David Friedman is a bankruptcy lawyer who believes the two-state solution is an “illusion,” Barack Obama is anti-Semitic, and that Israel has a legal right to expand settlements in the occupied West Bank — or else to annex the territory in its entirety.
He believes that America’s embassy in Israel should be immediately relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — even though decades of Republican and Democratic administrations have opposed making such a move before a peace deal is secured, as both the Israelis and Palestinians see the city as their rightful capital.
Friedman has nothing but contempt for Jews that disagree with him. Last June, he wrote the following about members of J Street — an advocacy group for pro-Israel Americans who oppose the occupation of the West Bank and support a two-state solution:
Finally, are J Street supporters really as bad as kapos? The answer, actually, is no. They are far worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps. The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one? But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas – it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.
None of this should be newsworthy. There are plenty of smug advocates of indefinite Palestinian subjugation lounging on sofas in New York City or in one of Sheldon Adelson’s well-appointed sitting rooms. Friedman is just some bankruptcy lawyer, who happens to have views that make Bibi Netanyahu look like Peter Beinart.
But Friedman isn’t just any bankruptcy lawyer — he’s Donald Trump’s personal bankruptcy lawyer.
And so, he is now the president-elect’s pick for ambassador to Israel.
“With Mr. Friedman’s nomination, President-elect Trump expressed his commitment to further enhancing the U.S.-Israel relationship and ensuring there will be extraordinary strategic, technological, military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries,” Trump’s transition team said in a statement.
In that statement, Friedman expressed his eagerness to perform his duties “from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
In an interview with Haaretz last summer, Friedman suggested that Trump shared his support for Israeli settlement expansion in — and partial annexation of — the West Bank. If the Trump administration adopted such a policy, they would be breaking with a half-century of precedent — since 1967, every American administration has viewed Israel’s settlements as illegitimate.
Former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy told the New York Times that Friedman’s appointment would not only further the “disenfranchisement and dispossession” of the Palestinians, but also undermine American and Israeli security.
“If an American ambassador stakes out positions that further embolden an already triumphalist settler elite, then that is likely to cause headaches for American national security interests across the region and even for Israel’s own security establishment,” Levy told the paper. “Especially an ambassador committed to the ill-advised relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.”
Friedman will need to be confirmed by the Senate and, for whatever reason, J Street plans to oppose his confirmation.
“As someone who has been a leading American friend of the settlement movement, who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement, “Friedman should be beyond the pale for Senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel.”
Notably, Friedman’s views are hardly consensus ones within Trump’s proposed cabinet. Would-be secretary of Defense James Mattis has suggested that he does not share Friedman’s delusion that Israel could remain a Jewish and democratic state even while annexing the West Bank.
“I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel,” Mattis said at a a 2013 appearance at the Aspen Security Forum, before arguing that a two-state solution is the only acceptable outcome to the Israel–Palestine conflict.
“Either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid,” Mattis said. “That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country.”
Whether Mattis’s simple statement of fact — or Friedman’s likening of liberal Jews to Nazi collaborators — receives more criticism during next year’s confirmation hearings will tell us a lot about the state of “pro-Israel” politics in our country.