The religious character of Friedman’s remarks went well beyond that statement. Friedman likened the US-Israel relationship to the “altar” of the original Jewish temple in Jerusalem and called the embassy a “shrine” that people pray to and thank God for. The US and Israel need to get even closer in the coming months, Friedman said, and move toward even greater “holiness.”
Friedman spoke at an event on May 14, marking the first anniversary of the opening of the US embassy in the city, the day in 2018 that saw the killing of more than 60 Palestinian protesters in Gaza.
Here are religious excerpts of Friedman’s speech.
I think we’ve done something that has not been done in some time, we have created a new shrine in the ancient city of Jerusalem and we’re extremely proud of it. [Applause]… What I get perhaps the greatest satisfaction from… [are] the tourists who come to visit the embassy… I kid you not, people got on their knees and they prayed to god that they had seen this day, that this day had arose… They took pictures, there were people in tears, there were people were in deep moments of prayer. The reactions frankly were stunning and moving, and I can’t get enough of that.
When people say the embassy move was “just symbolic,” Friedman disagrees.
That just cannot be further from the truth. The move of the embassy was a validation by the strongest nation in the world, not just strong militarily, strong economically, but strong morally, strong ethically, with a bedrock of Judeo-Christian values that govern every citizen’s attachment to this country. That country recognized the unbreakable, historical truthful connection between the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem. That is not symbolic. That is the farthest thing from symbolic.
Friedman then hinted that the U.S. would go further and recognize Israeli sovereignty in portions of the West Bank.
Now is that enough? Should we be resting on our laurels?… I think the answer is No. With this administration of Mike Pence, and Mike Pompeo and John Bolton and Jared Kusher, Jason [Greenblatt] and me… Some say our most important ally in the region, I would take out the word region. To bring new and bold ideas of cooperation to just make this relationship stronger and stronger and stronger.
Here is the Godly Israel reference.
Is Israel getting stronger? Look, Israel is growing stronger for two reasons. Number one, the objective metric by which Israeli measures itself, the most important one, is how strong is its relationship with the United States and on how many levels. And that keeps growing and growing and getting stronger and stronger and stronger.
And the second is, Israel has one secret weapon that not a lot of countries have. Israel is on the side of God, and we don’t underestimate that.
On the theme of moving forward, Friedman cited the Jewish festival of Passover and the song “Dayenu,” meaning Enough, about “all the incremental steps that God has done for the Jewish people.” Friedman listed all the things that Donald Trump has done for Israel, among them recognizing the Golan as sovereign territory, tearing up the Iran deal, moving the embassy, personally praying at the Western Wall– any of these steps would have been enough, he said. But:
I don’t believe in enough. The parable I like better is the story of the temple in Jerusalem, and the altar… in Jerusalem. If you look at how the temple was constructed…. The altar is built on a ramp. If you’re going up, and you stop, you slide back. To achieve that level of holiness that the altar calls for, you have to keep pushing forward, you have to keep moving forward and forward. And there are consequences to stopping. If you stop, you’re going to slide backwards, and this is something that we don’t want to do. That is I think the model that we should have.
He concluded with Jewish-centric comments, and a reference to the altar of the special relationship.
We’re part of a 4000-year old continuum, a 4000-year-old history. Most of those 4000 years were very difficult years, very unpleasant years, for Jewish people and for non-Jewish people… Israel has grown flourished bloomed in ways that no one could have expected. My grandparents, my great grandparents could not have dreamed of what we have here… We need to keep moving forward, keep moving up the ramp, and I think if we keep doing that we can bring the relationship between the United States and Israel to greater and greater heights.
The Jewish News Service reports that Friedman responded yesterday to controversy over his remarks by doubling down on the religion:
“Most of the prophecies are about the return of the nation of Israel to their land. And it is happening in our lifetime,” Friedman said, adding that “just being in this room is evidence that the prophecy of Ezekiel and others have come true.”
“So where am I off in saying that God is on the side of Israel?” Friedman asked. “The fact that God has fulfilled his prophecies and delivered the people of Israel to their land is demonstrably true.”
Another part of Friedman’s Tuesday speech that was an affront to Palestinians was his claim that the move of the Embassy had no real consequences.
All the predictions, even some of our own predictions, about the risks, about the violence, about the gloom and doom– the reality is that in the entire city of Jerusalem that day, I don’t think more than 20 people got up to protest. I think more people were unhappy about the food they were eating in various restaurants than they were about the move of the embassy to Jerusalem. Of course there was violence that day in Gaza. There had been violence for a month before in Gaza. The violence in Gaza had nothing to do with the opening of the embassy, it had to do with relations between the P.A. and Hamas.
This is not true. As Allison Deger reported in an interview with protest leader Ahmed abu Artema, the move of the embassy was a “gamechanger” for Palestinians in Gaza, and an impetus for the Great March of Return protests, in which over 250 have been killed and thousands injured.
Here’s video of Friedman’s speech, at 1:31:00 or so.