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Six Things You Need to Know About Trump’s Ambassador to Israel

By Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On March 9, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved David Friedman as President Donald Trump’s pick for United States ambassador to Israel. If his appointment is cleared by the Senate at large and he is confirmed, his duties will include preserving and promoting ties between Israel and the United States, advancing American interests in Israel, and keeping Secretary of State Rex Tillerson apprised of the political climate in the region.

Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, is fluent in Hebrew, thanks to his upbringing as the son of a rabbi in Long Island, N.Y. He and his wife Tammy have five grown children and seven grandchildren.

He obtained his law degree from New York University School of Law in 1981 and until his recent appointment as ambassador to Israel, practiced bankruptcy law as a founding partner at the Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman law firm in New York City. During that time, he acted as legal counsel for Trump and the Trump Organization.

Friedman has deep ties with Israel and is outspoken about his opinions on a number of issues.

David Friedman
David Friedman and President Donald Trump

Here are six things you should know about the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel:

 

1) Friedman has no diplomatic experience, but that is not unusual.
Although Friedman has no prior experience in foreign diplomacy, it is typical for incoming presidents to award diplomatic postings to their loyal supporters. When Trump announced his decision to nominate Friedman as the ambassador to Israel, he praised Friedman’s strong ties to Israel and affirmed his trust in Friedman’s ability to strengthen U.S.-Israeli relations. It is important to note that Friedman does have extensive ties to Israel. He made several visits to that country throughout his life, and even celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. He owns an apartment in Jerusalem and has several business holdings in the country; he will give those up before assuming his duties as ambassador.

2) Friedman is a friend of Trump’s and has been one of the president’s chief advisors on Israel.
Friedman’s relationship with Trump goes beyond that of occasional attorney-client interaction. According to Friedman, the two have been good friends for 15 years; he has said that he believes he has Trump’s trust and respect. The president appointed Friedman as co-chairman of his campaign’s Israel Advisory Committee because of Friedman’s “deep love and commitment to the State of Israel.”

3) Friedman was a controversial pick for the position.
Friedman’s history of voicing candid – often scathing – disapproval of the Obama Administration’s policies in the Middle East, as well as his disdain for the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street, made his appointment as ambassador to Israel controversial. In an op-ed last year, Friedman accused former President Barack Obama of engaging in “blatant anti-Semitism.” He also called supporters of J Street “far worse than kapos: Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.” In addition, he referred to them as “smug advocates of Israel’s destruction, delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas.” During his confirmation hearing, Friedman apologized for those words and said that he deserved criticism for his unbridled remarks. He also assured the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he would be “respectful and measured” in his role as ambassador to Israel.

4) Friedman is far right on the topic of Israeli settlements.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Friedman said that he agreed with Trump that settlement expansion is not conducive to peace. This reflected a slight shift in his position on the issue, as Friedman has long been known as a staunch supporter of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He is president of American Friends of Bet El, an organization that financially supports schools, a military preparatory academy, an online media site and a newspaper in Bet El, a large Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Friedman has said that he believes Israel’s settlement policy is legal, but he has said that it is “silly” to debate the issue because an argument could be made either way. “Legal conclusions will follow political views,” he added.

5) Friedman supports a U.S. embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Friedman is confident that Trump will move the U.S. embassy in Israel from its current location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. During the announcement of his nomination as ambassador to Israel, Friedman went so far as to say that he looked forward to working from the embassy “in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.” The United States officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 1995, when Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, but every U.S. president since then has chosen to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. Many believe that Trump will announce that move on “Jerusalem Day,” an Israeli national holiday held on May 24.

6) Friedman is not convinced about a two-state two solution.
Until recently, Friedman was vocal in his belief that Israel should annex the West Bank and create a one-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has also dismissed the notion that Israel cannot be both a Jewish and a democratic state, projecting that annexation of the West Bank would only reduce Israel from “75 percent Jewish to about 65 percent.” And in an interview last year, Friedman asserted that Trump would not “blindly embrace” a two-state solution to the conflict because it is a policy that has failed for decades. But during his confirmation hearing earlier this year, Friedman said that he would be “delighted if Israelis and Palestinians were able to achieve a two-state solution,” adding that his previous skepticism was a response to Palestinians’ “refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”

Who is the U.S. ambassador to Israel?
The United States Ambassador to Israel is the official representative of the president of the United States to the head of state of Israel. The embassy of the United States in Israel is located on HaYarkon Street in Tel Aviv and is responsible for the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship. The two countries’ current relationship is built upon commercial/industrial, political, military, trade and cultural ties.

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