WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump will nominate his adviser and long-time friend David Friedman to be the next US ambassador to Israel, his transition team announced Thursday, in a statement that quoted Friedman predicting he would work from “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
The 57-year-old bankruptcy attorney, a Hebrew-speaker, served along with Jason Dov Greenblatt on Trump’s Israel advisory committee during the campaign, becoming one of his main representatives to the Jewish community and Jewish media.
“The bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I’m president,” Trump said in a statement. “As the United States’ ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries.”
In the statement, Freidman said he was “deeply honored and humbled” that Trump selected him to represent the US in Israel, and that he aimed to “strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
It was a further indication of the incoming president’s apparent resolve to follow through on his campaign pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Earlier this week it was reported that the Trump team was already planning the relocation, including undertaking advance work on the project, after his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said it was “a very big priority for him.”
If confirmed, Friedman will replace Dan Shapiro, who, before taking the ambassador’s post, was the senior director for the Middle East and North Africa on the US National Security Council.
Over the course of the campaign, Friedman was outspoken on his belief that West Bank settlement activity is not an obstacle to peace and that Israel does not face a “demographic threat” to its Jewish character if it fails to separate from the Palestinians.
A week before the election, Friedman released a 16-point position paper with Greenblatt, the other member of Trump’s Israel advisory committee, that pledged to strengthen US assistance and detailed a number of promises that US presidential candidates typically make, such as vowing to reject measures critical of Israel at the United Nations.
In an interview with The Times of Israel in November, Friedman spoke in depth about Trump’s plans for managing the US-Israel relationship and conducting foreign policy in the region. “One significant part of a Trump policy would be no daylight between Israel and America,” he said, foreshadowing the language of Thursday’s announcement.
The Long Island native indicated that Trump would seek to forge a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, but was open to alternatives outside the two-state framework embraced by official US policy for decades.
Friedman stated that, based on his discussions with Trump, “a two-state solution is not a priority” for the president-elect. “I don’t think he is wed to any particularly outcome. A two-state solution is a way, but it’s not the only way.”
He also suggested that Trump would not apply pressure to Israel over approving settlement construction projects in the West Bank, saying he would not “dictate to Israel where it can and cannot build.”
The pledge by Trump in Thursday’s statement to “ensure there is no daylight” between the US and Israel under his presidency appeared to represent a dig at the outgoing Obama administration. President Barack Obama increased US-Israel defense and intelligence sharing, but challenged the practice of his two immediate predecessors – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – of keeping diplomatic disagreements behind closed doors. Early in his administration, Obama told Jewish leaders the policy of “no daylight” had not advanced peace in the region.
Within an hour of Trump making the announcement, liberal Jewish groups such as J Street, the National Jewish Democratic Council and Americans for Peace Now strongly denounced the nomination in no uncertain terms.
“J Street is vehemently opposed to the nomination of David Friedman to be Ambassador to Israel,” the organization’s president Jeremy Ben Ami said in a statement. “This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk.
In a June column for the far-right Israel National News website, Friedman accused the dovish group’s supporters of being “far worse than kapos,” referring to Jews who aided Nazis during the Holocaust.
“The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one?” he asked. “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.”
Other left-wing Jewish groups and representatives expressed similar indignation with Trump’s selection of Friedman.
The National Jewish Democratic Council tweeted that there “hasn’t ever been a less experienced pick for US [ambassador] to Israel,” while Lara Friedman, the director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, said, “I don’t know about the Palestinians, but I know Jews who truly care about Israel’s security, democracy & place in the world are outraged.”
Meanwhile, there were also Republican Jewish leaders who responded with exuberant approval.
“Great choice!!” executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition Matt Brooks tweeted. “David is someone who understands the President’s vision and will strengthen the US-Israel relationship.”
Times of Israel staff and JTA contributed to this piece.