Danny Danon is a Likud MK, and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. He is the chairman of World Likud and has spoken out against a two-state solution. Here, he discusses Iran, a new diplomatic direction, and Israel's demographic threat.
This is the fourth in a series of conversations with Israeli politicians ahead of the January elections. Previous conversations can be found here (Nitzan Horowitz), here (Meir Sheetrit) and here (Naftali Bennett).
What is the main topic or theme of the upcoming elections? Is it Iran? The peace process? The economy? What do you think is the real worry of the Israeli public today?
There is no doubt that the in terms of the election themselves, the threat of a nuclear armed Iran and the tumultuous global economic situation are at the forefront of the Israeli voters’ minds. I believe that the Likud party, guided by the steady hand of Prime Minister Netanyahu, has proven over the past four years that we have the policies and the collective temperament to best deal with these two issues.
In terms of the “peace process,” I believe that it is clear to the vast majority of Israelis today that unfortunately no partner exists amongst the Palestinians for us to sit with and negotiate a genuine peace. The difference between the Likud and our political rivals is that while they naively continue to push the failed policies of the past, we have a clear vision for managing our relationship with the Palestinians in a way that will help them continue to improve their quality of life while not comprising one bit on our very real security needs. This is what we have done successfully the past term, and this is what we hope to continue for the next four years.
If you are asking me about what will be one of the top issues after the election, then in addition to Iran and the economy I think that we have to put the issue of people illegally entering Israel to live here from Africa and other countries at the top of the list. We often speak of the demographic threat to Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state from the Palestinian issue, but the numbers of illegal residents from Africa are much more problematic. This government has made vast improvements in terms of stemming the tide of those crossing our borders illegally, but we still need to figure out a viable plan for dealing with the infiltrators who are already here in our streets. I believe that in the next government we will need to face this issue head on and make some tough decisions.
In this context, what is the markedly unique message that your party has to offer to the public?
I think that what has personally guided me over these past four years and must guide the Likud going forward can be encompassed in one word: “loyalty.” We are pledging to be loyal to the Land of Israel, loyal to the heritage of the Jewish people, and loyal to the economic and social principles of free market policies coupled with a genuine caring for the less fortunate in society articulated so beautifully by Zev Jabotinsky, the visionary on whose ideals our Likud movement was founded many decades ago.
What would be the best coalition for Israel after the election, and do you think your party should consider joining a coalition headed by someone other than Benjamin Netanyahu, such as Shelly Yacimovich or Tzipi Livni?
Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Likud will assemble the next government. In terms of our potential partners, let me put it this way – we welcome the chance sit with any of the Zionistic parties that are willing to sign on to the basic guiding principles that I have articulated in this conversation.
What we don't want, however, is a situation like we often had in the current government where individual ministers like Ehud Barak attempted to impose their own agendas on crucial policy issues. I plan on working very hard until Election Day to ensure a large representation for the Likud in the next Knesset so that we don’t need to be at the mercy of coalition partners who will lead us astray from the will of the citizens who voted us into office.
What kind of relationship would you expect the next prime minister to have with President Obama? How would you improve U.S.-Israel relations during President Obama's second term?
I often to travel to the US to meet and share ideas with all sorts of Americans. I am proud to say that I have seen first-hand that we have an excellent relationship with the American people and their representatives in both houses of Congress. As can be expected when taking into account the sometimes different interests of our two countries, we did not always see eye to eye on all issues with the Obama administration. I believe that after our elections, when both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are reelected we will see an improvement here as well. With such important issues before us such as Iran, I am confident that these leaders will know how to work together for the sake of a safer and freer world.
Do you think American Jews should take sides in Israeli elections, or just support the winning coalition after the event? If you do think American Jewry should have a voice, what kind of involvement and support do you have in mind?
Unlike any other nation in the world, Israel belongs both to its citizens who live here, pay taxes, send their children into the IDF — but also belongs to every Jew throughout the world. There is obviously a very fine line here that must be balanced. On one hand, obviously only those who chose to live here can actually vote and make the final decisions about the direction our country takes. On the other hand, no one can doubt the unbreakable bond that the Jewish people have to this land and their interest and concern for what goes on here should only be encouraged. I think that as a whole, this balance is respected by most American Jews.
Where we can improve the relationship is in areas that are of mutual concern to both our communities. When it comes to issues such as fighting anti-Semitism and the BDS movements around the world, I think that American Jewish community most definitely can help lead this fight together with Israel. Similarly, on the question of the Jewish character of the State of Israel and the many implications that arise from this issue, American Jewry should most definitely have a seat at the table in shaping the policies that affect all of the Jewish people.