By Sheldon Goldberg, PhD
“In the Lion’s Den” is a day-by-day, autobiography of the author’s five-year tour as Israel’s 17th Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) and his life. Danon, an ardent Zionist and Likud member previously served as a member of the Knesset from the Likud Party, as Minister of Science, Technology and Space, and as Deputy Minister of Defense. In June 2016, Danon was elected as chair of the UN Legal Committee, the first Israeli to ever hold the chairmanship of any UN committee.
This book, Danon’s second, appears to have been motivated by the surprise abstention by the United States in December of 2016 during the vote on UN Resolution 2334, condemning Israeli settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem. It was a vote, unprecedented in the history of US-Israeli relations, and one Danon said he would never forget. As a result, “In the Lion’s Den” is more a primer on what is required of an Israeli Permanent Representative to the unfriendly United Nations in order to be successful.
The above notwithstanding, the first of the nine chapters in this book, entitled “Why a Strong Israel Matters,” is biographical and revolves around Danon’s close relationship with his father and the strengths and traits he drew from him and his other hero, Menachem Begin. In so doing, Danon lays out his vision of Israel and the seven key principles he followed to help Israel achieve its foreign policy goals. The remaining chapters illustrate positions Israel must adhere to, by citing Winston Churchill’s 1941 speech to Harrow School that included the admonition to “…never give up in…nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” In this vein, Danon writes about remaining optimistic in the hostile UN environment and demonstrating to all that what is good for Israel is good for the world.
A good part of the second chapter is devoted to the history of UN Resolution 2334. Danon discusses the speech he prepared for the debate prior to the vote and the several attempts he and Prime Minister Netanyahu made to delay or stop the vote. Never one to mince words, his speech was a rapprochement to the U.S., and Danon relates how he went on to attack the U.S. publicly for its “shameful and cowardly behavior” and the confrontational way Secretary of State Kerry defended the abstention. Less than a year later, when the Trump administration moved its embassy to Jerusalem, Danon describes his close relationship with the new U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.
The titles of each of the following chapters are essentially a sign telling the reader where the author is going and how he dealt with the issues he discusses. For example, in chapter three, “Never Hide – Never Apologize,” Danon addresses the need to directly confront critics, especially hypocrites who accuse Israel of excessive use of force when defending itself against terrorist attacks by citing examples of how others, even democratic countries, react to internal upheavals. He described his first speech in the UN, clearly stating that unprovoked attacks against innocent civilians are not part of a “cycle of violence,” but the result of a culture of hate taught to Palestinians by their leaders and in Palestinian youth who are indoctrinated to hate Jews as opposed to learning math and reading. He quoted Nelson Mandela who said “No one is born hating another person…. People must learn to hate.”
Again, in chapter four, “Open Doors – Open Minds,” he stresses the role of diplomacy and the need to make friends so that they will understand one’s concerns and be sympathetic to one’s goals. Sovereignty aside, he reminds us that every nation needs friends and that the true test of friendship comes in times of crisis. In many respects, Danon’s book is a modest praise of his successes, but he does not ignore his failures. Obviously, the vote against the settlements was a major failure, but that most likely was the result of the bad relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. A second failure was his inability to marshal enough UN members to prevent the vote against U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That said, there were many successes, including his election as Chairman of the UN Legal Committee, having the cafeteria bring in Kosher food, and making Yom Kippur an official UN holiday.
Another significant success was his initiation of trips to Israel for UN ambassadors, ironically helped by the Palestinian representative’s writing complaint letters to the capitals of those ambassadors who took the trips – letters not appreciated by the ambassadors. The trips did not stop but increased as a result.
Throughout Danon’s narrative, he provides interesting insights to the workings of the UN, the role of UN ambassadors, and the difficulties of working with some countries.
In the last few chapters, Danon sets out the things Israel can offer to the world including agriculture, technology, aviation, pharmaceuticals, etc. His concluding chapter deals with the wave of antisemitism that has swept the world and asks what can be done about it as well as the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement? He closes with his view of the peace process as it relates to the changing dynamics of the region since the 1990s, cautioning that what may have worked then, will not work now.
“In the Lion’s Den” is a well written, readable book. It provides insights on the issues facing Israel in the UN and how Danon faced them and resolved them to the best of his ability, relying on certain principles outlined above and, above all, keeping “Judaism on the front page.”
Volume 76. Number 4. 2022