US President Donald Trump’s appointed ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday, will likely take up his post fully only in June.
“This week, it will be my high honor to administer the Oath of Office to Ambassador David Friedman,” Vice President Mike Pence told thousands of delegates at the annual policy conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC Sunday night. “David is an unabashed advocate for a stronger Israel-America relationship and our friendship will be stronger after he gets sworn in as ambassador. And I got to tell you, I just can’t wait.”
But so far, no date has been set yet for Friedman’s arrival in Israel, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv told The Times of Israel on Monday. According to Israeli sources, the bankruptcy-attorney-turned-diplomat is not likely to hand his letter of credence to President Reuven Rivlin before June. Until that ceremony, he will not officially be considered Washington’s ambassador to Israel.
Friedman, whose appointment was controversial due to his past support for West Bank settlements and his derogatory remarks about liberal American Jews, was confirmed Thursday in the Senate by a 52-46 margin, the most closely contested vote on an envoy to Israel ever.
But Israeli leaders, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warmly welcomed him, hailing him as a great friend of Israel who will enhance the bilateral relationship. Some US Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents also congratulated Friedman on his appointment.
Other organizations, such as the dovish pro-Israel lobby J Street — which Friedman famously referred to as “worse than kapos” during the presidential campaign — on the other hand, lamented that his “extreme views and rhetoric about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are firmly outside the mainstream of American policy making.”
New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman will be warmly welcomed as President Trump's representative and as a close friend of Israel. ????????????????
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) March 23, 2017
Congratulations to David Friedman!
Looking forward to working closely with you to make the US-Israel alliance stronger than ever.
— Amb. Ron Dermer (@AmbDermer) March 23, 2017
Immediately following the Senate vote, the US Embassy in Israel requested Israel’s acceptance of Friedman’s appointment, called an agrément in diplomatic parlance.
The protocol department at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem lost no time in replying affirmatively.
The ministry has the “honor to inform the Embassy that the Government of the State of Israel has given the agreement to the appointment of: Mr. David M. Friedman as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the State of Israel,” read a letter signed by Director-General Yuval Rotem. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel avails itself of this opportunity to renew the Embassy of the United States of America the assurances of its highest consideration.”
Appointed foreign ambassadors usually arrive in Israel a short time after an agrément has been granted. Within a day or two of their arrival, they hand a copy of their letter of credence to the head of the Foreign Ministry’s protocol department. From that moment on, they are considered ambassadors-designate, and can fulfill most of the functions of a foreign ambassador here.
However, some restrictions still apply: Designated ambassadors are usually asked not to meet with the prime minister, the president or the speaker of the Knesset until they hand the original letter of credence to the president at a ceremony in Jerusalem, thus becoming full-fledged ambassadors to Israel. Some ambassadors who have yet to hand over their credentials are also asked not to speak to the press.
But in the case of the American ambassador, it might be impracticable to prevent him from engaging with the media or from attending meetings between high-level US delegations and the Israeli leadership.
The President’s Residence so far has not scheduled a date for Friedman’s ceremony.
Foreign ambassadors are invited to hand over their credentials in the order of their arrival in Israel. So far, only one person — the ambassador-designate of Thailand — is ahead in line of Friedman.
However, Friedman is rumored to not be set to arrive in Israel in a professional capacity before Passover, a weeklong Jewish festival that starts on April 10 and during which the government in Israel usually shuts down.
But even if he flew to Israel in late March or early April, Friedman would probably not be able to hand Rivlin his credentials right away, because the President’s Residence conducts such ceremonies only when there are a handful of ambassadors waiting in line.
Friedman will thus most likely not officially become the ambassador before June, an Israeli source estimated. A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Tel Aviv said on Monday that she was “unable to confirm the ambassador’s travel plans at this time.”