Trump's Israel Ambassador's Family Still Fundraising for West Bank Settlement

David Friedman may have pledged to distance himself from the settlement movement - his son-in-law has not.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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David Friedman testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Israel, February 16, 2017.
David FriedmanCredit: Yuri Gripas/REUTERS
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

When David Friedman became a candidate for U.S. ambassador to Israel, he pledged that if confirmed, he would resign as president of an organization that fundraises for Israel’s settlement of Beit El in the West Bank.

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Friedman, who was confirmed as U.S. envoy by the Senate on Friday, may be distancing himself from the settlement movement, but his family is not: The incoming ambassador’s son-in-law will retain his position as president of another organization that fundraises for the pre-military gap-year program in Beit El.

Elchanan Romanoff, who is married to Friedman’s daughter Aliza, serves as president of Israel Empowered, a U.S. non-profit organization devoted primarily to funding the Beit El pre-military academy. Baruch Gordon, an American-born settler from Beit El, who is a close associate of both Romanoff and Friedman, confirmed to Haaretz that the ambassador’s son-in-law would stay on as president of Israel Empowered.

Gordon, the founder of the settler-aligned Arutz Sheva news site, serves as director of development and public relations for both the settlement’s pre-military academy and Beit El Institutions. Since December 2011, Friedman has served as president of American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which raises money for various projects in the settlement, including the pre-military academy.

A general view of the Israeli settlement of Beit El near Ramallah in the West Bank, February 16, 2017.Credit: Tsafrir Abayov/AP

Contacted by phone, Romanoff told Haaretz he would not comment before hanging up.

Since its establishment about five years ago, Israel Empowered has raised just over $100,000, the majority of which in 2015 – the last year for which it filed a tax return. The organization is headquartered in Woodmere, Long Island, where both Friedman and Romanoff live. Its mission, as described in the tax form, is “to create an environment through which individuals can attain an understanding and appreciation of their Jewish, Zionistic heritage and identity.”

Donations to Israel Empowered are tax deductible because the organization enjoys 501c status.

In 2013, Romanoff and his wife were the “Young Leadership” honorees at the annual gala fundraising dinner organized by American Friends of Beit El Institutions.

The appointment of Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel was unprecedented in its level of controversy. During his Senate confirmation hearings, Friedman attempted to downplay his ties to the settler movement, saying he supported a two-state solution. Before he was confirmed as ambassador, Haaretz reported that a faculty building in Beit El, which he dedicated to his parents and his wife’s parents, was built illegally on private Palestinian land.

In the financial disclosure report he submitted to the Senate ahead of his hearings, Friedman vowed to resign from all his positions in organizations affiliated with Israel, including American friends of Beit El, in order to avoid conflicts of interest. “For a period of one year after my resignation from each of these entities, I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which I know that entity is a party, or represents a party, unless I am first authorized to participate,” he wrote.

During his confirmation hearings, Friedman promised that he would not visit Beit El while serving as ambassador.

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