During the last presidential campaign, Donald Trump took a strong stand against ISIS. He pledged to defeat it.
Now, he has announced his choice for ambassador to Israel, his bankruptcy attorney, David Friedman. Friedman has strong ties to Israel’s right wing and is a vocal opponent of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute. He wants Israel to annex the occupied territories, a position beyond even that of Israel’s current right-wing government.
If Trump wants to defeat ISIS, he will undermine that goal by giving it a recruiting tool. Hatred of the U.S. will increase if the Arab world comes to believe that the U.S. is abandoning the Palestinians. That would reverse a U.S. policy that has had bipartisan support ever since Israel occupied the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Sinai after the 1967 war.
The importance of the Palestinians was made clear last February by King Abdullah II of Jordan, who told the Munich Security Conference that until the Israel-Palestine conflict is resolved, ISIS cannot be defeated. He declared, “Left unresolved, the Palestine-Israel conflict will become a religious conflict of global dimension.”
Abdullah noted that the “festering injustice” of the unresolved conflict “continues to be exploited by ISIS … It is only a matter of time before we may be faced by yet another war in Gaza or South Lebanon. This is why reaching a two-state solution should remain a priority for us all.”
David Friedman is the wrong man to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel, particularly if Trump hopes to defeat ISIS. Consider his record.
Friedman has no diplomatic experience. He says that he does not believe it would be illegal for Israel to annex the occupied West Bank, and he supports building new settlements there. He has engaged in intemperate attacks on those who disagree, particularly the majority of American Jews who support the creation of a Palestinian state.
Writing in June, on the website of Arutz Sheva, an extreme Israeli media group, Friedman compared the liberal American Jewish group J Street to “kapos,” the Jews who cooperated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. “They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction … It’s hard to imagine anyone worse.”
In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, editor of The Atlantic, Friedman said of J Street and American Jews who share its perspective, “They’re not Jewish and they’re not pro-Israel.”
Friedman is president of an American group set up to support Beit El, a settlement located east of the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The settlement has also received contributions from the foundation headed by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Friedman writes a column for a far-right Israeli news site in which he has accused President Obama of “blatant anti-Semitism.” He refers to the occupied West Bank by its biblical name, Judea, and Samaria, something no U.S. official has ever done. He has referred to the recognition of Jerusalem as “the indisputable capital of the Jewish people” as a holy battle, one that will be won by those who acknowledge Jerusalem as “the holy capital of the Jewish people and only the Jewish people.”
In 2015, Friedman wrote an article praising comments by Mike Huckabee, when Huckabee said that war is “killing people and breaking things until the loser gives up and is destroyed.”
The Friedman nomination has been applauded by settler groups in Israel and others who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. Mainstream Israelis and Jewish leaders in the U.S. take a different view. Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, said that in naming an ambassador with the hard-line views of Friedman, the Trump administration could end up undercutting the security of Israel and the U.S. and condemn “the Palestinians to further disenfranchisement and dispossession.”
In Levy’s view,
“if an American ambassador stakes out positions that further embolden an already triumphalist settler elite, then that is likely to cause headaches for American national security interests across the region and even for Israel’s own security establishment. Especially an ambassador committed to the ill-advised relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer offered this assessment:
“Everything an ambassador says and does has an impact on policy. Usually an ambassador implements policies set by the administration, but Friedman seems intent on forging his own stands.”
Friedman wrote in the official statement on his appointment that he intends to work “from the U.S. Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.” Kurtzer’s comment? “The president hasn’t been sworn in yet, the Secretary of State hasn’t spoken about this, and he’s already talking about the policy he’s going to change. This is unheard of.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, says, “Mr. Friedman’s views and comments about a two-state solution are not only a total break from decades of American and Israeli policy but are fundamentally out of step with the views of the majority of American Jews.” He noted that both AIPAC and J Street support a two-state solution.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that Friedman’s appointment “exacerbated” concerns that his group, the largest denomination among American Jews, raised during the presidential campaign over statements by Friedman questioning the two-state solution.
“Only a two-state solution will allow Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic,” states Jacobs, “while also addressing the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians. To our great concern, it appears that Mr. Friedman does not share this commitment.”
The New Israel Fund, which supports social justice groups in Israel, says that Friedman “stands for neither democracy nor the Jewish value of tsedek (Justice) that are so desperately needed in these times. He represents extreme fringe views that are at odds with most American Jews.”
David Friedman is not just a supporter of Israel’s right-wing; he also has kind words for the leaders of Russia and Syria. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the director of T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights group, tweeted an article Friedman wrote a year ago praising Russia for its proactive involvement on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria. In it Friedman said that leaving Bashar al-Assad in power would be positive for Israel.
“Oh look, new ambassador to Israel defends Putin and Assad,” said Jacobs. “Does anyone remember when U.S. Jews were protesting Soviets?”
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, argues:
“As someone who has been a leading American friend of the settlement movement, who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials … Friedman should be beyond the pale for Senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel … It puts America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk. Senators should know that the majority of Jewish Americans oppose the views and the values this nominee represents.”
Friedman and Trump may be good friends, and Friedman may have provided needed assistance to Trump to save his bankrupt Atlantic City casinos, but a better reward might be an ambassadorship to a warm and pleasant Caribbean island.
But to name a man with ties to Israel’s most extreme settler movement, who rejects the creation of a Palestinian state and who labels the views of most American Jews the equivalent of support for Nazis ambassador to Israel is to ignore the best interests of both Israel and the U.S.
It is not only Israel’s anti-democratic right wing that would benefit from Friedman’s appointment. The leaders of ISIS and Iran would use his extreme views to stir further hatred of the U.S.
Donald Trump may not have given proper thought to the implications of this appointment. He should reconsider this unfortunate decision and, if he does not, the Senate should reject it. Common sense and concern for the future of the Middle East and our own interests in the region demand it.
Brownfeld first published this article on Community Digital News.