As a Jewish American and a Palestinian human rights activist, we stand united in our opposition to President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of bankruptcy attorney David Friedman to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Friedman, who has no diplomatic experience, is aligned not with American Jewish positions, but with Israel’s illegal settler movement and he is hostile to the two-state solution. He refers to the West Bank as Judea and Sumeria, a biblical name used by settlers and Israel’s extreme right. Friedman’s use of this name reflects his support for Israeli annexation of the West Bank, which would force the Palestinian population either to leave or be contained in enclaves, not unlike South Africa's apartheid-era bantustans.
Friedman’s appointment would signal a break with decades of U.S. foreign policy criticizing settlement expansion and maintaining at least the appearance of support for a just and peaceful solution to the conflict (U.S. military aid to Israel, which the Obama administration just increased to $38 billion over the next 10 years, has always acted counter to peaceful resolution). Friedman has made clear that he intends to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, an action that would fly in the face of international law and the positions of our European allies. He heads up an organization that has raised tens of billion of dollars for the illegal settlement of Bet El, located outside of Ramallah. He has stated that supporters of the liberal Jewish organization J Street are worse than “kapos," Jewish prison guards who worked in Nazi death camps.
From insulting liberal American Jews to supporting illegal settlers, Friedman’s positions are out of step with trends among American Jews. According to a 2013 Pew Center poll, only 17 percent of American Jews say that continued settlement building helps Israel’s security. Forty-four percent, the plurality of American Jews, see settlements as harmful to security. In contrast, 42 percent of Israeli Jews say settlements help Israel’s security while only 30 percent say they are harmful. Yet Friedman is supposed to represent U.S. positions, not the Israeli right wing.
Unlike Israeli Jews, trends among American Jews show a sharp move away from religious practice and toward secularization, assimilation and identification with the less religious Union for Reform Judaism movement. These reform Jews, who make up 65 percent of American Jewry, are less likely than their orthodox counterparts to express blind support for Israel’s policies. While they report emotional attachment to the state of Israel, they tend to disagree with the ideology supported by Friedman that the land of Israel was promised to the Jewish people by God.
In November 2016, Friedman and Jason Dov Greenblatt released a 16-point plan for U.S. relations with Israel under the Trump administration. Along with suggesting that the U.S. “cut off funds for the U.N. Human Rights Council,” they also portray Iran “as the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” arguing that Iran is in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and calling for the implementation of “tough, new sanctions.” Friedman’s position on Iran, while in alignment with Netanyahu’s wishes, is inconsistent with American Jewish opinion. A 2015 LA Jewish Journal survey found that 48 percent of American Jews support the Iran deal and only 28 percent oppose it (25 percent reported that they hadn't heard enough to form an opinion).
As a modern Jewish-American woman, I am an example of the changing trends in American Jewry. My grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Poland as a child in the early 1900s. Her parents settled in Utica, New York, where they helped establish the local chapter of the Zionist Organization of America in 1938. Our family’s roots stretch back to 14th-century Jewish scholar and Kabbalist Joseph Karo, buried in the Northern Israeli town of Safed. I was taught, like most American Jews, that Israel was our protection after centuries of anti-Semitism, culminating in the Holocaust. I joined a Reform synagogue upon reaching adulthood, but my feelings of connection to and support for Israel as a Jewish state were shattered with the 2008-'09 assault on Gaza, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Horrified that Israel was committing this act in my name, I began to look critically at the history of zionism, at Israel’s foundation of ethnic cleansing and at the state’s ongoing violations of international law and Palestinians’ human rights. In the fall of 2016, I spent six weeks in Hebron with the Palestinian human rights group Youth Against Settlements, experiencing directly the most ideologically extreme and violent members of Israel’s settler movement.
Incitement to settler violence is at its most extreme in Hebron, but it is commonplace and normalized throughout Israeli society. In October 2016, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads up Israel’s right-wing Habayit Hayehudi Party, stated that Israelis should be ready to "give our lives" to annex the West Bank. Friedman’s denunciation of the two-state solution and support for Israeli annexation of the West Bank provides dangerous legitimation for such calls.
As a Palestinian native of Hebron, I know all too well what "giving lives" to annex the West Bank looks like, as well as the consequences. I was 14 years old when Brooklyn-born Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire in Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque in 1994, killing 29 Palestinians and injuring another 125. Since then, Hebron has become a divided city. While Israeli settlers roam the streets, openly carrying machine guns, Palestinians like myself face movement barriers, closed military zones, 12 permanently staffed checkpoints, and constant harassment. The Youth Against Settlements center, which is also my residence, is regularly invaded by aggressive settlers and soldiers.
Since university, my life’s commitment has been to use nonviolence as a way to campaign for equality, freedom and an end to Israeli apartheid. In 2010, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared me the Human Rights Defender of the Year for Palestine. In 2013, the European Union gave me official Human Rights Defender designation. In 2011, I was a guest of the U.S. State Department as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program. While I experience commendation and support from the International community, at home I face settler death threats and persecution from Israel. Currently, I am undergoing trial in Israeli military court on trumped-up charges in an effort to silence my voice and shut down my endeavours. Friedman’s appointment would harm, rather than support my nonviolent work and would green-light an increase in settler violence in Hebron and throughout the West Bank.
More and more American Jews are aligning with the nonviolent movement for Palestinian human rights. Last spring, hundreds of American Jews, including Jewish-American journalist and political analyst Peter Beinart, traveled to the West Bank to stand shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians in Hebron and the West Bank village of Susiya. They faced arrest as they joined their Palestinian counterparts in an attempt to clean out an abandoned Palestinian factory and transform it into a cinema. This, not support for the Israeli extreme right and settler movement, is the trend of American Jewish opinion on Israel. It is how to support a peaceful solution to the decades-old conflict. Peace talks, protection for human rights defenders and adherence to international law is what the the next U.S. ambassador to Israel should be supporting. This is why we are asking you to add your name to CodePink's petition calling on the incoming 116th U.S. Congress not to confirm David Friedman.