Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday hailed the appointment of David Friedman as the next US ambassador to Israel.
Unnamed officials told Ynet Netanyahu was satisfied by President-elect Donald Trump’s choice.
“The prime minister knows that the president-elect has complete trust, and that he expects to work with Friedman closely and tightly,” the aides told the news site.
Friedman, 57, an Orthodox Jew and a Hebrew speaker, has been an outspoken and active supporter of the settlement movement, and has argued that Israel doesn’t face a “demographic threat” to its Jewish character if it fails to separate from the Palestinians. In addition to being a bankruptcy lawyer in New York, Friedman serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that supports a large West Bank settlement just outside Ramallah.
Right-wing Israelis welcomed Friedman’s appointment, announced Thursday, but there was no immediate official comment from the prime minister’s office. Palestinian officials, on the other hand, expressed concern at the hardliner’s nomination for the post.
While there wasn’t any immediate official response to Trump’s selection from Ramallah, a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that it wasn’t a surprising choice, but it nonetheless constituted “a major warning sign.”
Earlier in the day the Yesha Council of settlements praised Friedman’s appointment, citing his “knowledge and wisdom of the issues.”
“Friedman has a deep love for all of the land and people of Israel, including those in Judea and Samaria,” said Oded Revivi, the mayor of the Efrat settlement and Yesha’s foreign envoy, in a statement. “His knowledge and wisdom of the issues will strengthen the bridge between our great nations,” he said.
Local settler leader Yossi Dagan also welcomed Trump’s announcement on Friday morning, calling it an “encouraging” move.
“David Friedman is a true friend and partner of the State of Israel and the settlements,” said a statement from Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council in the West Bank.
Dagan said Trump’s choice of Friedman shows that the president-elect “intends to be committed to Israel in an honest and genuine way,” according to the Walla news website. Dagan called the move “a significant and encouraging declaration of intent.”
The head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely of Likud praised Friedman’s appointment Friday, as well as Trump’s apparent plan to follow through on his campaign pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“I look forward to working with the new US ambassador, a close friend of Israel, David Friedman, in a place worthy of his office — our capital, Jerusalem,” Lapid said, according to the Walla news website.
Hotovely called the appointment “good news for Israel.”
Friedman’s “positions reflect the desire to strengthen the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at this time and an understanding that the settlements were never the real problem in the region,” she said in a statement.
Zionist Organization of America chief Morton Klein, a longtime supporter of Trump, said Friedman “has the potential to be the greatest US Ambassador to Israel ever.”
Friedman “thoroughly understands the detailed tragic reality of the Arab/Islamic war against Israel,” Klein said in a statement. “He has a powerful grasp of Israel’s defense needs, the dangers they face, and the danger now of a Hamas/[Palestinian Authority] State.
“No previous ambassador appreciates the political, historic, legal, and religious rights of the Jews to Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem like David. Yet he respects and understands the beliefs and hopes and dreams of the political left in Israel and America. This, in addition to his heartfelt love of Israel and all its people, makes him uniquely qualified for this position.”
Celebrity American rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who was a Republican congressional candidate in 2014, paid tribute to departing ambassador Dan Shapiro for his “steadfast commitment to the security of, and love for, the Jewish state,” despite “significant policy disagreements.”
He called Friedman a “brilliant choice for ambassador,” saying he was “regarded in the highest esteem by the New York Jewish community as an exemplar of the American and Jewish virtues of education, erudition, philanthropy and communal commitment.”
Boteach added that Friedman “has shown courage and conviction in speaking out forcefully of America placing its embassy not in Israel’s commercial capital, Tel Aviv, but in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
“I also have no doubt that David will make history in serving as the first American Ambassador in King David’s ancient city, the spiritual crossroads of the world, Jerusalem,” he said.
Since 1967, official US policy — during both Republican and Democratic administrations — has opposed Israeli construction in areas that the Palestinians claim for their future state.
President Barack Obama, like the liberal pro-Israel community in the US, maintains that settlement expansion hobbles the prospect of a comprehensive two-state deal with the Palestinians, and that a failure to reach such an outcome would jeopardize Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.
Liberal Jewish groups in the US were less than thrilled with the pick of Friedman. Within an hour of the announcement Thursday, they let loose with scathing condemnations of the appointment.
While it was always unlikely that Trump, who vowed on the campaign trail to adopt a radically different posture on Israel than that of Obama, would appoint an envoy to the Jewish left’s satisfaction, the choice of a man whose views represent such a profound break with US foreign policy orthodoxy seemed to stir intense emotions.
“J Street is vehemently opposed to the nomination of David Friedman,” 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.”
Meanwhile, the National Jewish Democratic Council tweeted: “Trump must stand for a strong US-Israel relationship and take it seriously. [There] hasn’t ever been a less experienced pick for US ambassador to Israel.”
Friedman ramped up speculation that Trump could make good on his pledge to move the embassy to Jerusalem. In a statement Thursday, Friedman said he looked forward to taking up his diplomatic post in “the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem,” indicating Trump’s apparent intentness to do what a number of other presidential candidates have promised but failed to deliver once they took office.
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.”
Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report
- Israel & the Region
- Jewish Times
- David Friedman
- Donald Trump
- J Street
- Jeremy Ben-Ami
- Americans for Peace Now
- Israel-US relations
- National Jewish Democratic Council
- US foreign policy
- American Friends of Bet El Institutions
- two-state solution
- Yossi Dagan
- Yesha Council
- Oded Revivi
- Morton Klein
- ZOA Zionist Organization of America
- Shmuley Boteach
- Tzipi Hotovely