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David Friedman Is a Menace

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U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends a conference in Jerusalem January 8, 2020.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends a conference in Jerusalem January 8, 2020.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a menace. The man who is supposed to represent American interests here is in fact an ambassador of the settlers, as evidenced by numerous actions and remarks before, and after, his appointment by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Friedman donates to settlements. Among other things, he gave an ambulance to Har Bracha. When my colleague Gideon Levy criticized him for this in Haaretz (February 8), Friedman lashed out at the newspaper in an ingenuous tweet: “Have they no decency?” This is the same man who called supporters of the liberal American Jewish organization J Street “worse than kapos,” referring to Jews who cooperated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. He warned that evacuating Israeli settlements would lead to civil war and was photographed in Bnei Brak with an image of Jerusalem’s Old City that had been altered to show a rebuilt Temple replacing the Dome of the Rock. In addition, he alone was responsible for extending a personal invitation to the extremist evangelical Southern Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress (who among other things has said that Jews and other non-Christians are destined for hell, and that Islam promotes pedophilia) to give the opening prayer at the dedication of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Last week that arrogant man told journalists who criticized Israeli army snipers for firing on Palestinian demonstrators at the Gazan border to “keep your mouths shut.” He added that his comments were aimed mainly “at my friends in the United States and one Israeli newspaper I’ve been known to criticize” – likely a reference to Haaretz.

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And so we find ourselves in a bizarre situation, in which the U.S. ambassador to Israel is rudely and brutally ordering Israeli journalists to “shut your mouths.” His remarks smack of dictatorship. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert backed Friedman and stressed his right to freedom of expression. How absurd, callous and jarring. In the name of freedom of expression, Friedman is permitted to deny Israeli journalists the freedom to criticize their own government.

This bears the marks of fascism. The ambassador of the most powerful nation in the world orders Israeli journalists to shut up and stop criticizing their government. As the highest-ranking representative of the United States in Israel, he is attempting to silence criticism of the Israeli government and to curtail journalistic freedom of expression. In a democracy, no one has the right to tell journalists to “shut your mouths.” When the ambassador of a foreign power does so, it is a dangerous and grievous act. Friedman translates the fact that many of the opinions that are expressed in Haaretz and in American newspapers are unacceptable to him into a right to call for their silencing. As a rule, U.S. ambassadors do not go around the countries where they are posted and order journalists who criticize the government to shut up. On the face of it, this gives the Netanyahu government the status of a puppet regime operated by Trump that enjoys protection from its domestic critics.

It appears that Friedman derives his right to silence journalists in Israel not only from his intrinsic status as the ambassador of a superpower that extends its patronage over Israel, but also as a Jew. He seems to think that because he is Jewish and Israel is the Jewish state, it is therefore his state. He behaves here like a proprietor, with dual authority: as a Jew and as an official representative of a superpower. He aspires, and may also succeed, to aid in shaping Israel’s identity.

Everyone who supports journalistic freedom and opposes the occupation must now take off their gloves. As a result of his behavior and his remarks, Friedman lost his legitimacy. If anyone should shut his mouth, he should. He is a guest here, and he will not silence Israeli journalists.

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