Yesterday the Senate confirmed the president of a settler financing group, who called left-wing Jews ‘kapos’ and accused Barack Obama of “blatant ani-Semitism” (on more than one occasion), as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.
David Friedman, Donald Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer and head of the group American Friends of the Bet El Yeshiva, was approved by a narrow vote of 52-46 mostly along party lines. Only two Democrats voted for his nomination (Senators Robert Menendez (NJ) and Joe Manchin (WV), and Republican senators unanimously voted for him.
It was the first confirmation of any of Trump’s envoy picks, but arguably the most debated and controversial. Freidman has spoken against Palestinian statehood, fundraised nearly $2 million per year to benefit the Beit El Settlement outside of Ramallah, smeared liberal Jewish critics as Nazi collaborators–and then later defended this position–all of which was raised in his senate confirmation hearing in mid-February.
Yet in the hearing Friedman walked back his most offensive statements and expressed regret, although he has yet to apologize personally to J Street’s head Jeremy Ben-Ami for the kapo comment.
During Freidman’s hearing protesters interrupted him, a rare if unheard of scene erupted. Philip Weiss reported:
The most exciting part of the hearing were the first few minutes, as Friedman’s opening statement was interrupted repeatedly by protesters, who were pulled out of the hearing room.
Here was the first disruption by a Palestinian man holding up a Palestinian flag and describing the fate of Palestinian refugees, including his grandfather, forced off his land.
Aside from Friedman’s ties to Israel and the settler movement, Mohamed Mohamed the Interim Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center in Washington, DC noted the envoy’s lack of experience. He called Friedman’s appointment “cronyism,” adding:
Of the 19 ambassador appointments to Israel since 1949, only four (three individuals – Martin Indyk served twice) have been political appointees. This pattern makes sense. As the chief belligerent in a highly sensitive conflict, Israel strongly qualifies as a “tough” assignment and therefore should be the responsibility of a professional diplomat.
Yet, even the three political appointees to Israel possessed some relevant experience for the job. For example, Daniel Shapiro and Martin Indyk both served on the U.S. National Security Council, which advises presidents on foreign policy matters. Frankly, the mere fact that they are Zionists poses a conflict of interest, but at the very least they have some kind of foreign affairs knowledge.
Unfortunately, David Friedman does not possess the professional qualifications needed to handle such a delicate diplomatic assignment. Even worse, he is ethically incompetent to be in such a position. His views regarding Palestine and Israel are dangerous, bigoted, and contradictory to U.S. policies on the issue.
The timing of Friedman’s confirmation comes a day after White House Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt wrapped a trip to Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory and Jordan. Both Greenblatt and Freidman advised Trump on Israel affairs during the campaign.
Reuters further noted an upcoming platform for the Trump administration to clarify its position on settlements now that Friedman’s position is official:
“Thursday’s vote meant that Trump will have an ambassador in place in time for next week’s annual conference in Washington of the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC.”