Meet the Knesset #1: MK Danny Danon
Meet the Knesset is a new Israel National News feature dedicated to bringing you Israel's leaders in their own words on the issues Israel faces today.
INN's Gavriel Queenan: Danny Danon is a member of the Likud party's faction in the 18th Knesset. He has a BA in International Relations from FIU, a Master's in Public Policy and Public Relations from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he also studied law. He served as a Lieutenant in the IDF. He is currently the Chairman for the Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs, as well as the Chairman for the Subcommittee for Banking Services for Households, and Small and Medium Sized Enterprises.
MK Danon, Shalom.
A: Shalom, Shalom.
Q: You were recently tapped to head up the Committee on Hostile Land Purchases. What's the underlying problem your committee is trying to address?
A: We are trying to find and reveal the links between foreign governments and purchasing land in Israel. We've heard a lot of stories about Arab funds coming into Israel via NGOs in order to purchase land in the Galilee, in the Negev. And we are also checking the involvement of foreign governments in our internal political systems. We know that millions of dollars are being transferred to NGOs which are active politically. Organizations like B'tzelem, Shovrim Shtika. Also organizations that are trying to delegitimize Israel and who did so by sending materials to the Goldstone Report, as well as other people who want to hurt Israel.
Q: How pervasive is the problem of foreign land purchases today?
A: It is a severe problem because legally, today, you cannot stop it. Legally you can buy private land - you don't need permission. We know, in the Galilee, there are massive purchases being made by organizations and I think we have to reveal the facts, and then to see how we change the laws in order to stop the process, and in order to make it impossible for foreign governments to intervene in our internal issues.
Q: The law being referenced, isn't that the Basic Law that defines Israel as both Jewish and Democratic?
A: Yes. We are a democratic state, but I think that every democratic state will not allow the intervention of foreign governments. Can you imagine Al Qaeda sending funds to the US in order to buy lands in the US? It is unacceptable. And I see my task as a Member of the Knesset – to stop it. I don't have a problem with NGOs. I don't have a problem with human rights organizations. But I do have a problem with governments who are trying to change the reality in Israel by sending NGO's millions of dollars.
Q: What steps do you feel need to be taken to keep Israel in Jewish hands today?
A: I think we should watch the way we handle the democracy very carefully because, if we will let our enemies use democracy against us, it will be very dangerous. For example, we see the Arab Members of Knesset using democracy in order to hurt us. We saw that with MK Hanin Zoabi who was on the flotilla coming from Turkey to Israel. We should not allow it. We should say, "Yes, we are a democracy, you have freedom of speech, but the minute you cross the line - the minute you try to use democracy against us - we will not allow it."
Q: Should Israel have a transparency law for NGO's where they have to declare all foreign funding?
A: For sure. Even today you must make those issues loud and clear. But what we see today is that they [foreign governments] are using loopholes in the legal system in order to transfer millions of dollars to NGOs and we have to stop it as soon as possible.
Q: In terms of governments who are meddling in Israel's internal affairs, the Israeli Government seems never to confront them. What should we do about governments like this?
A: I think we should work in two ways. First, we should tell them, "Stop it!" I sent a letter to the President of the EU a few years ago to stop the funding for those NGOs who are active politically and he responded saying they are not active in funding any political organization. This is not the case. We have facts that show that the EU is funding, by millions of Euros every year, NGOs with political agendas. We should tell those European governments, "Stop meddling in our internal issues." And on the other hand, we should change the law so it should be impossible to receive funds from foreign governments if you are active in advocacy, or if you are active in political agendas.
Q: Should Israel publish its findings as part of its Hasbara [Public Relations] campaign?
A: We should do it in every way. And I think, with the hasbara campaigns, we cannot win when we allow so many activists and millions of dollars to be transferred here.
Q: We recently saw a report that the State Department had given a grant of $770,000 to the Merchavim NGO in Israel. Most of the grant was intended for children's educational programming in Arabic and Hebrew, which could be regarded as implicit advocacy, but it also included a line item for a separate program aimed at social engineering in Israel. How can Israelis regard the U.S. as an ally when it slips funds in for advocacy programs under the radar? What should we do about it?
A: Well, I think we should speak with our allies in the Congress - we have a lot of allies in the Congress, in the Senate - and reveal the facts. I think if we reveal the facts you can stop it. We can find those NGOs who are trying to work under the radar and transfer all of those funds to the activities they are doing here. And I think if we reveal everything we will have Congressmen in the US who will be infuriated enough to stop it.
Q: In terms of social polity, do you feel it's possible, at this point, to integrate the Arabs into Israel's Jewish culture?
A: I hope that will be the case. I think we should treat all citizens equally. But I'm afraid the leadership of the Arab Israelis is inciting - collaborating with our enemies from the north, Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran - and I hope that the population will be clever enough to choose a different leadership that will cooperate and will work for the benefit of the citizens.
Q: There has frequently been legal action [by leftist NGO's] against right-wing groups based on the fact that they espouse what the left calls "anti-democratic" positions. Is there any move to confront groups who are taking funds from terrorists and are attacking the Jewish character of the State under the Basic Laws?
A: I know there are some investigations that are conducted as we speak, but we haven't seen the legal system fighting them firmly enough and I am calling on the authorities to do it, and I think one of the tasks of the inquiry committee that I will be heading is to look at the officials as well.
Q: MK Danny Danon, thank you very much.
A: Thank you very much. Todah!