Now that settler leader Dani Dayan has been appointed as Israel’s consul general in New York, will Jewish leaders wake up and realize that the Israeli government supports indefinite occupation over freedom for all?
By Yonah Lieberman
In 1963, Bull Connor became an international symbol of racism and white supremacy. A year earlier, as commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, Alabama, he shut down all of the city’s 67 parks and eight public pools, rather than desegregating them as ordered by the court. He soared to notoriety when, the following year, he oversaw legions of police officers as they blasted fire hoses on African American children and set dogs on civil rights protesters.
In contrast with white moderates across the South — who silently supported and upheld systems of segregation — Connor’s support for violence and unabashed disdain for the civil rights movement helped bring an unbearable status quo to the nation’s attention. The resulting backlash galvanized opposition to segregation and led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Now the New York Jewish community has our very own Bull Connor: Dani Dayan.
For 15 years, Dayan was a leader of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization representing the settlements of the West Bank, serving for six of them as chairman. Currently a resident of the settlement of Ma’ale Shomron, he has for years taken his pro-occupation message to the opinion pages of the New York Times, Boston Globe, LA Times, USA Today, and more, and has even flown to Congress to lobby representatives against the two-state solution.
In one piece for the New York Times titled “Israel’s Settlers Are Here to Stay,” Dayan wrote: “We aim to expand the existing Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and create new ones….Our presence in all of Judea and Samaria — not just in the so-called settlement blocs — is an irreversible fact.”
Dayan was never supposed to end up in New York. The Israeli government initially appointed him ambassador to Brazil, but the Brazilian government denied his appointment for months because of its opposition to Israeli policies in the West Bank. Admitting defeat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rescinded Dayan’s appointment this week, announcing that he will be appointed the Israeli consul general in New York instead.
Dayan, the champion of the settler movement, is now headed straight into the epicenter of the American Jewish diaspora.
Martin Luther King Jr. publicly acknowledged that taking the fight to Bull Connor would “create a situation so crisis-packed” that the realities of segregation in the South would be exposed “to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion.”
Months earlier, over 2,000 people were arrested in a campaign led by Dr. King in Albany, Georgia — yet few noticed since the city handled the protests quietly. It was a purposeful choice by Dr. King to go to Birmingham, where he knew Bull Connor’s reaction would be anything but understated.
Through creative, value-based disruption, movements can expose to the public the moral crises that sit just beneath the surface. In 1963, violence against African Americans was a daily occurrence, yet there was no clearer image of Jim Crow South than white police officers hosing down children for standing up for their rights.
This is why — while other activists have called for Israel to send another representative — we should welcome him with open arms. Dayan is bringing a blatantly clear symbol of the occupation right here to New York City.
We welcome his presence as someone who can finally represent the pro-occupation reality of the current Israeli government. A government that has, for years promoted settlement expansion in the West Bank and waged unnecessary wars on Gaza. A government that has, over and over again, publicly disavowed the two-state solution.
Even without our agitation, Dayan’s appointment will place our communal leaders in a bind. Many of them publicly support a two-state solution. Now they will be forced to partner with the most public representative of the pro-settlement movement in Israeli society. Is this the moment when Jewish leaders finally wake up and realize that the current Israeli government supports indefinite occupation over freedom and dignity for all?
If it isn’t, my generation will lead our community forward and confront its continued support of the occupation.
This appointment should be a call to action to all American Jews of conscience. We must agitate through non-violent direct action and show the mainstream what’s really at stake. We must challenge him at every reception at the Federation. At every speech he gives to a synagogue. Every time he is on a panel at a BBYO convention.
If, however, our community accepts Dayan’s presence silently, we will have utterly abandoned our values. Connor’s efforts to defend segregation ultimately crumbled as his brutal tactics activated the moral conscience of our country.
It is up to us to leverage Dayan and challenge the Jewish mainstream to respond to the realities of the occupation — the same way Dr. King leveraged Bull Connor to reveal to the American public the true realities of Jim Crow.
Yonah Lieberman is a Brooklyn-based leader of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation. Follow him on Twitter at @YonahLieberman.