UPDATE: This interview was originally published on September 11 - Donald Trump has since tapped David Friedman to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Donald Trump’s adviser on U.S.-Israeli relations told Haaretz Sunday that the Obama administration “should be ashamed of their misguided reaction” to remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a Facebook video published over the weekend, Netanyahu said that support for the removal of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, as part of a two-state peace deal with the Palestinian Authority, was the equivalent of advocating for the “ethnic cleansing” of Jews.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu makes exactly the right point. The Palestinians want Israel to absorb countless 'refugees' - people who never lived in Israel and whose ancestors were never forced to leave Israel - while their so-called 'state' is required to be, as the Nazis said, Judenrein (devoid of Jews).
It is an entirely racist and anti-Semitic position,” David Friedman, the Trump adviser, related in an email exchange. Contrary to Friedman's assertion, many of the 700,000 Palestinian refugees in the 1947-1949 War of Independence were forcibly expelled by the Israeli army.
“Arabs live and work side by side with Israelis in the State of Israel. They attend universities, enjoy the strongest human and civil rights (including women's rights) in the region, and have access to world class health care. There is no better place for Arabs to live in the Middle East than in the State of Israel. With this background in mind, the Prime Minister of Israel correctly observes that the Palestinian demand to remove all Jews from their ancestral homeland in Judea and Samaria is nothing short of an attempt at ethnic cleansing. The State Department should be ashamed of their misguided reaction to Mr. Netanyahu's remarks,” Friedman said.
“The United States frequently refers to the ‘two state solution’ as two states for two peoples. The Palestinian response - which the US State Department refuses to challenge - is ‘one state for two peoples (Israel) and a second state just for Palestinian Arabs.’ It is no wonder that the State Department under Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have lost credibility in the region.”
The Obama administration responded angrily on Friday to the video posted on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Facebook page in which he indicated that those advocating for the uprooting of Israeli West Bank settlements as part of two-state peace deal were calling for the “ethnic cleansing” of Jews.
“Israel's diversity shows its openness and readiness for peace” Netanyahu said in the video. “Yet the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one pre-condition: No Jews. There's a phrase for that: It's called ethnic cleansing. And this demand is outrageous. It's even more outrageous that the world doesn't find this outrageous.”
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau reacted to the video in a press conference, saying that “using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful.”
Trudeau added that the Obama administration, as well as all previous American administrations and the entire international community, believe that the continued building of settlements is an obstacle to peace.
Echoing Friedman, Marc Zell, co-chair of Republicans Overseas’ Israel chapter promised that the absence of such “interference” in Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians “will be a major change under a Trump administration.”
“The Prime Minister’s statement was entirely appropriate and his reference to ethnic cleansing is not out of order in any respect,” said Zell, a resident of the Gush Etzion settlement of Tekoa, who also serves as vice president of the international organization Republicans Overseas.
Zell said that the Trump campaign, in keeping with the Republican party platform which Zell helped shape at the party’s convention in July, would never take such a position.
“Our candidate, Donald Trump, has stated on more than one occasion that when it comes to building in the Land of Israel - whether it is homes, businesses or schools - that is a decision for the Israeli people alone and it is not something the U.S. government needs to interfere in,”
Zell told Haaretz. “Trump believes it is for the Israelis and Palestinians to work out among themselves, and that it’s not appropriate for the United States to weigh in on the dispute in a manner that clearly favors one side - the Palestinian side.”
Zell and the local Trump team in Israel unveiled a makeshift traveling office in the West Bank last week, touting it as the first campaign office for a U.S. presidential candidate ever opened over the “Green Line” – a reference to Israel’s internationally recognized borders. They plan to move the new West Bank office to various settlements over the course of the campaign.
There are also Israeli Trump campaign offices in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Modi’in devoted to registering American citizens in Israel to vote and convincing them to vote for Trump and the Republican ticket.
Sources close to the Israeli campaign told Haaretz that “hundreds of thousands of dollars” had been invested in encouraging and assisting American supporters of the Republican Party living in Israel to vote.
The efforts in Israel, spearheaded by Republicans Overseas, are not directly funded by or directly affiliated with either the Republican Party or the Trump campaign. They do, however, coordinate closely with both in order to remain, according to Zell, “on the same page.”
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