US envoy Friedman tears into left-wing daily for op-ed disparaging him

Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken slams Friedman in turn, accusing Trump administration of backing Israel’s ‘policy’ of ‘obstructing peace process, perpetuating apartheid’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends the lobby for Israel-US relations at the Knesset on July 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends the lobby for Israel-US relations at the Knesset on July 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tore into the Haaretz daily Friday after the left-wing outlet ran an op-ed criticizing his financial support for the settlement enterprise.

“What has become of .@Haaretz ? Four young children are sitting shiva for their murdered father and this publication calls their community a ‘mountain of curses.’ Have they no decency?” he tweeted.

The “mountain of curses” remark with which Friedman took particular issue was a play on words by columnist Gidon Levy referring to the Har Bracha, or “Mount of blessing,” settlement.

The northern West Bank community was home to Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal, a 29-year-old father of four who was stabbed to death by an Israeli Arab terrorist outside the Ariel settlement on Monday.

Itamar Ben-Gal, who was killed in a stabbing attack in the West Bank, February 5, 2018 (courtesy)

A day after the murder, Friedman recalled having donated an ambulance to Har Bracha years ago “hoping it would be used to deliver healthy babies.”

“Instead, a man from Har Bracha was just murdered by a terrorist, leaving behind a wife and four children. Palestinian ‘leaders’ [sic] have praised the killer. Praying for the BenGal family,” his Tuesday tweet concluded.

In his Haaretz column, Levy addressed the ambassador’s tweet, taking issue with his donation’s beneficiaries.

“With Friedman’s ambulance or without it, Har Bracha is a mountain of curses. It was a settlement established, like all the others, to poke a stick in the Palestinian eye and drive a stake into any chance of an agreement,” Levy wrote, highlighting the settlement’s location deep inside the northern West Bank.

Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken replied to Friedman’s tweet Friday, posting to the social media network that “Gideon Levy is right. As long as the policy of Israel that your Government and yourself support is obstructing peace process, practical annexation of the territories, perpetuating apartheid, fighting terror but willing to pay its price, there will be more Shivas.”

Friedman’s earlier Tuesday tweet was also slammed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, who blamed the envoy’s rhetoric for the “crisis in US-Palestinian relations.”

“The statements by the US ambassador lead us to wonder about the ambassador’s relationship with the occupation: Does he represent the US or Israel?” Nabil Abu Rudeineh asked in a Thursday statement.

Friedman’s comments followed those of a spokesman for the Hamas terror organization, who lauded the attack on Ben-Gal as “a continuation of the resistance to Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.”

Ben-Gal was the second Israeli to be killed in a terror attack in the West Bank in under a month. On January 9, Rabbi Raziel Shevach, 35, was fatally shot near Nablus in the northern West Bank.

Mourners attend the funeral for Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal, who was stabbed to death in a terror attack, in the West Bank settlement of Har Bracha, February 6, 2018 (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

At that time, Friedman, a longtime supporter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, also lashed out at Palestinian terror groups and the PA.

“An Israeli father of six was killed last night in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists,” he tweeted. “Hamas praises the killers and PA laws will provide them financial rewards. Look no further to why there is no peace. Praying for the bereaved Shevach family.”

Friedman has not shied away from expressing his criticism of the left in the past. Prior to being named ambassador, he penned a May 2016 op-ed in the nationalist-religious Arutz Sheva news outlet in which he accused supporters of the progressive Middle East advocacy group J Street of being “worse than kapos,” the Jews who assisted Nazis in the slaughter of their own people during the Holocaust. He later apologized for the comparison.

Unlike previous US envoys, Friedman was known as a strong supporter of Israeli settlements before he took the job, serving as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that supports the large West Bank settlement of Bet El, located near Ramallah.

Rabbi Raziel Shevach with his family, in an undated photo (Courtesy of the family)

That support has continued since his appointment as ambassador. In September, Friedman said that settlements “are part of Israel.”

Last month, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported that Friedman had asked the US State Department to stop calling Israel’s presence in the West Bank an “occupation” in official documents. He reportedly recommended using the term “West Bank territory” instead of the “occupied territories.”

The State Department rejected the request, according to the report, but agreed to take up the subject again in the future. A State Department official later called the report “twisted and misleading” when asked for comment, though she did not elaborate.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed