David Friedman, US President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, reportedly financed a dormitory in a West Bank settlement built on private Palestinian land.
The Friedman Faculty House in the settlement of Beit El, which bears his and his wife’s names on the facade, is built on private Palestinian land, according to a report in the Haaretz newspaper published Wednesday, a day before his confirmation hearing.
The building is part of a girls’ high school named Ulpanat Ra’aya built in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El. Part of that neighborhood was removed in 2012 because the High Court ruled that they were built on privately owned Palestinian land.
The Friedman House is one of nine buildings remaining in that neighborhood. A demolition order was issued against it in 2002 because it was built on Palestinian land but so far the order has not been carried out. The Palestinian landowners said that they will petition the High Court next week to remove the building, Haaretz reported.
A website connected to Friedman’s fundraising group describes Beit El’s institutions as “‘facts on the ground’ in the face of the international community’s desire to uproot us.”
Friedman is a major donor to the settlement and serves as the president of the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva, the US fundraising arm of its Jewish seminary and affiliated institutions, including high schools, an Israeli military prep academy, a newspaper for the religious Jewish settler community and Israel National News website.
On Thursday, Friedman defended his affiliation with Beit El, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he was not connected to its political activities, which “I really have no part in.”
Instead, he said, all the money that he has helped raise has been to support construction of dormitories, gyms, classrooms and similar facilities. “It primarily derives from my commitment to Jewish education,” Friedman said. “The quality of those schools is excellent.”
שגריר ארה"ב הבא בישראל, דייויד פרידמן, תרם מבנה לאולפנה "רעיה" בהתנחלות בית-אל. האולפנה הוקמה על קרקע פרטית פלסטינית. pic.twitter.com/MVj8aavQk8
— Idan Landau (@idanlandau) December 17, 2016
Liberal Jewish groups and past US ambassadors have spoken forcefully against the nomination of Friedman, who caused an uproar by saying supporters of the dovish Mideast policy group J Street were “far worse than kapos,” referring to Jews who aided Nazis during the Holocaust.
They have petitioned members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, to block Friedman’s appointment.
Schumer has refused to comment about whether or not he will endorse Friedman. Complicating the situation, Haaretz reported Friday that Friedman and his wife have over the years donated a total of $14,800 to Schumer’s political campaigns. The most recent donation to Schumer was in 2010.
The Friedmans also donated to many other senators and congressmen including former Vice President Joe Biden and former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
A spokesperson for Schumer, Marisa Kaufman, denied that the donations would influence the senator’s decision. “As with all nominees, Senator Schumer will decide how he votes based solely on the person’s record, viewpoints, skill-level and the answers provided during testimony,” she told Haaretz.
Friedman’s financial support for Schumer hasn’t prevented him from heated criticism of the senator in the past. In 2015 Friedman attacked Schumer in an op-ed for the right-wing news site Israel National News for not opposing the Iran nuclear deal sooner, likening him to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who appeased Adolf Hitler.
Associated Press contributed to this report.