Israel read more

A hardline choice

Trump's pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel supports settlements in the West Bank

Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel supports settlements in the West Bank

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated David Friedman, a New York bankruptcy lawyer with no experience in government or diplomacy, to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.

In a statement, Trump said Friedman would bolster “the special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel, and that, as president, he will “ensure there is no daylight between us.”

Friedman, who was a close adviser to Trump on the campaign trail, is the head of a U.S. nonprofit that raised millions of dollars for a religious school in Beit El – a settlement east of the Palestinian city of Ramallah that has seen clashes with Israeli soldiers in the past. He has previously called President Obama an anti-Semite and, during the U.S. election campaign, pledged that Trump would support Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

Friedman’s fervent support for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank makes him a controversial choice as U.S. ambassador to America’s top ally in the Middle East. The decision to nominate Friedman likely portends a hard move to the right for U.S. policy on Israel. Every single president of the U.S. in recent years has criticized settlement-building as an obstacle to any peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Much of the world considers such settlements to be illegal under international law. But with Friedman’s selection, Trump is putting an advocate of Israeli settlers in the driver’s seat of U.S. policy.

Oded Revivi, the foreign envoy for the Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing Israeli settlements, said in a statement that Friedman has a “deep love for all of the land and people of Israel, including those in Judea and Samaria.” Judea and Samaria is the Biblical term for the West Bank.

The Republican Jewish Coalition also praised Friedman, saying that his pick ensures stronger U.S.-Israel ties. The coalition added that they look forward to the U.S. embassy moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a promise Trump made repeatedly in the run-up to the election.

That move, if carried out, would stir anger among Palestinians and throughout the wider Middle East. Jerusalem’s status has long been unresolved, with both Israelis and Palestinians claiming the city – holy to all major monotheistic religions – as their capital. In 1967, Israel – which has controlled the western half of the city since the country’s founding in 1948 – conquered East Jerusalem, and in 1980, declared the whole city to be their capital. However, much of the world – including the U.S. – has not formally recognized that claim. A U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem would change that.

Left-leaning Jewish groups in the U.S. quickly condemned Friedman’s ambassadorial nomination and vowed to fight the nomination. Senate, which must confirm him. “This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk,” J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said in a statement. Friedman has previously voiced ire at J Street, calling them “worse than kapos” – a term given to Jewish prisoners who collaborated with Nazis – for pushing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian analysts also criticized the pick. “With Donald Trump, you have to learn to expect the new and the extreme,” Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told VICE News. Munayyer noted that Trump was elected on a Republican Party platform that “dismisses the idea that there’s an occupation, and doesn’t think that settlements are a problem.”

Now, Munayyer says, “you have an ambassador selected for the country that thinks the way he does. These are pretty seismic shifts.”

Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS

M-F 7:30PM HBO