POLITICO – President-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate David Friedman, an Orthodox Jewish lawyer with highly conservative views on Israel, as the next U.S. ambassador to the tiny Jewish-majority state.
Friedman helped advise Trump during the campaign and has assisted him in bankruptcy proceedings in the past. He is considered a key force behind the incoming president’s relatively hard-line pro-Israel positions, including supporting moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“The bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I’m President,” Trump said in a statement Thursday evening. “As the United States’ ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries. He has been a longtime friend and trusted adviser to me.”
Trump added: “His strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission and be a tremendous asset to our country as we strengthen the ties with our allies and strive for peace in the Middle East. Nothing is more critical than protecting the security of our citizens at home and abroad.”
The Trump transition statement notes that Friedman is a founding partner of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, and that he played a leading role in many complex restructuring deals. It also affirmed Trump’s hope to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a decision that could anger many in the Arab world because of disputes over the city’s status between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem,” Friedman said in the statement.
Trump’s choice of Friedman immediately drew criticism from liberal Jewish activists.
“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,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning Jewish advocacy group J Street said in a statement.
But Friedman’s selection has its defenders, too.
“For those in the Jewish community who voted for Donald Trump — and largely did so because they wanted a change of direction, not to mention tone, in the US – Israel relationship from the contentious one of the Obama years — Mr. Trump’s nomination of David Friedman is a step precisely toward that change of direction,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy at the Orthodox Union.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel holds one of the most sensitive positions in American foreign policy, tasked with dealing with a critical ally in one of the most volatile regions of the world.
Under the Obama administration, tensions spiked between the U.S. and Israel, especially over Obama’s decision to pursue a nuclear agreement with Iran, a deal that Trump has blasted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vociferously criticized the Iran deal and repeatedly clashed with Obama on other subjects as well, including Israeli settlement construction in land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.
After Trump won the Nov. 8 presidential election, Netanyahu issued very positive messages through videos and other means, calling the Manhattan real estate mogul “a true friend of Israel.”
Trump’s Israel advisers appear to have moved him to adopt hard-right positions regarding the country, including removing language calling for a two-state solution in the Republican Party platform. They also have said Trump should not pressure Israel to make peace with the Palestinians.
Their efforts helped ease the concern of some segments of America’s Jewish community, especially after Trump made some missteps including promising to be “neutral” on the Israeli-Palestinian issue to shrugging off the anti-Semitism rampant among many of his supporters online.