Israeli settler turned diplomat to take new post in New York

Dayan takes office Aug. 1 as Israel’s new consul general in New York, overseeing Israel’s biggest diplomatic mission

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For years, Dani Dayan was the West Bank settler movement’s face to the outside world. Next week, he’ll become the face of Israel to much of North America.

Dayan takes office Aug. 1 as Israel’s new consul general in New York, overseeing his country’s biggest diplomatic mission and serving as its representative to the world’s financial and cultural capital.

He will also 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 reflects the settler movement’s strong influence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

“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.

“Most Jews are liberal, many are highly liberal,” said Steven M. Cohen, an expert on the American Jewish community at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “Those who are - generally younger, non-Orthodox, highly educated and US-born - are likely to care little about Israel and care even less for the policies extolled ... by Israel’s new consul general.”

Dayan said his past work as head of the Yesha settlement 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 Jerusalem prayer issue.

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 before he sold his interest in 2005. He subsequently led the Yesha settlers’ council. He lives in Maalei Shomron, a settlement 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.”

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