Donald Trump’s Israel adviser again raised the possibility of his candidate backing the Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank while dining with the representative of a settler organization in New York, according to a report published by Israel’s Channel 2, which obtained a video of the meeting.
A clip of the discussion shows Trump aide David Friedman mid-conversation with settler leader Yossi Dagan, supposedly two weeks ago.
The video picks up as Friedman makes a math-based argument for Israeli territorial expansion to the entire West Bank. The crux of his position is that annexation can be “Jewish and democratic,” because there would be a majority of Jews if the territories’ populations were combined with Israel.
“The whole idea that we have to jettison Judea and Shomron [the West Bank] to retain the Jewish characteristics of Israel is just not true,” Friedman said. “Under most calculations if you took the entire state of Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, meaning you annex all of Judea and Shomron into Israel the Jewish population would still be about 65 percent. That’s the most…the conventional wisdom right now.”
“No one has bothered to do the math,” Friedman added between mouthfuls, before breaking down his statistics.
“There are 400,000 Jews living in Judea and Shomron, there’s another 400,000 living in East Jerusalem. They are multiplying right now,” he said.
Friedman’s calculations are based on discredited numbers. He places 800,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a sharp increase from the 500,000 to 650,000 settlers, according to governmental and United Nations figures. The 65-percent Jewish majority is also discredited. Most demographers say the numbers are around 50 percent Jewish and 50 percent Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Friedman also claimed that the Jewish population is increasing at a faster rate than Palestinians. “So the truth is if you ask ten statisticians how many Arabs are living in the West Bank they couldn’t give you an answer because nobody really knows,” he said.
The Palestinian population in the West Bank has steadily increased since 1967, the time of the first Israeli census of the territory, according to data from both the Israeli Civil Administration and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Both agree that around 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.
On Gaza, Friedman hinted the Palestinians there would be left out of President Trump’s middle east peace plan. He said: “The evacuation of Gaza [in 2005] had one salutary effect, it took two million Arabs out of the equation.”
Before hiring on with the Trump camp in April, Friedman was relatively unknown, a New York-area lawyer with no apparent expertise in the Middle East other than heading a fundraising arm to a West Bank settlement, Beit El. (The group is called American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva and sends around $2 million per year to fund a religious school outside of Ramallah).
Friedman also once worked as Trump’s bankruptcy attorney on the presidential candidate’s Atlantic City casino.
Dagan is a spokesperson for the Shomron Regional Council, a group noted for touring delegations of U.S. officials in the occupied West Bank.
The demographic data Friedman referenced, which is off by more than one million persons from that of official counts, was put out by the American-Israel Demographic Research Group, a band of Israeli and American scholars who published their findings on two blogs calling for “one Jewish state” under Israeli control.
Their statistics are rejected by establishment demographers as a lobbying tool with a casual relationship to truth aimed at undermining support for a Palestinian state.
Demographer Della Pergola of the Hebrew University told the Times of Israel that the researcher behind the study, former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger, was “delusional.”
“He’s peddling some imaginary future in an utterly unprofessional way, because he never took a course in demographics. He’s nothing but a charlatan,” Pergola said.
The video recording is not the first occasion in which Friedman has raised the issue of Israeli annexation. In a June interview with Haaretz, he told the Israeli newspaper Trump could dump the two-state plan in favor of annexation. In making that case, he also cited data originating from Ettinger’s group.
Friedman’s comments have ruffled feathers amongst American Jewish institutions in recent months. After he spoke against peace talks in favor of a single Jewish state on CNN in July, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, wrote in an open letter to Friedman that the Trump one-state plan, “would either be a Jewish state that would cease to be a democracy and disenfranchise millions of Palestinian souls, or it would be a democracy and cease to be Jewish.”
Friedman responded: “I must reject categorically your statement that Israel must either be a democratic state or a Jewish state.” In that correspondence, he again made reference to the same bad math reflected in the video of his lunch in New York.