U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick for the U.S. ambassador to Israel has turned out to be one of the most controversial appointments in recent years, with five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel condemning the pick, calling David Friedman “unqualified for the position” due to his “extreme, radical positions.”
While Friedman’s appointment has also been condemned by Jewish Americans as well as international human rights groups, Palestinian Americans, in particular, feel disenfranchised by the prospect of a Friedman appointment.
Friedman is a vocal supporter of illegal Israeli settlements, in opposition to the international community and the U.S.’s protocol against settlements. Furthermore, Friedman is the president of the American fundraising arm of the illegal Israeli settlement Beit El’s Yeshiva Complex. According to the New York Times, Friedman has raised millions of dollars for its “related institutions” and has made nearly yearly visits to the settlement during the Jewish holiday Sukkot.
Before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations committee began confirmation hearings for Friedman on Feb. 16, the Arab American Institute, a D.C. based think tank which serves as a political and policy research arm of the Arab-American community in the U.S., called for its supporters to contact their Senators and demand Friedman be denied the position of U.S. Ambassador to Israel.
“If you believe in justice for Palestine – call your Senators today to urge them to vote no,” the group’s call to action stated, adding that “Friedman’s far right-wing views on Palestinians, on what would be an acceptable resolution to the conflict, his financial support for illegal Israeli settlement activity, and his shameful comments regarding American Jews who advocate for peace simply disqualify him from the post.”
Following the hearing, Palestinian-American author, human rights attorney and assistant professor at George Mason University, Nour Erakat, said that “Despite his disciplined performance before the Senate confirmation panel,” she believes Friedman made it “abundantly clear his agenda regarding Israel and Palestine.”
“In his capacity as ambassador, he will serve the interests of Israel’s right-wing government and settler movement to consolidate a vision of Greater Israel that includes sovereignty over occupied East Jerusalem as well as the largest settlement blocs sprawling across the occupied West Bank,” she said.
At the confirmation hearing, Palestinian Americans and pro-Palestinian activists interrupted the meeting in protest several times.
One such protester was Taher Herzallah, Director of Outreach & Grassroots Organizing at American Muslims for Palestine.
During the hearing, Herzallah held up a Palestinian flag, shouting “My grandfather was exiled by the state of Israel, and I’m right here … We’re not going away. We were there, we are there now, and we will always be there.”
“Palestinians will always be in Palestine,” he shouted before being led out of the hearing by police officers.
Herzallah told Mondoweiss that he feared Friedman being appointment as U.S. envoy would essentially mean “abandoning the idea of a Palestinian state on ‘67 borders,” saying that to him, the idea of abandoning such borders is “extremely dangerous,” and the main reason he stood up against Friedman.
“The appointment of someone like Friedman, who has a track record of supporting and building settlements in the West Bank can be an indication that the official U.S. position on settlements maybe shifting to normalize them as a fact on the ground that Palestinians must accept in order for there to be any negotiated agreement.”
Herzallah also said he was concerned that approving Friedman would surely lead to the U.S. embassy being moved to Jerusalem, which could possibly spark another Palestinian uprising.
“The embassy move would be cementing the occupation as a permanent arrangement with full U.S. approval,” he said. “This signals a shift in the way the U.S. tries to position itself concerning Israel/Palestine. Traditionally the U.S. gives complete diplomatic, financial and military support to Israel while also claiming that it is committed to a two-state solution and the basic human rights of the Palestinian people. Now, the U.S. would be directly and openly involved in destroying the idea of any future Palestinian state.”
Daniel Banourra, 30 and a Palestinian-American instructor at the Bethlehem Bible College in the southern occupied West Bank told Mondoweiss that he doubts Friedman gaining approval as the next U.S. envoy in Israel would result in an actual uprising, but he hopes it would spark a change in U.S. policy.
“I’m hopeful that this appointment and the general popular American dissatisfaction with Trump would lead Americans, and, by extension, American policymakers to reassess their position on Israel/Palestine,” Bannoura said.
However, without any drastic change in U.S. policy, Bannoura said he feels the U.S.’s chances at being a legitimate mediator between Palestine and Israel are at risk.
“Despite the seemingly positive moves made under the Obama administration, generally speaking, the U.S. has lost its credibility as a balanced and honest broker when it comes the role it plays in mediating and negotiating with both parties of the conflict,” he said. “In other words, this is a systematic problem of American foreign policy rather than the character or opinions of the newly appointed Ambassador to Israel,” he said.
Rafat Khalaf, 20 and a Palestinian-American student at New York University studying Politics, Rights and Development, told Mondoweiss that the idea of Friedman as the U.S. ambassador to Israel was “severely distressing.”
“U.S. foreign policy has already been one-sided enough,” Khalaf said. “I fear that a new precedent is going to be set and Palestinians will continue to suffer because of our President’s complete disregard for justice and truth.”
Joe Hodali, a Palestinian-American videographer and filmmaker from California told Mondoweiss that he believes American politics have been on a path towards an appointment of someone radically pro-Israel for some time now.
“Friedman’s appointment speaks less to what Trump thinks of Palestinians than to the logical progression of American Zionism,” he said. “After all, it was the Obama administration that finalized a $38 billion dollar military aid package that enjoyed bipartisan support in the senate and congress.”
“With or without his appointment, so long as the U.S. refuses to sanction Israel I believe that conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will continue to worsen,” he added. “I only hope that the fervent reaction to Trump and his appointees would cause Americans to educate themselves on the Palestinian struggle outside the vilification of corporate media.”