Trump's Israel Envoy Pick Gave Funds to Settle Jews in Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City

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Jews wave Israeli flags outside the Old City's Damascus Gate as they partake in the so-called 'march of the flags' to celebrate Jerusalem Day in 2012.
File Photo: Jews wave Israeli flags outside the Old City's Damascus Gate as they partake in the so-called 'march of the flags' to celebrate Jerusalem Day in 2012.Credit: Emil Salman

David Friedman’s leadership role in an organization that raises funds for the West Bank settlement of Beit El is frequently cited as grounds for disqualifying him from becoming U.S. ambassador to Israel. It now emerges that Friedman’s financial ties to the settlement movement run deeper than Beit El.

Friedman has also made contributions over the years to Ateret Cohanim, a right-wing organization that buys land in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and Arab East Jerusalem for creating a “Jewish presence” there.

Bernie Hoenig, the founder of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, the group’s U.S. fundraising arm, said Friedman was one of the organization's donors.

“I definitely know that he has contributed – there’s no question about that,” Hoenig told Haaretz. “But he is not one of our major donors.”

Hoenig said he did not know how much money Friedman had contributed to Ateret Cohanim over the years. But he said he did remember seeing him at “at least one, maybe two” of the organization’s annual fundraising galas in New York.

Hoenig today is the legal adviser of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, which is headed by Shoshana Hikind, the wife of Dov Hikind, a New York State assemblyman and well-known supporter of the Israeli right.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on Friedman’s appointment Thursday. If Friedman is confirmed as expected, the vote will go to the full Senate. In his Senate confirmation hearings several weeks ago, Friedman tried to play down his connections to the settler movement.

American Friends of Ateret Cohanim is also known as Jerusalem Chai and the Jerusalem Reclamation Project. Following the announcement of Friedman’s nomination, it published a statement extending him a “heartfelt Mazal Tov.”

“Mr. Friedman has been a long and generous supporter of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and we thank him for his past support and friendship,” it said.

According to Peace Now, an Israeli organization that monitors settlement activity, Ateret Cohanim owns 59 properties in the Muslim Quarter and Arab East Jerusalem. Since its establishment in 1987, it has settled 1,100 Jews in these areas, including hundreds of yeshiva students.

One of Ateret Cohanim’s best-known donors was the late Irving Moskowitz, a Florida physician who contributed considerably to the settler movement.

Ateret Cohanim’s latest project, approved in December, is a new three-story building in the middle of the crowded Silwan neighborhood. Opposition members in the Jerusalem City Council have been fighting the plan.

“Ateret Cohanim is known as an organization that tries to make the most provocative purchases possible right in the heart of East Jerusalem,” said Laura Wharton, a city council member for the left-wing Meretz party. “They are seeking to incite as much conflict as they can.”

According to its tax forms, American Friends of Ateret Cohanim has raised close to $25 million over the past 20 years. Donations to the organization are tax-exempt because it enjoys 501c status. The tax forms filed do not identify the organization’s donors.

On its tax forms, the American Friends organization says it strives to “encourage and promote the study and observance of Jewish religious traditions and culture through seminars, newsletters, tours, Internet and website, support various children’s activities, provide aid for security equipment in support of the safety and protection of community residents, and provide funds for needy families for housing renovations and repairs.”

Friedman is president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that raises several million dollars a year for projects in that settlement, where he has several close friends. Plaques bearing Friedman’s name and those of other family members appear on buildings in the settlement, including a school built illegally on private Palestinian land.

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