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From Strength to Strength

Binyamin Rose with Eliezer Shulman and Yisrael Yoskowitz

As involved as he was with Israel before his appointment, for Ambassador David Friedman, nothing compares to the privileged information available on the inside

Monday, October 02, 2017

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“My goal, no matter who I’m speaking with — Israel, Americans, Palestinians — is to strengthen the ties between the United States and Israel and to strengthen Israel as a very important ally of the United States. That’s my goal, and that’s what my heart wants to accomplish as well” (Photos: Matty Stern, Flash 90, AFP/Imagebank)

J ust a few short minutes after the 4 p.m. scheduled time for our interview, we were shaking hands with Ambassador David Friedman, in his office overlooking the greenish-blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

For Friedman, it was either his ninth or tenth appointment of the day, and far from his last. Later that evening, he was set to welcome some 50 ambassadors at the United States ambassador’s residence in Herzliya. Glancing at his watch, Ambassador Friedman noted that Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, would be landing at Ben-Gurion Airport in a few hours. And the next morning, Friedman would be heading to Jerusalem for consultations with Greenblatt.

The activities of each day vary, but the one constant is a packed schedule — morning, noon, and night. “If I have time to eat, I eat. If there’s no time to eat… that’s also good. It’s better,” Friedman quips.

Six months after presenting his credentials to Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and beginning work as US ambassador to Israel, Friedman couldn’t be happier with his new position.

“I love the job. It is a lot of fun,” he says.

It’s also a position he values. “I am strengthening the State of Israel and the United States, and it’s very interesting, and it’s what I want to do.”

In the past, not every US ambassador to Israel has been as close to the president as David Friedman is to President Trump. Friedman, a New York–based bankruptcy lawyer for the past 35 years, had occasion to represent Trump in some legal proceedings over the years, and enjoys the president’s trust.

“I spoke to him several times this past week,” Friedman says. “I’ve been back to meet with him in person a couple of times. It’s not determined by any particular schedule; it’s determined by whether there is something that we need to talk about.”

During his frequent visits to Jerusalem, he davens at the Hovevei Zion Synagogue — originally founded by Eastern European immigrants after 1948.

Friedman, 59, who celebrated his own bar mitzvah at the Kosel in 1971, estimates he made some 100 visits to Israel over the years. Before becoming ambassador, he was best known for his connections to the settlement movement as former president of the American Friends of Beit El. But his views have also been shaped by more than 30 years of reading histories and scholarly works on the Middle East, as well as by meetings with Israeli politicians, IDF brass, and business leaders.

Once President Trump nominated Friedman, critics singled him out for what they termed intemperate remarks he made in May 2016, calling J Street supporters “far worse” than the kapos who ruled over, and sometimes abused, their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps. Friedman apologized for that remark during his Senate confirmation hearing in February, but once you sit down with him, it doesn’t take long to see that Ambassador David Friedman has mastered the art of public diplomacy in short order.

Friedman’s Hebrew is fluent, as attested by his fluent responses to the questions posed by my Hebrew-speaking colleagues. An interviewer gets the distinct impression that there is a lot simmering under the surface, and he would like to tell us more, if he could, but his answers exude both his lawyerly caution and the precision of a career diplomat.

Yisrael Yoskowitz: You participated last week, on Erev Chag [Rosh Hashanah], in a meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Can you say that something has significantly changed in the relations between the two governments, between the previous administration and the current administration?

The relationship is very different in a positive way. On a personal level, the relationship between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu is excellent. I think they have a similar worldview, they respect each other, and there’s a real friendship there. I’m not in a position to speak about the Obama administration. I wasn’t active then. But from what I’ve read, I think it’s a significant improvement and I think that’s going to continue. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 680)

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