The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will hold a hearing on Thursday for David Friedman, whom U.S. President Donald Trump has nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Israel. The senators are supposed to study Friedman’s answers to the preliminary questions he received, examine the documents he presented to ensure he does not have conflicts of interest, and ask him to clarify various points.
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The Republicans have a majority on the committee and in the full Senate, so that even if new, problematic information is discovered during Friedman’s hearing, yet the vote goes according to party lines, Friedman’s appointment is still expected to be approved – moreover, not all the Democrats are likely to oppose him.
This is domestic American political reality. But more important is the diplomatic situation where Friedman is intended to serve, and it points to the importance of a reevaluation, in the White House as well as in the Senate, of the wisdom of this appointment.
From all that is known of the man and his positions, this is a miserable choice, and as Trump has learned from his ill-fated appointment of retired general Michael Flynn as national security adviser, appointments that are plainly wrong-headed trip up both the hirer and the hiree, and such appointments do not stand up for long.
Friedman is an veteran operator on Trump’s behalf, from the time he worked for him as a bankruptcy lawyer, and it is possible Friedman’s expertise, to an extent, about the goings-on in Israel is what made him a worthy candidate in Trump’s eyes. But Friedman, who said the members and supporters of the moderate J Street organization were “worse than kapos,” is also a man with a simplistic, dangerous worldview, a member of the extreme right who supports annexing territory on the West Bank to Israel.
The role of an ambassador is to represent his government vis-a-vis the country where he serves, on all its political and social levels; to gather reliable information without being suspected of having a personal interest in internal disputes; and to influence policy in Washington. In all of these aspects, Friedman – a declared devotee of the settlements – is wrong for the job. He has spoken with deplorable severity about opponents of the Netanyahu government’s policies; it is not his way to be open and attentive to views across the Israeli political spectrum.
Trump believed Friedman was the right person to serve as U.S. ambassador to Israel partly for the purpose of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But since he has begun serving as president, Trump has moderated his right-wing statements concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it seems he has understood that the situation is more complex.
It is to be hoped that just like the idea of moving the embassy, Friedman’s appointment will be frozen. Better to find him another respectable position, and send a worthy diplomat to Tel Aviv.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.