Two of Donald Trump’s Middle East peace negotiators, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, took part in a grotesque celebration of a religious settlers’ dig under a Palestinian neighborhood in occupied Jerusalem on Sunday, and the bash has raised an issue that it is almost impossible to discuss in the U.S.: Why are there so many Zionist Jews on this portfolio?
Not everyone is allowed to ask that question. Michael Koplow laid out his own Jewish liberal Zionist credentials before attacking the inappropriate religious conduct of two White House officials cavorting in their favorite “historical and religious playground.”
I understand where Greenblatt and Friedman are coming from. I grew up in the same New York Orthodox Jewish community from which they hail, and graduated from the same Orthodox high school as Greenblatt. I’ll wager that I spent more time in Israel as a kid, whether with my family or on various teen summer programs, than they did. I feel just as strong an emotional attachment to Jerusalem as they obviously do, and have spent countless hours across years at the Temple Mount southern wall excavations, the City of David site, and other archeological exhibits in Silwan… I think that the U.S. has an interest in clearly and forcefully recognizing those historical, religious, cultural, and political ties. None of this changes the fact that Greenblatt and Friedman are acting in wildly inappropriate ways for U.S. diplomats, and as American citizens, we should insist that they do better…
It is glaringly obvious that Greenblatt and Friedman are letting their personal views and interests interfere with their jobs.
Yaakov Katz, the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, raised the issue with Greenblatt last month. All three of Trump’s team are religious Jewish friends of Israel, he said, and Palestinians feel “under assault.”
Do you understand where the Palestinians come from when they say for example you got three orthodox Jewish men, Jason Greenblatt, David Friedman, Jared Kushner, who are the point people on the Israeli Palestinian portfolio? You’ve moved the embassy, you’ve recognized Jerusalem, you’ve recognized the Golan Heights. You cut off funding to UNRWA. From their perspective, not that I have too much sympathy, it seems that they’re being surrounded or under assault.
Greenblatt conceded that it “looks like we’re fighting the Palestinian people,” but we’re not.
On the religious part I would say, The message that I get is the exact opposite. Whether from Palestinians or Arabs in the region, they’re enormously respectful of me being an observant Jew, and we understand each other immediately. As a religious person, I understand their religious issues, they understand my religious issues.I would say, It’s actually the opposite. As for the decisions themselves, all of them grounded in U.S. law and all of them were either for the benefit of the U.S. or the benefit of the U.S. taxpayer. I know when you combine them all together, it looks like we’re fighting the Palestinian people, it’s not true.
Peace Now is outraged by the tunnel celebration. It has published a dossier on David Friedman showing that he has often brought religious ideas into his work. For instance, he told the Jewish Federations that Jews in the Diaspora need “to give Israel a break… Israel is no longer the little brother. Israel is the big brother now.”
Friedman made some other religious comments in the same speech:
“Israel is a miracle… Israel is the culmination of a 2000 year exile (the longest of any people) whereby the prayers of our forefathers for our return to Zion were finally answered.
“Israel is the land of biblical history – our national history.”
Our national history? Friedman is the ambassador for the United States!
Peace Now, Koplow and Yaakov Katz can all get away with something that when I do it, I get attacked as self-hating/anti-Semitic: counting how many Zionist Jews are in sensitive government positions. All of them love Israel, so no one will fault them. But I’m an anti-Zionist, so STFU.
I’d point out that the U.S. Treasury Department’s portfolio on Iran has a similar cast to it as the Middle East negotiator position. The Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence is responsible for tracking Iran’s nefarious activities across the Middle East; and it certainly appears to be a branch of the Israel lobby. The first person in the job under George W. Bush was Stuart Levey; he had written about the Zionist dream in his senior thesis under the tutelage of Marty Peretz. Obama kept him on, and then Levey was followed by David Cohen (whose politics I don’t know), and Adam Szubin, “the third Jew in the role,” according to the JTA, and someone with neoconservative credentials: Szubin spoke to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies even though he worked for Obama.
And Trump asked Szubin to keep that office even as he was cleaning house on Obama, which surely made the Israel lobby happy.
Lately, Szubin was replaced by Sigal Mandelker, who was born in Israel, is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, has called out the State Department for ignoring the massacre of Jews during the Holocaust, and speaks to the FDD, too.
Many of Obama’s Middle East negotiators had a core commitment to Zionism that was not all that different from Friedman, Kushner and Greenblatt. Obama’s team included Martin Indyk, who started a Zionist thinktank, and Dennis Ross, who was known as Israel’s lawyer and advised Jews at a Manhattan synagogue that American Jews “need to be advocates for Israel” not Palestine.
He also said that the Jewish people has a place amongst us, making clear it is not just recognition of Israel, but recognition of Israel’s legitimacy as the nation state of the Jewish people. Quite meaningful.
Why are there so many Zionist Jews in these positions? Their presence reflects the strength and endurance of the Israel lobby in our public life. The reasons for its strength and endurance are many, and disputed; though I won’t be shy about my analysis. To be continued.