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Why are there so many Zionist Jews on Trump’s Middle East team?

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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.

Dan Shapiro the former Obama ambassador is now part of Israel’s semi-official security thinktank and last week enthused when the Bahraini foreign minister stated his acceptance of Zionism,

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.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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12 Responses

  1. LiberatePalestine on July 4, 2019, 10:47 am

    → It is glaringly obvious that Greenblatt and Friedman are letting their personal views and interests interfere with their jobs.

    Yes, and it suggests public administration based on private whim.

    → But I’m an anti-Zionist, so STFU.

    And if a Jew is called «self-hating» or «anti-Semitic» for commenting on this matter, imagine what happens to a non-Jew with the hardihood to do so.

  2. Mooser on July 4, 2019, 3:30 pm

    “He also said that the Jewish people…”

    Sooner or later, they will have to face up to the fact that going for justification to the “Jewish people” will get more and more like going to Oakland.

    • genesto on July 5, 2019, 12:58 pm

      I assume you mean, like Oakland, ” —- there’s no there there”. Since Oakland is my home that I’ve known and loved for 46 years now, this quote always annoys the hell out of me. Trust me – there is a very vibrant there here!

      As for the subject at hand, once again I’ll say that we should all fear the day when the Israel/Zionist lobby takes full control of our military establishment. Right now, and as it has been for 30 or more years now, the military is the only bulwark against the lobby’s convincing our spineless, Zionist-pandering government ‘leaders’ to attack Iran. If it wasn’t for the generals, once again, warning against the dangers of attacking Iran, Neocon Zionists Bolton, Pompeo and Haspel would have talked our idiot president into attacking Iran, and starting WWIII, just a couple of weeks ago.

      • Mooser on July 6, 2019, 12:24 pm

        ” I’ll say that we should all fear the day when the Israel/Zionist lobby takes full control of our military establishment.”

        You know, they very well might do that before they get full control of American Jews.

        (My bad, “genesto”. I almost included parenthetically that I like Oakland, a lot, but didn’t.)

  3. JWalters on July 4, 2019, 10:07 pm

    “I know when you combine them all together, it looks like we’re fighting the Palestinian people, it’s not true.” – Jason Greenblatt

    Because this has nothing to do with the Palestinians whatsoever. They are merely collateral damage in a great historical project by insane, Jewish, religious fanatics who are extremely well-funded and well-armed.

  4. Misterioso on July 5, 2019, 9:45 am

    Thanks to massive funding by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, et al, Zionist zealots have got non-presidential, utterly corrupt U.S. President Trump in their pocket. In the long run, however, they are digging their grave.

    “Trump’s envoys take a hammer to Mideast peace” The Washington Post, by Ishaan Tharoor, July 3/19

    “In reckoning with the challenges facing Israelis and Palestinians, President Trump and his allies aren’t guilty of subtlety. Their heavy-handed approach has infuriated and alienated one side (the Palestinians) and bestowed upon Israel — and, in particular, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a number of political gifts, including the unilateral recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. There were many doubters before, but absolutely no one now can believe that the United States is an impartial or honest broker in mediating one of the most intractable conflicts in the Middle East.

    “And so, for good measure, Trump’s lieutenants decided to hammer the message home — literally.

    “On Sunday, David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, and White House Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt journeyed underground to an archaeological dig near Jerusalem’s Old City. There, they participated in an inaugural ceremony for the subterranean ‘Pilgrimage Road,’ what some archaeologists and a right-wing Jewish nationalist organization believe to be an ancient thoroughfare that led to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

    “In the company of figures including American Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson; Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife; and prominent former mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, Friedman hoisted a sledgehammer and knocked holes in the last thin wall obstructing the passageway. Greenblatt followed suit. Footage of the event was live-streamed on Facebook.

    “As analysts noted, Friedman and Goldblatt’s stunt is not only about history. The parent organization of the City of David Foundation, which runs the project, is an Israeli settler group that helps move Jewish families into Palestinian neighborhoods and is backed by millions of dollars in private donations as well as government funds. The tunnel the organization carved out runs below the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, where residents complain that close to a decade of digging has led to cracks in the walls of their homes and caused the foundations of their houses to sink.

    “Many Palestinians see the endeavor as yet another blow to their rights in East Jerusalem, which remains the putative capital of a future Palestinian state. ‘It is very clear what they want: a Jewish majority here and in East Jerusalem,’ local activist Jawad Siyam said to my colleagues Ruth Eglash and Loveday Morris this year.

    “Friedman, who has close ties to pro-settlement groups in Israel and the United States, told the Jerusalem Post that he could never imagine Israel relinquishing control over the City of David archaeological site. On Sunday, he hailed the project as an affirmation of ‘the accuracy, the wisdom, the propriety’ of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The evidence of this ancient passageway, Friedman argued, ‘lays all doubts to rest’ of Jewish claims to the entirety of Jerusalem, which have been previously challenged by Palestinian leaders.

    “Critics argue that this project does not unearth an ancient Jewish past as much as obscure the centuries that followed, during which myriad other groups and peoples made a home in Jerusalem. ‘If you are Israeli or Jewish, then you feel very excited by what is shown here,’ Yonathan Mizrachi, an Israeli archaeologist, told The Washington Post. ‘But the history of Jerusalem does not only belong to the Israelis.’

    “Friedman and Greenblatt made no mention of that complex and living history. Instead, the U.S. ambassador located in the site a biblical message for his president’s evangelical Christian base. ‘The spiritual underpinnings of our society, the bedrock of our principles in which we honor the dignity of every human life, came from Jerusalem,’ he said. ‘This place is as much a heritage of the U.S. as it is a heritage of Israel.’

    “Meanwhile, Greenblatt once more sparred with senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, urging the latter to accept the ‘truth’ of Israeli claims over the entirety of Jerusalem. In a speech last week, he also downplayed the role of settlements — deemed illegal by much of the international community — as obstacles to peace with Palestinians and said he preferred to call them ‘neighborhoods and cities.’

    “Nevertheless, Greenblatt still insists that the White House can usher in a new era of Israeli-Palestinian understanding. Along with Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, he helped host the much-maligned economic summit in Bahrain last week, a Davos-style gathering that the Palestinians boycotted. A meaningful political solution looks remote, if not entirely phantasmal.

    “’Friedman and Greenblatt, who habitually reprimand Palestinians and praise Netanyahu with a fervor that puts Israeli propagandists to shame, damaged their own country’s reputation, first and foremost,’ Shalev added. ‘The video of Friedman waving his hammer, a la superhero Thor, a few meters underneath the homes of Silwan’s Palestinian residents, provided world capitals with further proof, as if any was needed, of the dangerous preposterousness of Trump’s foreign policy, in the Middle East and around the world.’

    “Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist and biographer of Netanyahu, lamented the crassness of Trump’s envoys and Adelson, a casino mogul from Las Vegas, smashing ‘walls and coexistence’ in Jerusalem.

    “‘Their gleeful grins as they wielded hammers can’t disguise their true supremacist agendas,’ Pfeffer wrote. ‘And although they can break down a wall, they cannot obscure Jerusalem’s realities. These people have no love for the real Jerusalem — an actual city where nearly a million Jews, Muslims and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians, have to find a way to continue living together.'”

    • RoHa on July 6, 2019, 2:51 am

      ‘The spiritual underpinnings of our society, the bedrock of our principles in which we honor the dignity of every human life, came from Jerusalem,’

      As long as that human life is not the life of a Palestinian.

      But, as far as I can tell, the principles in which we honor the dignity of every human life came from Stoic philosophers.

  5. James Canning on July 5, 2019, 12:38 pm

    Is Donald Trump simply a willing stooge of fanatical Zionist Jews, obsessed with obliterating Palestine and the Palestinians?

    • Lillian Rosengarten on July 5, 2019, 1:45 pm

      Yes James, because he is completely mindless, a really stupid, self centered narcissist. I am a refugee from Nazi Germany, a cultural Jew, A non Zionist and despiser of Zionism who sees Israel as a blind, arrogant disturbed people who have attempted to destroy the Palestinians as well as themselves for the sake of their blind, completely destructive “Jewish Only ” country. To label me or anyone else who stands up for Palestinian freedom as an anti-Semite, is a part of the insanity of Israel.

      • RoHa on July 6, 2019, 2:48 am

        Psst! Lillian,

        “To label me or anyone else who stands up for Palestinian freedom as an anti-Semite is a part of the insanity of Israel”


        “To label me, or anyone else who stands up for Palestinian freedom as an anti-Semite, is a part of the insanity of Israel.”

  6. Ossinev on July 5, 2019, 1:54 pm

    “Israel is the land of biblical history – our national history.”

    Our national history? Friedman is the ambassador for the United States!

    Sums it all up. In a normal state this would mean at the very least denial of basic security clearance as a potential diplomat and at worst locking up as a traitor. It gets all the more Protocolesque by the day !

  7. CigarGod on July 5, 2019, 6:47 pm

    Answer: So they can get Trump to sanction imposing The Palestinian Diet – very similar to The Warsaw Ghetto Diet- on Palestinians…or anyone else in Greater Israel.

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