President-elect Donald Trump will nominate his adviser David Friedman as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, a statement from his transition team said on Thursday.
"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. "As the United States' ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries."
"[Friedman] has been a long-time friend and trusted adviser to me. 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," Trump said in the statement.
The Trump transition team’s statement said Friedman – who like the incumbent ambassador, Dan Shapiro, speaks Hebrew – intends “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.”
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During the presidential election campaign Trump and some of his advisers, including Friedman, said that if he became president, his administration would recognize united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and implement the U.S. Congress’ decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. However, another adviser to the president-elect seemed to downplay these remarks on Wednesday, telling Middle East diplomats in Washington that moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was a "complex" move, which would be a "process" that would take a long time if undertaken.
Friedman, an Orthodox bankruptcy lawyer who has for years worked for Trump and his real estate development business, was with Jason Greenblatt, another Trump lawyer, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, one of his main emissaries to the Jewish community. Based on statements he has issued and columns he has penned, Friedman is positioned on the far right of the Israeli political map – more hardline in his views than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The 57-year-old Friedman, who hails from Long Island, has said the United States should not impose any solutions on Israel and that a bi-national state would not be a tragedy since the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank is largely exaggerated and that they do not pose a threat to the Jewish majority.
Friedman has challenged the widespread view that Israeli settlement activity is illegal and opposes a ban on construction activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – particularly those places that would be part of a future agreement involving land swaps.
Friedman has been a columnist for two Israeli right-wing English-language media outlets: Arutz Sheva and The Jerusalem Post. He also serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, which financially supports the settlement enterprise.
Friedman has, on various occasions during Trump's campaign, been asked to respond to charges of anti-Semitism among Trump supporters. He has largely dismissed these allegations, insisting that hatred of Jews is far more prevalent among the Left.
J Street: 'We'll fight this with all we've got'
The U.S. Jewish establishment's reaction to the appointment ranged between alarm and joy, with dovish groups vowing to lobby the Senate against the nomination, while others lauded Trump's choice.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a group that Friedman called "far worse than kapos," tweeted that Trump's pick of ambassador was "anathema to values that underlie US-Israel relationship."
"We'll fight this with all we've got," he added.
On the right-wing side, Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein congratulated Friedman, saying that he has "the potential to be the greatest U.S. ambassador to Israel ever," adding that no previous ambassador appreciated the "rights of the Jews to Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem like David."
Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Jewish Policy Center, also congratulated the appointment, calling it a "great choice". "David is someone who understand the President's vision and will strengthen the US- Israel relationship," Brooks tweeted.
JTA contributed to this report