by Barney Breen-Portnoy – Algemeiner
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick of attorney David Friedman to serve as the next US ambassador to Israel has drawn praise from right-wing Jewish groups and dismay from the other side of the political spectrum.
The Friedman appointment “sends a powerful signal to the Jewish community and the State of Israel that President-elect Trump’s will strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region,” Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement on Thursday.
Brooks added that he looked forward to working with the Trump administration to “cripple Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons through new and strengthened sanctions, move the US embassy to the eternal capital of Israel, Jerusalem, and repair relations with our greatest ally in the Middle East that have eroded over the last eight years.”
Zionist Organization of America National President Morton A. Klein said Friedman “has the potential to be the greatest US Ambassador to Israel ever. He thoroughly understands the detailed tragic reality of the Arab/Islamic war against Israel. He has a powerful grasp of Israel’s defense needs, the dangers they face, and the danger now of a Hamas/PA State. No previous ambassador appreciates the political, historic, legal, and religious rights of the Jews to Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem like David.”
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein — president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews — said, “David is truly a great American and a loyal ally of Israel, and we look forward to working with him to enhance joint US and Israeli interests.”
Israeli officials also chimed in, with the Jewish state’s Consul General in New York Dani Dayan saying, according to a tweet posted by a Times of Israelreporter, “I am sure he will be an exceptional envoy of his country to mine.”
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett — head of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party — called Friedman a “great friend of Israel” and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — a Habayit Hayehudi member — said Friedman was a strong proponent of West Bank settlement construction.
“I’m sure that we will work together in fruitful cooperation,” she stated.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely — of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist Likud party — described Friedman’s appointment as “great news for Israel.”
“His positions reflect the will to strengthen the status of our capital right now and the understanding that the settlements were not the true problem in the region,” she said.
Yair Lapid — leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party — tweeted, “Look forward to working with Mr. Friedman, the new US ambassador & great friend of Israel, in his rightful office in our capital, Jerusalem.”
Oded Revivi — the mayor of Efrat and the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council (the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish communities in the West Bank) — said, “Friedman has a deep love for all of the land and people of Israel, including those in Judea and Samaria. His knowledge and wisdom of the issues will strengthen the bridge between our great nations.”
After Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in last month’s presidential election, Revivi, as reported by The Algemeiner, invited the president-elect to visit Jewish communities in the West Bank during his time in office.
Tamara Zandberg — a Knesset member from the hard-left Meretz party — tweeted in reference to Friedman’s appointment, “Reminder – Good for the occupation does not mean good for Israel.”
Back in the US, the left-wing J Street organization was apoplectic over Trump’s choice of Friedman. J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami tweeted on Thursday, “We’ll fight this with all we’ve got.”
In a statement, J Street said, “As someone who has been a leading American friend of the settlement movement, who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials and who has attacked liberal Jews who support two states as ‘worse than kapos,’ Friedman should be beyond the pale for senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel. This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk.”
In a tweet published on Thursday, the National Jewish Democratic Council said there “hasn’t been a less experienced pick” for US ambassador to Israel.
Trump, the NJDC went on to say in a later tweet, “is not taking the US-Israel relationship seriously.”
In a pre-election interview with The Algemeiner in early November, Friedman said that a Trump administration would not expect Israel to uproot its citizens who now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as part of any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
“It is inconceivable there could be a mass evacuation on that magnitude, in the unlikely event that there was an otherwise comprehensive peace agreement,” Friedman said. “It makes no sense for Judea and Samaria to be ‘Judenrein [void of Jews],’ any more than it makes sense for Israel to be ‘Arabrein [void of Arabs].’ It’s not fair.”
This would mark a departure from the Obama administration, which criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year after he said, as reported by The Algemeiner, that the main obstacle to peace was the demand of Palestinian leaders for the “ethnic cleansing” of Jews from the West Bank.
Friedman went on: “The critical thing is to recognize that there is not going to be any progress on a Palestinian state until the Palestinians renounce violence and accept Israel as a Jewish state. Until that happens, there is really nothing to talk about in terms of a political process.”
What a Trump administration would not do, Friedman said, “is put its finger on the scale and try to force Israel into a particular outcome, but rather will support Israel in reaching its own conclusion about how to best achieve peace with its neighbors.”
“We trust Israel,” he continued. “We think it is doing an excellent job of balancing its respect for human rights and its security needs in a very difficult neighborhood. Israel is a partner with the US in the global war against terrorism. And we want our partner to be attendant to that task and not distracted by foreign countries telling it what to do. That’s really the overall premise of the policy — to respect Israel as a partner, and not to unduly influence its decisions.”
Furthermore, Friedman said, “The only thing that makes sense now is to take small steps to try to improve circumstances on the ground and provide encouragement and assistance to Palestinians who are not pursuing a hateful agenda.”