Donald Trump has nominated 57-year-old Long Island native David Friedman to serve as U.S ambassador to Israel. Friedman served as Trump’s Israel adviser during the election campaign and has worked as Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer. He is a vociferous pro-settler advocate who openly advocates for the annexation of the West Bank, and serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, a settlement advocacy group. Friedman will join an administration that has continually promised to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and has made clear its opposition to the two-state solution. In announcing the pick Trump called Friedman “a longtime friend and trusted adviser.”
Friedman is a writer for the Israeli settler news service Arutz Sheva, and his columns demonstrate strong right wing views concerning the occupation, U.S. politicians, and the Middle East. Friedman has called for ending “the two-state narrative”, describing it as “an illusion that serves the worst intentions of both the United States and the Palestinian Arabs.” Friedman has also 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 being “the holy capital of the Jewish people—and only the Jewish people”.
In 2015, Friedman wrote an article praising the pre-war sentiment expressed by Mike Huckabee, evangelical Trump-supporter and former Governor of Arkansas, who “referred to war as “killing people and breaking things” until the loser gives up or is destroyed.” Friedman writes that the Obama administration, which is waging countless military operations around the world, has been too docile and light-headed when it comes to “terrorists”.
“The United States has the largest and most powerful military in the world. Under the Obama Doctrine, however, it is no longer in the business of fighting to win,” he argues.
In another stunning column for Arutz Sheva, Friedman accuses Obama of being an anti-Semite, and characterized the centrist Zionist organization J Street as being “worse than kapos”.
“They are far worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps,” he wrote.
Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, tells Mondoweiss that the appointment of David Friedman as Ambassador to Israel “is but the latest suggestion of what a Trump administration’s policy toward Palestine/Israel will be and that is a full, unapologetic embrace of Israeli Apartheid. Trump has railed against political correctness throughout his campaign and in many ways he seems to be doing the same thing with shaping his policy on this issue.”
Munayyer explains that “for decades the US has done a sort of “politically correct” dance where they have consistently supported Israel as it colonizes what is left of Palestinian territory while saying they support a Palestinian state.” The nomination of Friedman signals that the U.S. will do away with this farce, and “just own what they have done for years which is support the apartheid reality on the ground.” Munayyer contends that a Trump administration will treat Israel with light-headedness, which means that “the civil society effort to impose costs on Israel through boycott, divestment and sanctions tactics [BDS] has never been more important.”
Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya, was straightforward in his reaction to Friedman’s nomination, telling Mondoweiss that he “hopes the appointment of such an avowed extremist to the position of US Ambassador to Israel, selected precisely because of his extremist positions, will disabuse Palestinians of any remaining illusions the the United States has anything positive to contribute to their struggle for self-determination.”
Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, shared a similar viewpoint in an email to Mondoweiss, “The nomination as ambassador to Israel of yet another advocate of policies overtly or covertly hostile towards the Palestinians is nothing new. However, Friedman is a major donor to several of the most extreme of Israel’s illegal settlements, is openly opposed to the national rights of the Palestinians, and has vilely slandered the President of the United States, as well as members of liberal Jewish groups. This should be a wake up call for those who have deluded themselves about any possibility under current circumstances of a positive US role in Palestine. This nomination only shows the American political establishment, from the “left” to the extreme right that was brought to power in the 2016 election for what it is: the essential enabler of Israel’s permanent occupation, colonization, expulsion and subjugation of the Palestinian people.”
Jewish Voice For Peace released a statement from executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson condemning Friedman’s nomination as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, arguing that it “indicates that the Trump Administration has aligned itself with the farthest right elements of the Israeli government”, and warning that this signals that the incoming administration will give the Israeli government a free pass to further its abusive control of Palestinian land, and to continue infringing upon Palestinian rights.
Writing on Twitter, London Review of Books writer Adam Shatz put it succinctly: “Let’s call the Friedman appointment by its name: a declaration of war on the Palestinian people.”
Both Trump and Friedman share the intention of rejecting the two-state solution and abiding by the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which calls for recognizing Jerusalem and Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The bill was passed in 1995 but left unsigned under Bill Clinton and subsequently suspended on 22 occasions—thanks to the presidential waiver authority—mostly due to alleged national security concerns. Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett was euphoric after Donald Trump’s electoral win, calling his election an “opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the center of the country”. He said, “The era of a Palestinian state is over.”
For this reason, advocates of the two-state solution are troubled by Friedman’s nomination. A press release from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) president Rabbi Rick Jacobs notes that while URJ supports Friedman’s goal of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and its designation as Israel’s capital, the organization is “greatly concerned” that Friedman is against a two-state solution. The Reform group maintains “that only a two-state solution will allow Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic while also addressing the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians.”
Americans for Peace Now also announced its opposition to Friedman saying, “Friedman opposes the very essence of APN’s values and mission.” The organization added, “Trump repeatedly declared that he would like to broker a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, but coupled with the President-elect’s statements about his intention to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Friedman’s nomination is a destabilizing move, which only adds fuel to the Israeli-Palestinian fire.”
Chemi Shalev, U.S. editor and correspondent for Haaretz, recently published an article arguing that due to Friedman’s right-wing inclinations, “[h]e makes Benjamin Netanyahu seem like a left-wing defeatist”. Shalev contends that Friedman will satisfy Evangelicals, Jewish settlers “and bring pleasure to Land of Israel zealots far and wide”. While the Obama administration may have offered Palestinians some semblance of even-handedness, Shalev writes, Friedman and the Trump administration will likely offer them no such thing.