The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has campaigned for Donald Trump in the Middle East in what appears to be a violation of the law saying federal employees must be nonpartisan. Though it’s hardly the first time Friedman has engaged in such actions.
“If Biden wins, it will be bad for Israel and Gulf on Iran,” is the headline on this Times of Israel report on a Friedman interview with a UAE outlet:
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Sunday told a United Arab Emirates news site that a Joe Biden win in next month’s US elections would see American policy on Iran shift in a way that would be damaging to Israel and the Gulf states.
Friedman told al-Ain that Iran was the “most consequential issue of the election.”
“As you know, Joe Biden was part of the Obama administration that negotiated and implemented the Iran deal, something that President Trump — and I share his view — thinks was the worst international deal the US has ever entered into,” Friedman said in an excerpt from the interview posted to Twitter.
Friedman’s comments appear to violate the Hatch Act, which “generally prohibits Federal employees from engaging in political activities while on duty.” Ambassadors take an oath “to remain above partisan and political considerations.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also apparently violated the Hatch Act when he gave a speech endorsing Trump at the Republican convention (from Jerusalem).
Pompeo’s breach got a lot of negative media attention, but no real consequences. Though violating the Hatch Act is supposed to result in your losing your job.
Daniel Larison of the American Conservative called Friedman out for the remarks.
1) U.S. ambassadors shouldn’t be taking political shots at presidential candidates. They are barred from using their official positions for political activities. This is a clear violation 2) These are moronic hawkish talking points 3) We should care about what’s good for U.S. [not for Israel and Gulf states]
Matthew Petti of the Quincy Institute also wrote, “Why is a U.S. diplomat seemingly campaigning for Trump?”
This is hardly the first time Friedman has crossed the line. The New York Times criticized Friedman for political comments in 2018:
Last week, David M. Friedman, the ambassador to Israel, told an Israeli newspaper, “There’s no question Republicans support Israel more than Democrats,” making an explicitly partisan argument that is generally forbidden among ambassadors….
Senator Ben Cardin said then that Friedman’s remarks were “wrong.” Rep. Eliot Engel also said that Friedman was out of line.
“If a foreign ambassador tried to get involved in American politics, I’d want to see that person on the next flight home,” [Engel] said.” … “It’s unacceptable.”
Americans for Peace Now has said repeatedly that Friedman should be fired for partisan activities, involving himself in both Israeli and U.S. politics.
Apparently, no one has told Friedman that ambassadors are diplomats who represent the interests of the countries they serve, rather than engage in partisan attacks. Friedman used his platform to attack former President Barack Obama, referring to “the dark days of last December” when Obama committed “perhaps the greatest betrayal of Israel by a sitting president in American history.” This is a patently false smear, as APN pointed out.
Friedman was aware of the principle when he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2017 prior to his confirmation as ambassador and vowed not to be partisan.
Some of the language that I used during the highly charged presidential campaign that ended last November has come in for criticism – and rightfully so. While I maintain profound differences of opinion with some of my critics, I regret the use of such language and I want to assure you that I understand the important difference between a political contest and a diplomatic mission. Partisan rhetoric is rarely if ever appropriate in achieving diplomatic progress, especially in a sensitive and strife-torn region like the Middle East. From my perspective, the inflammatory rhetoric that accompanied the presidential campaign is entirely over, and, if I am confirmed, you should expect that my comments will be respectful and measured.
Friedman has never lived up to the standard he embraced.
The Israel lobby group AIPAC was said to be uncomfortable with a speech Friedman gave there last spring attacking Joe Biden over Iran policy. According to Americans for Peace Now’s “Friedman File,” “It was an aggressive partisan message that according to the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent made AIPAC’s leaders ‘unhappy.’…The leitmotif of his speech was a rebuke of the Obama administration’s policy on Israel and an exercise in marketing Trump’s Middle East policies. He called the Obama administration’s abstention from a UN Security Council resolution on settlements ‘a great betrayal of Israel by the United States.’”
Thanks to James North and Donald Johnson.