One of Israel’s rising political stars, MK Danny Danon is Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing Likud party. Visiting the United States to promote his newly published book, Israel: The Will to Prevail, published by Palgrave Macmillan, Danon sat down with The Algemeiner to discuss an array of pressing issues. Subjects covered include President Obama’s relationship with Israel, the Iranian nuclear threat and possible steps that Israel might take, and the recent killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in a violent Islamist attack on the country’s U.S. consulate.
Below is the first installment of the interview focused on Israeli-U.S. relations.
AJ: Have you seen the Wall Street Journal today? (Wednesday Sep 12 th)
DD: No, not yet.
AJ: (Showing WSJ editorial entitled, “Obama to Israel: You’re on Your Own”) so what do you think? Is Israel on its own?
DD: I think that we are feeling it recently too, but we were always on our own. The U.S. has never sent troops to the Middle East to support Israel, and I think this time as well we are getting ready to deal with the issue (of a nuclear Iran) by ourselves.
Even if that would not be the case, we see that in Washington the President has decided not to decide. So he’s telling us ‘wait,’ but he’s not telling us until when to wait. He’s telling us to give him some time, but he doesn’t say how much time he wants.
Actually we feel that nothing will change in the U.S. after the election as well. So we have to work according to the timeline of Ahmadinejad and not Washington.
AJ: As a member of the sitting government in Israel, what kind of feedback have you been getting for coming out so vocally against the White House?
DD: I’m not a republican or a democrat, but I am pro-Israel. My approach in public life is to be a straight shooter, to always say what I think. With the disengagement led by Sharon (Editor’s note: Israel’s 2005 unilateral Gaza withdrawal) – I was very close to him until that decision, and then I became a rival.
And also now, I think President Obama was not a friend of Israel in the last three and a half years, and we cannot hide today. I say it in the book and I give examples of the difference not between Obama and Bush. I make the case between Obama and Clinton, and I show that Clinton, who was a democrat, had his own agenda, but he tried to mediate between us and the Palestinians. He was a mediator. And Obama tried to dictate; he was a dictator. He actually came and said, ‘That’s what you should do. That’s the solution.’ It doesn’t work that way.
AJ: What do you think about the way that Netanyahu is handling the relationship with Obama?
DD: I think he’s doing an excellent job, and I think Prime Minister Netanyahu understands the American political game very well. He knows what to do and how to do it, and I feel that he’s basically standing on guard and making sure that the interest of Israel will be kept.
AJ: The main headline of the Wall Street Journal today is: “Israel Blasts U.S. Over Iran”. So is there any more that you would do if you were in Netanyahu’s shoes, or do you feel that he’s doing the best he can, given the circumstances?
DD: Well, if I were the Prime Minister and I would have come here in two weeks’ time, I would speak to the American people and explain to them that this threat can’t go on; it’s a threat to the American people. If President Obama does not want to hear the opinion of Prime Minister Netanyahu in a closed room, I think Netanyahu should speak out and use the media and send a message to the American people.
AJ: There are some on the left that are claiming that Netanyahu is deliberately creating this rift now and speaking out against Obama, because it will help Romney in the election. Do you think there’s any truth to this?
DD: No, we do not interfere in American politics. As I told you, I am not democrat or republican. On the other hand, maybe some people want us to be quiet now and maybe to lie, and not do anything. If somebody would ask me today, ‘what is your opinion regarding President Obama?’ I will not answer him based on what he is doing with the economy or with the job situation; that’s not my business. But if I am asked regarding Israel, I will say that President Obama made mistakes. He changed the policy of the U.S. He condemned building in Jerusalem. He forced us to enact a settlement freeze. He spoke about going back to the ’67 lines, dividing Jerusalem. All those things are new; they were not said or done at the time of Clinton and Bush, so I’m not happy about it. I will not hide this today because we have elections.
AJ: Did you see the video of the DNC convention two weeks ago, where they reinserted mention of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?
DD: I saw that, yes.
AJ: What did you think?
DD: Embarrassing moment and I think it was a mistake to even touch this issue, but it is a continuation of the policy. President Obama said what he thinks about Jerusalem. We know what he thinks. He thinks we should compromise on Jerusalem.
AJ: You think President Obama knew about the changes to the DNC platform?
DD: I don’t know. Listen, in America everything is so organized, that usually those things are well-planned in advance. I saw the mess at the convention, and they tried to fix it. I don’t know if he knew or didn’t know, but even if he did not know about it, I think that the people who did it thought that they were serving him. And that’s bad, because they are thinking that this is the policy today.
It’s symbolic, like yesterday regarding the meeting with the Prime Minister (Editor’s note: President Obama recently declined to meet with Netanyahu during his upcoming visit to the U.S.) I’m not his advisor, but in a crisis, and there’s a lot of tension on the issue of Iran, when your closest ally in the Middle East comes and wants to meet you, you should tell him, ‘Come to Washington for one hour and I will meet you.’
When I meet with people who really want to meet me and I don’t have time, I tell them come next to my house at 7:00 a.m. in the morning. I will get up before my kids go to school and sit with you. So you can find time, even if you’re in the midst of a campaign. I think it was a mistake. The fact that he didn’t pay a visit to Israel was also a mistake. He went to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey; he was in the region. Stop for two hours and say hello to Jerusalem. I don’t know what the reasoning is behind it, but if you put all of it together, the picture that you get is not a good one.
AJ: Do you think the meeting (between Netanyahu and Obama) will end up happening?
DD: I think eventually it will happen, if I had to bet on it. Politically analyzing it, for him (Obama) to deal with the issue in the next few weeks about whether he met or didn’t meet him. He’ll meet him, maybe with no cameras, and move on.
AJ: When you’re here visiting the United States and you’re speaking to different media outlets and T.V. stations promoting your book, do you get any criticism from the Prime Minister, or others in Israel saying, ‘You know, it doesn’t look good if the deputy speaker of the Knesset is saying this about Obama or that about Iran. Try to tone it down.’ Or are they happy for you to come and say whatever is on your mind?
DD: First of all, I make it clear that this is my personal opinion. I wrote the book. I did not send it to Prime Minister Netanyahu to edit. Many people read the book and edited it, but no one from the prime minister’s office. When I gave the book to the prime minister, it was a done deal. Many items in the book show that I’m not working for the prime minister – for example, the disengagement and other issues.
I think that overall, people appreciate that I understand them. I feel the value of working with the American people.