Trump's Pick for Israel Ambassador Is Aligned With Israel's Extreme Right Wing

David Friedman vows to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem in first remarks following appointment.

Photo Credit: YouTube/USA Today

Donald Trump announced Thursday that his pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel is David Friedman, a far-right proponent of Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank who aggressively promotes settlements considered illegal under international law and vows to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem, which would instantly launch international outrage.

The announcement was heavily assailed by human rights activists. “David Friedman's appointment as U.S. ambassador to Israel indicates that the Trump Administration has aligned itself with the farthest right elements of the Israeli government,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director for Jewish Voice for Peace.

“Friedman, who heads an organization dedicated to funding settlements, has said he looks forward to leading the effort to move the embassy to Jerusalem, which would put U.S. policy at odds with the international community and take a step closer to full Israeli annexation of occupied territories,” Vilkomerson continued. “Mr. Friedman's appointment is a distressing signal that the new administration will give the Israeli government a free hand to deepen its fundamentally undemocratic and abusive control over Palestinian land, resources and rights."

In a statement announcing the appointment, Trump declared, “His strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission and be a tremendous asset to our country as we strengthen the ties with our allies and strive for peace in the Middle East.”

An investment banker with no foreign policy experience, Friedman served as a volunteer fundraiser for American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which funnels money to illegal Israeli settlements. Judy Maltz of Haaretz reports, “Among the institutions that benefit from the organization’s fundraising efforts is a yeshiva headed by a militant rabbi who has urged Israeli soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements and who has argued that homosexual tendencies arise from eating certain foods.” The family foundation of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law, has also donated to the organization.

Friedman has repeatedly expressed support for Israeli annexation of West Bank territory. “I think there are parts of the West Bank that will stay part of Israel in any peace deal,” he said in an interview with Haaretz last summer. “I am sure [Trump] wouldn’t have any problem with that at all. Regarding the entire West Bank I think that’s a legal issue. I don’t think he will have a problem with that but he would expect Israel to continue seeking peace. He has no doubt that Israel wants peace.”

Video footage captured by Israel’s Channel 2 and released earlier this year shows Friedman again arguing in favor of Israeli annexation of the West Bank. To build his case, he makes false claims about the demographic composition of occupied Palestinian territories to argue that annexation would preserve a Jewish majority and therefore be justified.

Responding to his appointment, Friedman proclaimed, “I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

For decades, the U.S. embassy has been located in Tel Aviv, with the U.S. government maintaining that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through peace negotiations. While the U.S. has a track record of funding, arming and politically backing Israeli occupation and apartheid, critics warn that Friedman’s statements signify a dangerous lurch to the right. “This flies in the face of international norms around territory occupied by war and would reconfirm the perception that U.S. is not an honest broker in this conflict,” Naomi Dann, spokesperson for Jewish Voice for Peace, told AlterNet. “This is a very clear step towards annexation.”

Friedman also has a history of attacking Jewish organizations he believes are not hardline enough, including the liberal Zionist organization J Street, which itself has fallen under criticism for defending Israeli war crimes. In an article published in June, Friedman referred to the J Street as “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.”

J Street immediately registered fierce opposition to Friedman’s appointment, claiming that he “should be beyond the pale.”

However, the news prompted praise from the pro-Israel far-right, with Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, proclaiming that Friedman “has the potential to be the greatest U.S. ambassador to Israel ever. No previous ambassador appreciates the political, historic, legal and religious rights of the Jews to Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem like David.” Notably, the ZOA has fallen under criticism for backing Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor Stephen Bannon, who is a white nationalist.

“The worldview that Trump seems to be comfortable surrounding himself with sees the world as a conflict between the Judeo-Christian West and Islam,” Yousef Munayyer, the executive director for the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told AlterNet. “It is hard to believe, with a person whose views are so extreme, that Trump would make the pick, or that Friedman would accept the pick, if they weren't pretty close in line in terms of their views on this issue. This is another indication of just how dangerous Trump's foreign policy towards Palestine and the region in general is going to be.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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