Former settler leader Dani Dayan got off to a bad start as Israel’s newly named consul general to New York. And in a series of tweets, he made things worse. The day before he got the official nod for the New York job, Dayan appeared on Israeli TV and made some undiplomatic remarks about J Street, the liberal pro-Israel American group: “I prefer the attitude of AIPAC to that of J Street that endorses all the anti-Israel candidates — the more anti-Israel you are, the more you are endorsed by J Street. That’s un-Jewish,” he said during the interview, which had been taped several days earlier.
We expect diplomats to be “diplomatic,” even when discussing sensitive issues. And regardless of his personal views regarding J Street and other “hot topics” related to the Middle East, it will be to Israel’s detriment if Dayan continues to offer shoot-from-the-hip opinions while serving as an Israeli envoy. Thus, for example, while Dayan’s personal political views may be representative of some quarters of the Israeli leadership, his diplomatic job is to represent the State of Israel, and will take a bit more finesse.
Dayan may actually agree. In one tweet following reactions to his interview, Dayan called his words “somewhat undiplomatic.” In another, he wrote, “I never called @jstreetdotorg ‘un-Jewish’ but only a specific action it took. Nevertheless, it was wrong.”
If that was an apology, it was a step in the right direction. And perhaps it will make Dayan rethink his view about what is and isn’t “Jewish,” particularly when he addresses that issue as a diplomat. This is bound to come up in discussion of his position on a possible two-state solution: Dayan favors annexing the West Bank and is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. The maintenance of that view will test Dayan’s diplomatic skills with a large segment of the American Jewish community with whom he is supposed to interact.
Dayan was lucky to get the New York post. Last August, he was tapped to serve as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil, but the Brazilian government was not willing to accept his credentials, signaling official rejection of his settler past. The appointment to the New York consul position ended the months-long standoff.
While we disagreed with Brazil’s heavy-handed approach — particularly since many communities now considered “settlements” are destined to be incorporated into Israel proper, so residence there should not be a disqualifying condition for a diplomat — the saga points to another problem: Israel has no foreign minister. As a result, some have observed that Israeli diplomacy is not quite as focused and as careful as it should be. That shortcoming can be seen in the blunt way Israel handles friendly critics, let alone the unfriendly ones. If Dayan’s tenure follows that course, the Israeli-American relationship could suffer. We don’t need that.