Dani Dayan takes office Aug. 1 as Israel’s new consul general in New York, where he will be in charge of outreach to the largest Jewish community outside Israel at a time of disagreements over Mideast peace and Jewish pluralism.
Dayan’s appointment was a personal victory for him, after his previous appointment as ambassador to Brazil was scuttled earlier this year, apparently because of Brazil’s opposition to his ties to the Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron.
Dayan, a personable and soft-spoken former high-tech businessman, downplayed the blowup with Brazil, saying he only accepted the appointment under pressure from Netanyahu, while the New York post was always his first choice.
“I want to be at the forefront of Israel’s diplomacy, and the forefront of Israel’s diplomacy is New York,” Dayan told The Associated Press.
Dayan will be responsible for a five-state territory that is home to some 40 percent of the American Jewish population of 6.8 million. New York and New Jersey alone have more than 2.2 million Jews.
Dayan will find communities that may have a strong affinity for Israel but also strongly disagree with his government’s policies, particularly the younger generation.
Peter Beinart, a prominent liberal commentator, predicted Dayan will be welcomed by the mainstream American Jewish leadership and socially conservative Orthodox Jews.
But “for progressive Jews, he’ll be just one more reason to feel alienated from a government they already consider morally alien,” Beinart said.
Dayan said he welcomes the opportunity to discuss the rifts. He said he plans to spend a “hugely disproportionate slot” of time meeting with Israel’s supporters disenchanted with Netanyahu’s policies.
“I don’t come to New York to preach to the choir,” Dayan said. “I definitely intend to engage.”
A 2013 Pew Research Center poll found widespread skepticism among American Jews about Israel’s commitment to peace with the Palestinians and strong opposition to construction in Yehudah and Shomron.
Dayan said his past work as head of the Yesha Council and his personal opposition to a Palestinian state are irrelevant. He said his job in New York is to represent all Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike, maintain bipartisan support for Israel and represent his government’s policies — not his personal opinions.
That means defending Netanyahu’s stated commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians and resolving the prayer issue at the Kosel, which has been an issue for Reform and Conservative leaders.
The 60-year-old Dayan said his diverse background and record as a bridge-builder will serve him well. Born in Argentina, he immigrated to Israel as a teenager in 1971. A native Spanish speaker, he says he will use his language skills to reach out to American Hispanics.
In his youth, Dayan served seven years in an Israeli military computer unit and then founded an information technology company that grew to 600 employees before he sold his interest in 2005. He subsequently led the Yesha Council. He lives in Maalei Shomron, northeast of Tel Aviv.
The only groups he plans on avoiding are those who reject Israel’s right to exist.
“Those are fanatics. There’s no point in engaging them,” he said. “I am a deep believer in putting even the delicate issues on the table as long as we do it in a dignified way, in a way that does not insult.”