Twelve days before the United States presidential election in November, David Friedman stood on a rooftop with a glorious view of the Old City of Jerusalem to address a rally organized by Donald Trump supporters living in Israel.
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For those who took Friedman’s words seriously in his October 27 speech, the news that Trump, now the president-elect, plans to buck the policies of past Republican and Democratic presidents and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem should come as no surprise.
Nor will it be a surprise that Friedman, then a Trump adviser on Israel and the Middle East, was Thursday named by the incoming president as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Friedman not only stated in his speech that the embassy would be moved to Jerusalem, but described a scene that sounded like a television mash-up of “The West Wing” and Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice.” In Friedman's colorful description, Trump would make “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel” government “lifers” pay for their sins, “Apprentice”-style, if they dared to push back against his intention to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal capital” by moving its embassy there.
“In 1995, Congress enacted a law that required the U.S. to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," Friedman explained. "1995, that’s 21 years ago. It hasn’t happened. Why? Because the law provides that the requirement for the embassy to be moved can be waived at the desire of the State Department. The same State Department that has been anti-Semitic and anti-Israel for the past 70 years”
“Every president gets elected and he says to the State Department – what about this law, should we move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and they say 'absolutely not, absolutely not,'” Friedman continued.
"The lifers in the State Department are absolutely, positively committed to never moving the embassy to Jerusalem. What’s different about Donald Trump? You all know Donald Trump. If there is anybody in the world politics who could stand up to the State Department it is Donald Trump.
"When Donald Trump has his first meeting with the lifers in the state Department and they say, 'Mr. Trump, with all due respect, you have only been president for a couple of days, we’ve been living here for the last 20 years, we don’t do it that way, we do it this way – we don’t move the embassy, that’s been State department policy for 20 years, the reaction from Donald Trump is going to be, 'You know what guys, you’re all FIRED!'”
The rally in Jerusalem was also the first time the idea that Friedman, Trump’s lawyer and friend, could be a candidate to replace U.S. ambassador Daniel Shapiro in Israel was publicly floated. Marc Zell, co-chairman of Republicans Abroad, the driving force in the Israeli pro-Trump effort, said from the podium that if Trump was elected, Friedman would represent his administration in Israel. Friedman smiled at the suggestion.
In the days before the rally, local Republicans had hoped that a bigger name than Friedman would travel to Israel for the event. Ambassador John Bolton, perhaps, or former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But in the end, it was Friedman, who, the organizers said, was already in the country to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, who spoke for Trump and who told the crowd that a vote for Trump would guarantee the “sanctity and the safety and the security of Israel.”
Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, said he was moved by the “holy venue” of the rally on Mount Zion, as well as by its supplementary theme – a protest against a controversial UNESCO resolution disregarding Judaism's historic connection to the Temple Mount.
Eternal Jewish capital
“King David established the city of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people some 3,000 years ago," Friedman said, echoing speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the UNESCO decision. "For the past 3,000 years, Jews have lived continuously in Jerusalem. The Syrians tried to throw us out, the Greeks tried to throw us out, the Romans tried to throw us out, the Mamelukes tried to throw us out, the Turks tried to throw us out, the Brits – no offense to my British friends – tried to throw us out and we are still here."
"And we have always been here. Jews have always lived in Jerusalem and no other people can make that claim; no other nation can make that claim. So I say this on behalf of Donald J. Trump and on behalf of Governor Mike Pence we unequivocally repudiate the UNESCO resolution, which seeks to deny to the Jewish people their rightful heritage in the holy city of Jerusalem. Shame on them for denying what is so obviously true. That the holy city of Jerusalem belongs forever to the Jewish people.”
In addition to promising that a Trump administration would move the embassy, Friedman outlined what he said would be additional “important differences” between Trump’s Israel policy and those from past administrations, both Democratic and Republican.”
Friedman said that “the Trump administration will never pressure Israel into a two-state solution or any other solution that is against the wishes of the Israeli people,” and that there will be “no opportunities for mischief at the United Nations.” Trump, he said, “will instruct the U.S. ambassador to the UN to veto each and every resolution that is hostile to the interests of the State of Israel.”
He promised that, under Trump, “the United States is going to recognize what I think all of us see as obvious. Israel wants peace. The problem in the Middle East is not Israel’s fault. Israel wants peace. They don’t have a partner for peace but Israel wants peace. We trust the Israelis to do the best they can to achieve peace. We trust them. We respect them. We think they know what’s best for themselves.
"The Israelis are an incredibly informed electorate," Friedman continued. "They choose their leaders extremely carefully. And the Israelis – Mr. Trump has said this to me numerous times – the Israelis have done a magnificent job of balancing their internal needs for security, which no other nation in the world has, against their incredible track record of granting human rights to their entire population.”
Friedman also pledged that, “there will be no daylight between the U.S. and the State of Israel because when there is, it energizes the enemies of the U.S. and the State of Israel to cause trouble and make violence. It’s a very dangerous thing when the enemies of Israel and the enemies of the U.S. do not see those nations completely aligned. We have seen, in the Obama administration, the horrible and violent consequences that come when people think they can draw a wedge between the U.S. and the state of Israel.”
The relationship between the two countries would be transformed, with Donald Trump in the White House, he said.
Looking into the future, Friedman said he could envisage a new Israel policy in the White House, in which “contrary to what we’ve seen in the past, Israel is no longer a client state to be directed what to do and not to do. Israel is a full partner with the United States in the global war of the 21st century: The global war against Islamic terrorism.”