(December 16, 2016 / JNS) President-elect Donald Trump named one of his close advisers, attorney David Friedman, as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel, in a move that likely signals a major shift in American policy on Jerusalem and Israeli settlements.
“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 on the selection of Friedman.
Trump added that he believes Friedman will “maintain the special relationship between our two countries.”
“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,” Trump said.
Friedman, 57, who specializes in litigation and bankruptcy law, had served as one of Trump’s advisers on Israel during the president-elect’s campaign.
In a statement Thursday, Friedman said he is “deeply honored and humbled” by the ambassadorship and intends “to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region.”
Friedman’s appointment likely signals a sharp break from President Barack Obama’s hard stance against Israeli settlement construction beyond the 1967 lines. Friedman has stated that he does not believe international law prohibits Israel from annexing the West Bank, and that he supports moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a position opposed by Obama as well as former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
The appointment of Friedman was swiftly praised by Republican and conservative-leaning pro-Israel groups. Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks called the selection “a powerful signal to the Jewish community.” Similarly, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Friedman “has the potential to be the greatest U.S. ambassador to Israel ever.”
“He has a powerful grasp of Israel’s defense needs, the dangers they face, and the danger now of a Hamas-Palestinian Authority state,” said Klein. “No previous ambassador appreciates the political, historic, legal and religious rights of the Jews to Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem like David.”
Laurie Cardoza-Moore—president of the pro-Israel evangelical Christian group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations and the United Nations envoy for the World Council of Independent Christian Churches, which represents more than 40 million Christians worldwide—said Friedman “represents a political and spiritual shift for Israel and America.”
“Having a strong man of faith who understands Israel’s biblical, historical and legal right to the land of Israel is a huge achievement for our great nations and further illustrates Trump’s commitment to our closest friend and ally, Israel,” she said.
Within Israel, right-wing political leaders also praised the selection of Friedman, including Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, whose party supports the annexation of the West Bank.
“Good luck to David Friedman, the new U.S. ambassador to Israel. He is a great friend to Israel,” Bennett tweeted.
Friedman has been outspoken in his criticism of the liberal Jewish lobby group J Street, comparing J Street supporters to “kapos”—Jews who assisted the Nazis during the Holocaust—in an op-ed published last June in Israel National News. J Street calls itself a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, but often comes under scrutiny for partnering with anti-Israel organizations and disproportionately criticizing the Israeli government.
“The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty. 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,” wrote Friedman.
J Street said in a statement that it is “vehemently opposed” to the appointment of Friedman as ambassador to Israel, calling him “beyond the pale” for the position because of his stance on settlements and lack of “any diplomatic or policy credentials.”