New York Times Editorial Slams Trump's Choice of 'Extremist' David Friedman as Israel Ambassador

The newspaper cites the bankruptcy lawyer's lack of diplomatic experience and his 'extremist views' on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and calls on the U.S. Senate to block the nomination.

The New York Times slammed President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of David Friedman as the new American ambassador to Israel in its Friday editorial. 

Friedman, a Jewish bankruptcy lawyer who has handled personal legal matters on Trump's behalf, has been outspoken advocate of views on Israel that would be identified with the far right-wing of the Israeli political spectrum. The choice of Friedman, the Times editorial board wrote, "would be far more likely to provoke conflict in Israel and the occupied territories, heighten regional tensions and undermine American leadership."

Noting that Friedman has no diplomatic experience, the Times said "that might not be quite so alarming if he didn’t also hold extremist views that are radically at odds with American policy and with the views of most Americans."

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"Mr. Friedman has doubted the need for a two-state solution, under which Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side in peace. Ignoring international law and decades of policy under Republican and Democratic administrations, he has endorsed continued Israeli settlement of occupied territory in the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 war. Mr. Friedman has gone so far as to endorse even the annexation of some of that land, where Palestinians hope to build a state of their own," the editorial noted.

"There are other reasons to question Mr. Friedman’s fitness for the post. He has accused President Obama of anti-Semitism, absurdly, and called supporters of J Street — a liberal American Jewish organization that has lobbied for a two-state solution and the Iran nuclear deal — 'far worse than kapos — Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps,'" the editorial added.

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Haaretz that the prime minister is pleased with Donald Trump's choice, while Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely "welcomed" the nomination of Friedman on her Facebook page, describing it as "good news" for Israel.

"His positions encapsulate the desire to strengthen the status of Israel's capital, Jerusalem, and the understanding that settlements have never been the real problem in the region," Hotovely said. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, described Friedman as "a great friend of Israel."

Speaking on Saturday, Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition in the Knesset and head of the Labor Party, said he does not think Israel should interfere in appointments by an American administration. "However, I expect the designated ambassador to recognize that most of the Israeli public isn't willing to annex three million Palestinians, but wants to separate from them and believes in the two-state vision for peace with the Palestinians and our neighbors."

Subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Friedman would replace Daniel Shapiro, who has been U.S. ambassador in Tel Aviv since 2011. Shapiro, who is also Jewish, is a former Congressional staffer and senior director for the Middle East and North Africa on the U.S. National Security Council.

Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem

"In a further sign of Mr. Friedman’s apparent zeal for confrontation rather than diplomatic finesse, he has announced that he expects to have his office in Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv, where the American Embassy has been for 68 years," the Times wrote, noting that "both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem" and adding that "unilaterally relocating the embassy to Jerusalem would be interpreted as tipping the scale for Israel, further eroding America’s role as an honest broker."

Friedman's support for moving the embassy to Jerusalem is not only in keeping with Trump's stance but also those that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush took in running for president, the Times noted. But Clinton and Bush then reversed course on the issue following their elections, the Times said, "because they realized that such a highly charged symbolic gesture would anger Arabs and undermine peace efforts."

Although acknowledging that Trump has the leeway to nominate whomever he pleases as American ambassador to Israel, the Times editorial board said in choosing Friedman, Trump "has displayed a dangerous ignorance of or indifference to the land mines across the Middle East. The Senate has the responsibility to protect Mr. Trump and the country from taking this reckless step."