Spotlight: David Friedman – The controversial designated US ambassador to Israel

 

By Gideon

The Senate is scheduled to hold a hearing on Friedman’s appointment by U.S. President Donald Trump this coming Thursday (February 16, 2017). Friedman advised Trump on Israel policy during the campaign and has left behind a long trail of statements indicating his views. The US ambassador to Israel post is one of the most high-profile ambassadorships and Friedman’s selection has drawn cheer from the Jewish right and criticism from the left. He may find some Democratic support in the Senate. Some Democrats align with hawks on the politics of Israel.

Upon his nomination, Friedman stated: “I am deeply honored and humbled by the confidence placed in me by President-elect Trump to represent the United States as its Ambassador to Israel,” he said. “I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Since 1948, despite repeated requests by Israel to relocate the US embassy to its capital city Jerusalem, the embassy is located in Tel Aviv. US presidents denied Israel’s requests in order to appease the Palestinians and other Arab countries, who want to claim Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, and to be used as a bargaining chip is peace negotiations. President Trump promised during his presidential campaign to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem. Friedman’s statement about working from a US embassy in Jerusalem reiterated Trump’s commitment.  

David Friedman a bankruptcy lawyer and son of an Orthodox rabbi is a fervent supporter of Israeli settlements, opponent of Palestinian statehood and unrelenting defender of Israel’s government. So far to the right is Friedman that even many Israel supporters worry he could push Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be more extreme, scuttling prospects for peace with Palestinians in the process. Friedman supports the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, and has said that he looks forward to working for peace in the Middle East “from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem” – even before an official relocation of the embassy takes place.

Mr. Friedman has no diplomatic experience. He previously said that he does not believe it would be illegal for Israel to annex the occupied West Bank and he supports building new settlements there, which Washington has long condemned as illegitimate and an obstacle to peace.

Mr. Friedman’s appointment was quickly praised by the Republican Jewish Coalition, whose executive director, Matt Brooks, called it “a powerful signal to the Jewish community.” Hoever,  J Street, a dovish lobbying organization that has been critical of some Israeli policies, said in a statement that it was “vehemently opposed to the nomination.”

“As someone who has been a leading American friend of the settlement movement, who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials,” it said, “Friedman should be beyond the pale.”

Mr. Friedman has made clear his disdain for those American Jews — especially those connected to J Street — who support a two-state solution for the Israelis and the Palestinians. Writing in June on the website of Arutz Sheva, an Israeli media organization, Mr. Friedman compared J Street supporters to “kapos,” the Jews who cooperated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. “The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty,” he wrote. “But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas — it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.” At a private session this month at the Saban Forum, an annual gathering of Israeli and American foreign policy figures, Mr. Friedman declined to disavow the comments and even intensified the sentiment.

J Street, a nonprofit liberal advocacy group based in the United States, is a  “pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people” (per J Street website), has begun a campaign to have the US Senate reject the nomination of David Friedman as the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel. J Street says in its anti-Friedman campaign, “Friedman is a friend of the settlement movement who backs unlimited settlement expansion” in Judea and Samaria. J Street states that Mr. Friedman is “hostile” to the two-state solution, which it terms the “only way to ensure Israel’s future as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.”

Freidman will be one of the first non-Cabinet level nominees to move through the Senate. After his confirmation hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 16, Friedman could be confirmed shortly thereafter if there’s bipartisan cooperation.The only two other diplomatic positions in the Trump administration to be approved thus far are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

 

Sources:

The Washington Times, Haaretz.com, Arutz 7, Politico, The Atlantic, The New York Times

 

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