David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, seems to think of himself as an ambassador for Zionist Jews only. Earlier today he gave a speech to American Jews in Tel Aviv that was entirely parochial. He repeatedly spoke of “We” in reference to world Jewry, cited the prayers of “our forefathers” to return to Israel, described Israel as the “land of our national history,” and distinguished between the “country of our citizenship,” the U.S., and the country “we love so much,” Israel.
“We all agree Israel is a miracle,” the ambassador said. “It’s the culmination of a 2000-year old exile, the longest exile of any people in history, whereby the prayers of our forefathers for a return to Zion were answered. It’s the land of our biblical history, it’s the land of our national history… There is a critical role for every one of us to play in the ongoing miraculous story of Jewish history. That’s why we will continue to be here and do all we can to strengthen the bonds between the country of our citizenship and the small nation of Israel that we value and we love so much.”
The diplomat’s speech to the general assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America contained no reference to Palestinians in Israel or to Christians or Muslims who feel a connection to Jerusalem. Though Friedman did acknowledge the criticism that many American Jews express of Israeli treatment of Palestinians, he said, “We in the diaspora need to give Israel a break,” because all countries need to balance “human rights and social justice” with “maintaining peace and security.”
Friedman is a rightwing supporter of the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. “I’m an unapologetic right wing defender of Israel,” he said. “I’m a security hawk, that’s who I am.”
Friedman said that Israel is what keeps Jews Jewish in the west. “Israel is no longer the little brother in the relationship. Israel is now the big brother. Israel is the largest Jewish community in the world. That wasn’t true 5 years ago,” he said. “The diaspora needs Israel to help world Jewry maintain its connectivity to Judaism. Israel needs… to accept, to embrace and to discharge that responsibility as an Israeli national imperative, even though those efforts extend far beyond its borders.”
He said the biggest problem among American Jews is “apathy” about Jewish life. He called on the believers in the room to support and fund efforts “to inculcate in unaffiliated Jews the wonders of Judaism and the wonders of the state of Israel.”
Friedman’s appointment and the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem were surely offerings by Trump to his largest donor, Sheldon Adelson, whose biggest issue is Israel. Meantime, U.S. ambassadorships remain unfilled in many countries, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Mexico, Jordan, and Pakistan. President Obama’s appointment of an ambassador to Israel served some of the same political needs: Daniel Shapiro recently described Israel to a Jewish audience as “this miracle, this gift, this jewel,” and is now working for an Israeli thinktank advocating for Israel. While he was in office, though, Shapiro avoided parochial presentations. See this speech to a Zionist group, often critical of Israel.