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Right Man for the Job?

Jacob Kornbluh

With the appointment of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel, Donald Trump sent a strong signal to the Jewish community and the State of Israel. But is everyone thrilled?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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NEW HIGH? “The Republican platform, which could never have been enacted without the support of Donald Trump, is the most pro-Israel platform in the history of either party, in the history of this country,” Friedman said on the eve of Trump’s historic upset. (Photos: AP Images, Flash90)

P resident-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as the next US ambassador to Israel last Thursday was met with criticism from the left, joy from the right, and ambivalence from those observing the US-Israel relationship.

David Melech Friedman, a New York–based bankruptcy lawyer for the past 35 years and former president of the American Friends of Beit El, a local council located in the Binyamin Region, is a fluent Hebrew speaker with a lifelong connection to the Jewish state. He is the son of the late Morris Friedman, who hosted Ronald Reagan at Temple Hillel in Long Island in 1984. His bar mitzvah was held at the Kosel, and in a statement following his appointment, Friedman said he is looking forward to working “from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

In April, while meeting with representatives of Jewish media outlets in Trump Tower, the president-elect mentioned that Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, executive vice president and chief legal officer at Trump Organization, were his trusted advisors on Israel-related matters. The advice Trump received from his two advisors likely led him to declare a month later that Israel should not be pressed to halt new construction in West Bank settlements in order to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. In July, the pair were named as co-chairs of an “Israel Advisory Committee,” which issued its recommendations on the peace process six days before Election Day.

Friedman’s appointment was almost a given after it became clear that Trump was serious about following through with his campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while at the same time picking an oilman (ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson) with ties to the Arab world as secretary of state.

Greenblatt called the pick of Friedman “a wonderful choice.”

“I have known David for years and I am consistently impressed by his intelligence and excellent judgment,” Greenblatt said. “Having worked on this committee with David for months, I know that President-elect Trump got exactly what he wanted: David has tremendous passion for and devotion to Israel. David’s appointment is proof positive that President-elect Trump will be a true friend to Israel.”

Right and Left

The news of the nomination spread like wildfire in the forests surrounding Jerusalem and on the hilltops in Judea and Samaria.

As Israelis woke up to the news Friday morning, Bayit Yehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted a picture of his recent meeting with Friedman at the Zionist Organization of America’s annual gala in New York, wishing the new ambassador good luck and touting him as a “great friend of Israel.” Since the election of Trump, Bennett has expressed his delight at the outcome, calling on the government to seize the opportunity presented by the new administration and to take concrete steps to discard the “two-state solution.” Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid Party and a leading contender for prime minister in the next Knesset elections, also expressed his anticipation to meet Friedman in “his rightful office in our capital Jerusalem.”

“There is no doubt that the announcement of Mr. Friedman’s nomination was welcomed in the great majority of right-wing circles,” Jeremy Saltan, a veteran Knesset insider and Bayit Yehudi’s Anglo Forum chairman, told Mishpacha. “In Israel, Trump is probably most popular among settlers, and the nomination of Friedman was exactly what they were hoping for.”

On the other hand, Jewish-American groups, including those affiliated with the left of the Democratic Party, voiced their opposition to the pick and warned of its damaging consequences. “This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk,” J Street said in a statement.

A number of congressional Democrats also expressed opposition to the nomination of Friedman. Congressman Jerry Nadler said the appointment has “dangerous consequences for both the United States and Israel.” Referring to a statement Friedman made this summer that J Street supporters are “worse than kapos,” Nadler said the sentiment was “an insult to the majority of American Jews.” Nadler, who represents the largest Jewish constituency in the nation, faced criticism last year from his Boro Park constituents over his support of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Adding to the insult is that many of his Orthodox Jewish constituents in Brooklyn — over 70 percent in the 48th Assembly District — voted for Trump in the presidential election.

The President’s Ear

But to those aware of Trump’s past statements on Israel and his recent appointments, the nomination of Friedman should have come as no surprise, says Alan Abbey, director of Internet and media at Shalom Hartman Institute. “Given that the president-elect, as any president, must trust his appointees to have similar worldviews and ideals, David Friedman would be a faithful transmitter of Mr. Trump’s approach to Israel, as the current ambassador, Daniel Shapiro, has been of the Obama administration,” Abbey told Mishpacha.

Right-wing circles celebrated the appointment of Friedman, who expressed his anticipation for working out of the US embassy in Jerusalem — a loaded statement, considering that the embassy hasn’t budged from its Tel Aviv location despite many promises

Friedman’s longstanding relationship with the president-elect, and his role during the presidential campaign as Trump’s public voice and advocate on issues related to Israel, give credence to the notion that he may have the president’s ear when it comes to policy.

In his interaction with the media during the campaign, Friedman was well-mannered, but direct in his statements, expressing hard-line views on Israel and the Middle East. In several conversations with this reporter, Friedman suggested that Trump would support Israel’s annexation of large settlement blocs, recognize Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights, and increase security aid to Israel above the amount agreed upon in the recent ten-year “Memorandum of Understanding” between the US and Israel.

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