Far-right Israeli ambassador Danny Danon, who calls African refugees a “plague” of “infiltrators,” faces protests
(A modified version of this article is published in AlterNet.)
Hundreds of students gathered in the streets of New York City on February 13 to protest a speech at Columbia University by an extreme, far-right Israeli politician.
Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, is notorious for his overtly racist remarks and support for hard-line policies that blatantly violate international law. In a 2012 hate rally against migrants, which inspired a riot and violent attacks, Danon demonized African refugees as “a national plague” and insisted “the State of Israel is engaged in a war against an enemy state composed of infiltrators.”
The extreme Israeli politician was invited to speak at Columbia University on February 13 by the local chapter of the national organization Students Supporting Israel. The event was met with large demonstrations from progressive student groups, which described the Israeli ambassador as “Donald Trump on steroids.”
Danon is even further to the right of Israel’s hyper-conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has expressed hope that a prominent Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament is imprisoned, and proposed that Palestinian citizens of Israel have to declare a “loyalty” oath.
Described by an Israeli lawmaker as “a right-wing extremist with the diplomatic sensitivity of a pit bull,” Danon has also publicly called for Israel to officially annex Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, in flagrant contravention of international law, and even spearheaded an initiative in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) to authorize just that.
“Danny Danon is Donald Trump on steroids, and no government has been more glowing than Israel’s in its praise for Donald Trump,” said Columbia University Apartheid Divest in a statement to AlterNet.
Columbia University Apartheid Divest, a coalition group that consists of the school’s branches of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, organized the demonstration. The protest was also co-sponsored by other progressive student organizations.
“In dangerous times – with Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and white supremacy on the rise – we want to highlight Israel’s role as a model for the global far-right,” Columbia University Apartheid Divest continued. “From border walls to Muslim bans, Israel is a pioneer in state racism.”
“It is crucial that we protest Danon just as we would protest Trump,” the group added. “We have mobilized against the politics of hate in America, and that battle is an international one.”
During his campaign, Trump cited Israel’s separation wall as a model for what he wants on the U.S.-Mexico border. The barrier, which peace activists refer to as an apartheid wall, is illegal under international law.
The Trump administration has shown unflinching support for the Israeli government, despite its incessant violations of international law.
Students Supporting Israel calls itself a grassroots organization, but its activities are bankrolled by the Milstein Family Foundation. The foundation’s president, Adam Milstein, is an Israeli real estate tycoon, and it funds a vast array of leading pro-Israel organizations in the U.S.
Students Supporting Israel chapters at Columbia and other campuses around the country devote themselves to opposing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, a global campaign to use peaceful economic mechanisms to pressure Israel to abide by international law and respect Palestinian human rights.
Jeff Jacobs, a PhD candidate in political science and long-time organizer with Student for Justice in Palestine, stressed to AlterNet that the protest highlighted “the linkages between the growth of racism and white supremacy in the wake of Trump and the concomitant growth in the confidence of Israel’s settlement regime and demonization of Palestinians.”
Yasmeen Abdel Majeed, a Palestinian American student at Columbia, remarked, “It was absolutely unacceptable for the university to allow Danon to speak on campus.” She warned that inviting the extremist “to give a speech at the university normalizes racism,” adding, “It is particularly important to disrupt ‘respectable racism.'”
In his speech, Danon declared, in opposition to international law, that “Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel.” His remarks were met with cheers from the audience. Abdel Majeed responded, “We all know very well that this is a euphemism for the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem that is currently taking place.”
She noted that Danon “pathologized” Palestinians in a “racist way,” and emphasized, “Protesting Danon was important because we need to call racists racists.”
Danon frequently associates himself with far-right Zionist leaders Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin. In a campaign video from when he ran against Netanyahu for leadership of the staunch right-wing Likud Party, Danon depicted elected lawmaker Hanin Zoabi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, as a violent Islamist militant and implied he would throw her out of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and imprison her. In 2008, Danon likewise petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court, trying to get it to rescind the citizenship of Palestinian former member of Knesset Azmi Bishara.
In 2010, the Israeli military attacked a civilian ship from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which was led by human rights activists hoping to bring humanitarian aid and construction materials to Gaza, which has for a decade been under an Israeli blockade United Nations experts said it illegal. Israel killed nine activists in the attack, in international waters. In response to widespread international condemnation, Danon lamented that only nine activists had been killed, and wished the Israeli military had acted “with a much larger show of force” and destroyed the boat.
Organizers pointed out that Danon’s speech at Columbia came just weeks after the UN Security Council voted to condemn illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Since November 1967, the UN has made it absolutely clear that those settlements violate international law, and even the U.S. government has reiterated this.
Israel’s current government is the most right-wing in its 70-year history. Many of its leading officials, like Danon, refer to African refugees as “infiltrators.” Some even go so far as to liken African asylum-seekers to cancer.
When he completes his present term, hard-line right-wing Prime Minister Netanyahu will have been the longest serving head of state in the history of Israel.