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Meet David Friedman, Trump’s 'unfit' pick for Israel ambassadorship Open in fullscreen

Jillian Kestler-D'Amours

Meet David Friedman, Trump’s 'unfit' pick for Israel ambassadorship

David Friedman was heckled during his confirmation hearing [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 February, 2017

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Friedman, long-time supporter of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank who has espoused extreme, right-wing positions in his writings, was questioned by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Several protesters interrupted a Senate confirmation hearing for Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next United States ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, on Thursday morning.

Friedman, a long-time supporter of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank who has espoused extreme, right-wing positions in his writings, was questioned by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He was interrupted several times by protesters who denounced his views on Palestinians, and direct support for Israel’s illegal settlement project.

“Mr. Friedman also said that Palestinian refugees don’t have a claim to the land, don’t have a connection to Palestine, when in fact they do… My grandfather was exiled, was kicked out, by the state of Israel,” shouted one protester, who unfurled a Palestinian flag behind Friedman.

“We were there, we are there now, and we will always be there. Palestinians will always be in Palestine,” the protester said.

Friedman has been criticised by a range of voices since the US president named him as his top choice to head up the US diplomatic presence in Israel, including Palestinian human rights groups, Holocaust scholars, former US ambassadors to Israel, and Jewish religious leaders.

Senator Tom Udall also voiced his staunch opposition to Friedman’s appointment during the hearing on Thursday.

“I think we can all detect a pattern here. Anyone who disagrees with his extreme views or approach to Israel is an anti-Semite,” Udall said.

“Mr. Friedman is profoundly unfit to lead members of the State Department,” he added.

A bankruptcy lawyer from Long Island, New York, who has known Trump for several years, Friedman’s family has a long history of ties to Israel,

The bankruptcy envoy

But just who is Friedman, and what are his views?

A bankruptcy lawyer from Long Island, New York, who has known Trump for several years, Friedman’s family has a long history of ties to Israel, and Friedman himself owns a home in Talbiyeh, an affluent area in Jerusalem, according to Ha’aretz.

He is a Hebrew speaker who has touted his knowledge of the Israeli political system. “I know the issues, I know the players,” he said on Thursday.

Friedman has called a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict “an illusory solution in search of a non-existent problem,” and described Israel’s Palestinian citizens, about 20 percent of the total population, as a threat from within.

He accused former US President Barack Obama and the US State Department of being anti-Semitic, and he has backed Trump’s campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

He is an outspoken proponent of Israeli settlements, even heading up an organisation that raises donations for one of the oldest and well-established settlements in the West Bank, Beit El.

Ahead of the hearing, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights condemned Friedman’s “extremist viewpoints

'Unfit and unqualified'

Ahead of the hearing, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights condemned Friedman’s “extremist viewpoints,” including his opposition to Palestinians having sovereignty over any part of their homeland, questions about the rights of Palestinian citizens of the state, and denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

“He is unfit and should be disqualified from serving” as US ambassador to Israel, the group wrote in a policy paper.

“It is inappropriate and disqualifying for an ambassadorial nominee to advocate for and identify with the interests of the Israeli settler movement, rather than the positions and interests of the United States.”

Earlier this week, five former US ambassadors to Israel also argued that Friedman was “unqualified for the position” of ambassador, and decried what they described as his “extreme, radical positions”.

“We see no alternative to a two-state solution. This has been the bipartisan goal of US foreign policy for decades,” the signatories wrote, stating that they are concerned that Freidman “strongly disagrees” with this position.

“We believe the Committee should satisfy itself that Mr. Friedman has the balance and the temperament required to represent the United States as ambassador to Israel.”

Friedman has also written that Jewish supporters of the liberal, pro-Israel lobby group J Street are “far worse than Kapos,” referring to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis during WWII

Offending Jews and defending Putin

Friedman has also written that Jewish supporters of the liberal, pro-Israel lobby group J Street are “far worse than Kapos,” referring to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis during WWII.

“The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one? But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas – it’s hard to imagine anyone worse,” Friedman wrote for Israeli settler website Arutz Sheva.

A group of Holocaust scholars condemned Friedman’s “disrespectful and politically cynical use of the Holocaust” in a letter to the committee, as well.

“To brand one’s political opponents, members of one’s own community, as kapos, merely for engaging in legitimate debate, is historically indefensible and is a deeply disturbing example of the abuse of the Holocaust and its victims for present political gain,” they wrote.

Friedman has opined that, Russian President “Vladimir Putin gets it,” and advocated for US officials being able to freely inspect the web and cell phone messages of all Muslim immigrants coming into the country.

Friedman chairs American Friends of Beit El, an organisation that raises funds for Beit El, an illegal Israeli settlement located near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank

Six degrees of separation...and settlement

But Friedman’s views extend far beyond his writings.

He chairs American Friends of Beit El, an organisation that raises funds for Beit El, an illegal Israeli settlement located near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

A nationalist, religious settlement that was first established on a hilltop in 1977, Beit El currently houses around 1,300 Jewish families, according to the Beit El Institutions website.

The settlement “is considered one of the most established Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” according to a report in The Forward: it counts 20 kindergartens and several high schools, and a furniture factory, a winery, and a public swimming pool, among other amenities.

American Friends of Beit El raises about $2 million annually for the settlement, Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported. The family of Trump advisor Jared Kushner, his daughter Ivanka’s husband, also donated to the organisation.

“Among the institutions that benefit from the organisation’s fundraising efforts is a yeshiva headed by a militant rabbi who has urged Israeli soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements and who has argued that homosexual tendencies arise from eating certain foods,” Ha’aretz reported.

Earier this week, Ha’aretz reported that in 1999, Friedman dedicated a building in Beit El that had been built illegally on privately-owned Palestinian land. His family’s name figures prominently on the building.

One of the settlement’s founders, Ya’acov Katz, reportedly told an Israeli radio program that he and Friedman are “like brothers,” and Friedman was once a Beit El guest of honour, according to The Jerusalem Post.

“We’ve spent a lot of hours together, a lot of Shabbats together, him by me and me by him. It’s a friendship of many years that began with his father,” Katz said. He also said that Trump donated $10,000 to the Beit El yeshiva years ago.

Jillian Kestler D'Amours is a journalist based in Canada. Follow her on Twitter: @jkdamours 

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