageous to thriving in the Likud party, Danon is the chairman of three lobbies including the Lobby for Widows and Orphans of the Israeli army, and the Lobby for Promotion of Zionist Values. He is also a member of the Lobby for Strengthening the Periphery and the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus.

But Danon is a new breed of Israeli politician; a man whose political identity does not end with a fierce loyalty to his party, its restrictions on democratic dialogue and enthusiastic nationalism. Emerging as a key political player, he gains support through the crafting of an individual political image characteristic of American politicians, who run individually and create a personal following. In Israel, where parties, not individuals, are voted into office, this is an evolving new phenomenon.

Danon uses political strategies involving a high level of social media to create this following. Epitomized in his personal website, anyone with internet access can get to know what Danny Danon is all about. Dannydanon.com contains a comprehensive overview of Danon’s life, of the Likud manifesto, and creates a narrative of his personal work life chronicled in a news section. Danon is now even accessible by mobile device through his active Twitter account, in English and Hebrew, and his personal downloadable mobile app, allowing citizens to follow him daily.

With this social media network in place, Danon gives his politics a new dimension, deeply involving the electorate. In 2010, Danon spearheaded the Virtual Hourglass Campaign, when he installed a virtual hourglass on his website that counted down the hours until the aforementioned settlement construction freeze ended. “This is a reminder to Prime Minister Netanyahu that we are counting down the days and hours until the end of this mistaken building freeze…The prime minister promised the members of the Likud Party that on the 26th of September we will resume building in these important communities. We are eagerly awaiting that day.” The hourglass was available for download to computers and cell phones to be used as a screensaver, and appeared on several news sites. With this PR move, a solidarity with settlers and the Israeli right was created on an interactive level that Netanyahu could not provide. Danon was able to retain his Likud identity, simultaneously isolating himself in a positive limelight.

Danon drew attention again this month when he invited Glenn Beck to address the Knesset Aliyah and Absorption Committee. Danon introduced Beck expressing admiration for Beck’s “unconditional support of Israel.” He added, “I wish we had more Glenn Becks today…We need more people like you who are not afraid to speak out for the people of Israel, for the cause, and I think by working together, Jews and Christians alike, that is the way to overcome tasks and obstacles.”

Glenn Beck’s invitation to the Knesset is telling. Danon reached beyond the diplomatic scope, actively involving himself with a non-governmental media figure, developing a new social dimension within his political image that enclosed a personal connection with his audience. As he put it when discussing Glenn Beck’s visit, “there is a big difference between the White House and the American people, and we are trying to speak directly to the American people.”

But where is this all headed? In the Israeli political system, is it relevant to have a personal following, a unique political image that transcends the political field into the social sphere? In a political culture that idolizes figureheads and specific candidates, party platforms become less relevant in elections; the electorate becomes more attached to vague political convictions and the personality of the candidate, than platform issues; Sarah Palin comes to mind. Danon’s media savvy and honest presentation of opinion, develop his image in a way that thrives in such an environment. While Israeli politicians must pander to the public in the present, the status quo could be superseded by a media-frenzied approach if the political climate evolves as Danon is. Danon is a contender in the Knesset. He might be a “backbencher” for now, but this may very well be a matter of time.

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