UPDATE 12.16.16: This article was originally published on November 11 - Donald Trump has since tapped David Friedman as the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
He doesn’t believe that annexing the West Bank will compromise Israel’s Jewish or democratic character, and he doesn’t think the settlements are an obstacle to peace.
But the real question is how much influence will David Friedman, Donald Trump’s senior adviser on Israeli affairs, wield on Middle East policy once his boss steps into the White House. If it turns out to be substantial, that would mean a major break with longstanding U.S. policy in the region.
Based on statements he has issued and columns he has penned, Friedman, an Orthodox bankruptcy lawyer, is positioned on the far right of the Israeli political map – more hardline in his views than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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The 57-year-old, who hails from Long Island, has said the United States should not impose any solutions on Israel and that a bi-national state would not be a tragedy since the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank is largely exaggerated and that they do not pose a threat to the Jewish majority.
Friedman has challenged the widespread view that Israeli settlement activity is illegal and opposes a ban on construction activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – particularly those places that would be part of a future agreement involving land swaps.
Friedman has been a columnist for two Israeli right-wing English-language media outlets: Arutz Sheva and The Jerusalem Post. He also serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, which financially supports the settlement enterprise.
About six months ago, Trump appointed Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, another of his attorneys, as co-chairmen of his Israel Advisory Committee. Friedman, however, has been the more public face of the duo.
A graduate of Columbia College and New York University Law School, he grew up in Woodmere, New York. His father, the late Morris Friedman, was the rabbi of Temple Hillel in North Woodmere, a Conservative congregation, and president of the New York Board of Rabbis.
The Friedman family has a history of personal connections to Republican presidential candidates: In 1984, barely a week before the national election, the Temple Hillel rabbi hosted the incumbent Ronald Reagan for Shabbat lunch at his home following a visit his synagogue. It was the first visit to a synagogue by a sitting president since the one made by George Washington in 1791 and reflected Reagan’s bid to woo Jewish voters in what was a Democratic enclave of Republican Long Island.
When asked by The New York Times to elaborate on the lunchtime preparations involved, Rabbi Friedman’s wife Addi, a high school English teacher, said: “I didn't do anything different than I usually do for Shabbos, but I fussed a bit more. I was going to serve chicken soup and matzoh balls. But I don't want to load the president up with heavy foods.''
Trump’s Israel adviser has been married for 35 years to Tammy Sand of Miami Beach, Florida. In addition to their home in Woodmere, they own a residence in the affluent Jerusalem neighborhood of Talbiyeh, where they typically spend the Jewish holidays along with their children and grandchildren twice a year.
Friedman heads the creditors’ rights and bankruptcy practice group at the New York law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP. He has represented Trump in his investments in Atlantic City casinos, but the two did not strike up a personal friendship until 2005 when Trump came to pay Friedman a condolence call after his father died. “All of a sudden I’m sitting in my living room and I see flashing lights going off and sure enough Donald Trump showed up to make a shiva call,” Friedman told participants at a recent election event sponsored by the Manhattan Jewish Experience.
This summer, after Trump was nominated as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate, Friedman visited Israel, where he held a series of meetings with political leaders. In a video address delivered to a gathering of Trump supporters in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, Friedman promised that “a Trump administration will never pressure Israel into a two-state solution or any other solution that is against the will of the Israeli people” because “they know what’s best for themselves.” He also said that should he be elected president, Trump would be different from all his predecessors in that he would stand by his promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – and thereby formally recognize the city as Israel’s capital. Under Trump, Friedman pledged, there would be “no opportunity for mischief at the UN” because Trump would “order” his UN ambassador to veto every resolution hostile to Israel.
Friedman has, on various occasions during the campaign, been asked to respond to charges of anti-Semitism among Trump supporters. He has largely dismissed these allegations, insisting that hatred of Jews is far more prevalent among the Left.
Friedman delivered a particularly scathing attack on The New York Times, after a tape recently surfaced in which Trump was caught boasting about sexually assaulting women. “The New York Times ran with the story with all the journalistic integrity of the worst gossip rag,” Friedman wrote in a column in The Jerusalem Post. “If only the Times had reported on the Nazi death camps with the same fervor as its failed last-minute attempt to conjure up alleged victims of Donald Trump, imagine how many lives could have been saved.”