Former US envoy confirms Trump was angry at Netanyahu for congratulating Biden

But ex-ambassador David Friedman backs Israel’s former PM for praising victorious new president, saying ‘that is how democracies work’

Then-US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman speaks during a visit in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion, February 20, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Then-US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman speaks during a visit in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion, February 20, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman has confirmed that ex-president Donald Trump was enraged at Benjamin Netanyahu for congratulating Joe Biden upon winning the 2020 US election.

A book on the Trump presidency by Michael Wolff claims that Trump saw the congratulations from Netanyahu, at the time Israel’s prime minister, as the “ultimate betrayal.”

Friedman, who was appointed by Trump as ambassador, was asked about the incident during a Tuesday interview with Zev Brenner on the Talkline Network, a Jewish media outlet.

“We were at a time which was extremely sensitive,” Friedman said and noted that Trump was of the view that “the elections weren’t fair.”

“I think he would have preferred that the prime minister” hold back on the congratulations a little longer, added Friedman.

“Whatever the reaction may have been at the time, it’s long gone and long disappeared,” he maintained.

Friedman also backed Netanyahu’s gesture, saying that “when the United States recognizes a new president the State of Israel really has no choice but to congratulate the president.”

“That’s how democracies work and the relationship between Israel and the United States is more important than any particular individual,” Friedman said.

Friedman revealed he is still in contact with Trump as the former envoy works on a documentary about the Abraham Accords, a US-brokered agreement that normalized ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan last year.

Then-US Vice President Joe Biden shakes hand with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime ministers’s official residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Trump’s remarks about Netanyahu were first reported last week by the Forward, which obtained an advance copy of Wolff’s book, “Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency.”

“It was startling to aides, however much they were anticipating an eruption, that Trump’s wrath fell on Bibi Netanyahu,” Wolff wrote, quoting Trump as telling aides that Netanyahu’s tweet to Biden came “before the ink was dry” and was an “ultimate betrayal.”

“As in all Trump reactions, a variety of grievances welled up here,” Wolff wrote in the book, which was published on July 13. “There was his belief that he had singularly done more for Israel than any American president — and that therefore he was owed. And now sold out.”

Trump refused to concede defeat, making unsubstantiated allegations of serious fraud and vowing to take his case to the courts, actions that ultimately encouraged his followers to storm the US Capitol building in an attempt to stop the certification of Biden’s election victory.

Trump’s apparent anger came despite Netanyahu being one of the last major world leaders to congratulate Biden and Kamala Harris, even provoking warnings that he was jeopardizing Israel’s relations with the US.

After a conspicuously long hiatus, Netanyahu issued a statement on his personal Twitter account at 7 a.m. in Israel (midnight EST), more than 12 hours after US media networks called the presidency for Biden.

“Congratulations @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. Joe, we’ve had a long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel,” Netanyahu wrote.

“I look forward to working with both of you to further strengthen the special alliance between the US and Israel.”

Analysts pointed out that in his tweets and subsequent remarks to the cabinet, Netanyahu did not address Biden as “president-elect” and did not explicitly state that the former vice president and Delaware senator had won the elections.

In a second tweet, he thanked Trump “for the friendship you have shown the state of Israel and me personally, for recognizing Jerusalem and the Golan, for standing up to Iran, for the historic peace accords and for bringing the American-Israeli alliance to unprecedented heights.”

Netanyahu had built a close relationship with Trump and his administration, which reversed decades of US policy by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and removing opposition to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. Netanyahu’s close ties with Trump and Republicans in his corner had led to concerns of a loss of bipartisan support for Israel in Washington.

The fact that Netanyahu took 12 hours after all major American networks projected that Biden had beaten Trump — and long after most world leaders had done so — was a source of concern for some.

Then-US president Donald Trump, left, and then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, January 27, 2020. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the opposition leader at the time, who was the first Israeli politician to congratulate Biden, said it was “cowardly and shameful” that the country’s top leadership remained silent, and “hurts Israeli interests.”

Since ousting Netanyahu, Lapid and his coalition partner Prime Minister Naftali Bennett have made restoring bipartisan support in the US a key diplomatic goal.

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