BRASÍLIA, Brazil – Nearly eight months after Dani Dayan was named Israel’s next Ambassador to Brazil, the position will now go to someone after Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff held out her refusal to give Dayan diplomatic credentials given his link to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
In December, Dr. Reda Mansour, the Israeli Ambassador to Brazil, vacated his position as planned but with Dayan never having been approved by the government in Brasília, the spot has remained vacant and has been a source of bilateral conflict.
Finally, the issue was resolved this week when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abandoned his plan to place Dayan as his government’s maximum representative in Brazil. Instead, according to Netanyahu, Dayan has now been placed as the Consul General of Israel in New York City.
While the Brazilian government gave no official comment on the development, it is certain they are satisfied with the outcome. Dayan himself, on the other hand, spoke in a petulant way about the event: “I am sure that we had no choice in changing our stance, and those that did not want me in Brasília have now placed me in the capital of the world, and for me, this is a victory,” he said.
In referencing “those” that did not want him in the Brazilian capital, Dayan spoke of not only the Brazilian government but other institutions and figures, both in South America and in Israel. Several left-wing Israeli politicians (and former ambassadors) levied criticism at Dayan and urged Netanyahu to replace him with another diplomat while the Israeli segment of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) also rejected Dayan’s appointment.
Going a step further, Dayan even said that “just when Prime Minister Netanyahu offered” him the position in Brazil, he was actually “just about to ask to be assigned to the position of Consul General in New York,” the position in which he is now.
Despite his upbeat words (and the positivity of certain Israeli figures who hailed the “determination” of Netanyahu in naming the ambassador), the change in attitude is quite noticeable when compared to statements made by Dayan and the Israeli Foreign Ministry throughout the ongoing issue.
Just in December, Tzipi Hotovely, the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, warned that Israel would “leave the level of diplomatic relations with Brazil at the secondary level” if Rousseff’s government did not confirm the diplomatic spot of Dayan. Furthermore, she insisted that Israel would not back down on its appointment and has no alternate nominee.
Dayan himself then insisted to Tel Aviv-based daily Haaretz that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not pressuring its Brazilian counterpart enough to accept him. Instead, according to Dayan, the government has adopted a “policy of wait-and-see.” Dayan said he feared a precedent being set in which a settler cannot assume a role like ambassador.
Simultaneously, Dayan said that taking up the appointment or not is all the same to him: “If I have to pay a price, at least it is for living in accordance with my beliefs. I will sleep very well at night, even if it is in Ma’aleh Shomron (West Bank settlement) and not at the Ambassador’s residence in Brasília,” he was quoted in Haaretz.
Hotovely, who insisted that Israel would not back down on the Dayan appointment, was defiant even as Israel did, indeed, back down: “The naming of Dani Dayan as the new Consul General of Israel in New York City is an important message to the world that says that Israel supports Dayan as a worthy and loyal representative of the State of Israel.”
The issue at the heart of the diplomatic dispute was Dayan’s background as the politician, part of the influential (and unabashedly Zionist) Dayan family, has served as the most visible figure in the promotion of the continued building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Dayan moved with his family when he was 15 from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Tel Aviv where he attended school and served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for over seven years as a Major in the Mamram, the IDF’s main data processing and computing unit. He then established Elad Systems, a business dealing with software and information technology.
He attempted to enter politics through the 1988 and 1992 elections with the right-wing Tehiya party but both attempts to win a seat in the Knesset, the unicameral national assembly, were unsuccessful. He then returned to his business but maintained political links as a member of the Executive Committee of the YESHA Council from 1999 until 2007 when he was elected the organization’s chairman. Two years prior to becoming chairman, he sold his shares in Elad Systems in order to fully focus on politics.
The YESHA Council, according to its website, is “the umbrella governing organization of the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria.” The historical names refer to the Israeli description of the West Bank, and they are rooted in the ancient Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) and Kingdom of Judah (Judea); Judea is the area of the West Bank south of Jerusalem while Samaria is the area north of the city.
Since Israel began occupying the region after taking it from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, during which a distant relative of Dayan’s named Moshe Dayan was the Israeli Defense Minister, Israel has referred to the West Bank by the name of “Judea and Samaria,” first only by nationalists but also by the Israeli government later as a way to describe the geographic region considered to be the Jewish Biblical homeland.
Accordingly, the YESHA Council and Dayan have a clear stance on the area. “You may have heard the term ‘West Bank.’ Well, Judea and Samaria is the original name of the same geographic area that is approximately 5,500 km2 (3,438 m2) or 21% of Israel,” the YESHA Council writes on its website. Furthermore, it explains that there are “more than 150 individual Israeli communities and 383,000 residents in Judea and Samaria” and that it “acts as the political representative of the settlers both within Israel and internationally.”
As the head of the YESHA Council from 2007 until 2013, Dani Dayan acts now as its “Chief International Envoy” (a position he created) and is “the most prominent advocate for the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.” The page on the YESHA Council’s website dedicated to Dayan describes him as a “staunch opponent of the two-state formula” whose “stance on Israeli settlements is clear” in that they are “here to stay” and “any future peace agreement will have to take that reality into account.”
Dayan himself is a resident of the West Bank; more specifically, he lives with his family in the community settlement of Ma’ale Shomron (as he mentioned to Haaretz), which is located approximately 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of the defacto border between Israel and the West Bank and is populated by over 150 Jewish families.
During his tenure as the chairman of the YESHA Council, Dayan said that the “number of Israelis residing there grew by 35 percent” and that the “Palestinian State today is farther than ever from reality” in a January 2015 interview with online news outlet Times of Israel.
“I am convinced that at some point in my tenure as chairman, the settlement in Judea and Samaria became irreversible,” the ‘Foreign Minister of the Settlers,’ as Dayan is known, said in the same interview where he reiterated his staunch opposition to Palestinian Statehood and a two-state solution.
The international issue with the settlements, Dayan’s centerpiece and primary focus, is that they are built on lands that were taken by Israel during the 1967 conflict: the West Bank (from Jordan), the Golan Heights (in the northeast, from Syria) and East Jerusalem (also from Jordan). In the past, settlements were also erected in the Gaza Strip and Sinai, but the two regions saw the settlements dismantled and the residents resettled as part of accords with Palestinians and Egyptians, respectively.
As such, the settlements that remain are on territory that is, according to the United Nations, occupied by Israel and this makes the settlements illegal, and this view is held by many other international institutions in addition to the UN and by many governments, including Brazil and allies of Israel like the United States and the European Union.
Dayan has been known for his convictions in Israel but after another failed bid for a seat in the Knesset on behalf of the far-right Jewish Home party earlier this year, he was then named to the diplomatic position to Brazil by Netanyahu.
Within days, Brazilian politicians and organizations protested Dayan’s nomination due to his visible position on the peace process and the settlements given that Brazil finds them illegal (as does almost every other nation) and urged Rousseff to reject the Israeli’s government’s ambassadorial position, and domestic figures soon followed suit to start the nearly-eight month diplomatic standoff.
As of now, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has not said whether they will name a new person to the position or whether the Israeli Embassy in Brasília will continue functioning under the watch of secondary functionaries as a form of protest against the Brazilian government’s decision.
Despite the victorious tone emitted by Israeli government officials and Dayan concerning the turn-of-course, Israel certainly made the decision with an eye on the future.
Israel has been (and still is) seeking to establish closer economic relationships with Latin America and a diplomatic spat with the region’s biggest country (and biggest economy), one with whom they share important trade links mostly in the security and weapons sectors, would put a major crimp in those plans.
Despite the important and growing trade links, bilateral relations between Brazil and Israel have been strained on a political level in recent years.
In 2010, Brazil recognized the State of Palestine and in August of 2014, Brazil recalled their Ambassador to Israel due to what they deemed the “disproportionate force” used by the Israel Defense Forces’ military operations in the Gaza Strip. In response to the ambassadorial recall, then-Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor labeled Brazil an “economic and cultural giant but a diplomatic dwarf.”