A view from the Palestinian side of the wall separating the West Bank from Israel. Photo: Jason Ruiz
President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel drew some local condemnation yesterday, when United States Congressman Alan Lowenthal slammed the president-elect’s pick on Facebook, calling it a move that would “damage” US credibility in trying to bring peace to the region.
Friedman is the son of a rabbi and a bankruptcy lawyer who has no previous diplomatic experience, and if confirmed by the Senate, could be in charge of relations with a country that sits in arguably the most disputed region on the planet. That would include, among other things, being party to peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel—despite his belief that it would legal for Israel to annex the West Bank, and that the two state solution is “purely political.”
In a statement posted to his Facebook page, Lowenthal said his disappointment with Trump’s choice is rooted in his belief that whoever represents the US in Israel should be a person who believes in peace and a two state solution.
“Mr. Friedman’s outspoken support of the increasing settlements while at the same time reprimanding supporters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and J Street as being too liberal make him an unacceptable choice,” Lowenthal wrote. “The U.S. has been able to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the table in the past because we are seen as a neutral, fair, and objective arbiter. The choice of Mr. Friedman does damage to our credibility and makes peace more difficult.”
Lowenthal, a Jewish congressman who has served the Long Beach area since 2013, supported the Iranian Nuclear Deal, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and several other issues the president-elect has vowed to end.
He has also been critical of some other Trump appointments including chief strategists Steve Bannon, former chair of Breitbart, a website that Bannon touted as a platform to the alt-right, a movement that has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism. Lowenthal also denounced Trump’s pick for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director, Scott Pruitt, a vocal climate change denier.
An op-ed contributor to Arutz Sheva, a right-wing Religious Zionism news site, Friedman has espoused several inflammatory positions regarding the region in which he’s been tapped to serve. He’s claimed that President Barack Obama is an anti-Semite and alleged his administration has provided tacit support to terrorism. Friedman has also said he would support stricter gun control measures if in return the US government was allowed to ban all Muslims whose words or actions “present the slightest risk of terrorist activity.”
Regarding J Street, a pro-Israel pro-peace political advocacy group, Friedman compared supporters of the group to “kapos”—Jews who turned over fellow Jews to the Germans during the Holocaust—noting that they were far worse as they “advocated Israel’s destruction” from the comfort of their American sofas.
J Street has started an online petition to be sent to US Senators with hopes of securing enough votes against Friedman’s confirmation to the ambassadorship. In a statement issued this week, the group characterized Friedman as irresponsible and a propagator of conspiracy theories that could put the US reputation in the region at risk.
“It also displays contempt for decades of bipartisan US policy toward Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians, including support for the two-state solution, which Friedman has opposed, and which remains vital to Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people,” the statement read. “This puts Friedman in conflict with the official position of not just the United States, but the Israeli and Palestinian governments as well.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back hundreds of years, but was amplified in the post-World War II era when scores of Jews fleeing Europe settled in Israel. Conflicting claims to the land by Palestinians and Jews and both sides’ claim that their capital city is Jerusalem—a claim that is not internationally recognized—have led to multiple armed conflicts in the interceding years..
Despite an attempt by congress to move the US embassy to Jerusalem in the mid-90s, which passed both houses but has been blocked by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama, it remains in Tel Aviv, its home since 1950.
Negotiations for a two-state solution, one that would have an independent Israel and Palestine with secured borders side by side, have been in the works going back to the 1970s. The largest hangups have been the issue of Jerusalem and which country would keep it and which borders would be adopted if a solution were reached.
Currently a large wall separates Israeli-controlled territory in the west from the Palestinian-controlled territories in the east (West Bank) and the Gaza Strip. Military checkpoints posted throughout the country largely restrict the movements of Arabs into certain parts of Israel and out of Palestine.