Friedman: US, Israel to emerge stronger than ever

The 'Post' checked in on Friedman and found him to be in high spirits and confident about the ability of the US and Israel to pull through the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman looks on as he speaks during a briefing at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in Jerusalem February 9, 2020. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman looks on as he speaks during a briefing at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in Jerusalem February 9, 2020.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
US Ambassador David Friedman usually has a very busy schedule, going from one meeting to another with Israeli officials, flying to Washington to meet with US President Donald Trump, or addressing major Israeli or American organizations.
This week, however, Friedman was forced to scale back. After attending the AIPAC Policy Conference at the beginning of the month and returning to Israel after March 5, the ambassador had to self-quarantine for a few days under the Health Ministry’s instructions. He has since been working mostly from home.
The Jerusalem Post checked in on Friedman and found him to be in high spirits and confident about the ability of the US and Israel to pull through the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jerusalem Post’: It may be too early to ask this question, but how do you think this pandemic will end?
Ambassador Friedman: I have no doubt that the US and Israel will both recover, learn important lessons and emerge stronger. Both countries are taking extraordinary measures to arrest the spread of the virus and they will succeed.

Has the diplomacy business shut down?
Fortunately, no. There are still telephones and email, and I remain in close contact with all my colleagues and counterparts. But public health is everyone’s priority, and we have to get this crisis under control as the first order of business.

Between this current crisis and the upcoming US election, do you think that there is still a chance for the Trump peace plan to get off the ground?
Absolutely. While controlling COVID-19 comes first, the plan remains an important US priority, and we will move forward with it.

With countries closing off their borders, will this have a long-term impact on trade and other international ties?
In most cases, don’t think so. I think the international markets will restore in an efficient manner. But I do expect that some countries may want to minimize their reliance on neighbors for essential items.

Does the US plan to lead the call for China to change poor food safety policies that led to the outbreak of SARS and probably the novel coronavirus?
When this is over, I’m sure there will be a serious and comprehensive effort to learn all appropriate lessons from this terrible experience. Undoubtedly, that effort will include a deep dive into how this virus arose and began to spread.

So when do you think it ends?
I’m no expert, but my sense is that in a few months the trend recedes, immunity grows and eventually a vaccine is developed. That’s how this has resolved in the past. And at that point I think the economy roars back.

But isn’t this an unprecedented risk?
Not really. In just the last two centuries, we’ve confronted everything from the bubonic plague to polio to measles, rubella, typhus and whooping cough. My sister and brother grew up in the mid 1950s when polio killed or paralyzed tens of thousands of Americans per year. My parents were petrified of polio. But the world survived even with the fear and the unfortunate mortality.

Then why does this seem so different?
I think the response is unprecedented and the visibility is unprecedented. The infectious disease experts now understand how to stem the advancement of the disease, and the global quarantine certainly is new. The entire world is watching the spread in real time, and the numbers come out daily with 24/7 commentary. We are not used to this type of isolation, and with the bombardment of information, our reactions may have become obsessive. And, of course, the curtailment on mobility is destroying parts of the world economy.
But in an important sense, all the dislocation we are seeing is the cost of saving lives that generations ago probably would have been lost.

You don’t sound that concerned.
I am very concerned about the short term – people getting sick and so many people losing their livelihood. We must do everything we can to bridge people through this crisis by making sure they keep their homes and have plenty of food and necessary medicine and other treatments. That should be our priority, and I see this being recognized both in the US and in Israel. Those who are in a position to give to charity also should increase their giving, even if their stock portfolios are down – the stocks will come back.

Did you buy any stocks after the market crashed?
I jumped into some index funds. I thought it was both smart and patriotic. If I make any money, I’ll give it away.

Any advice for the homebound?
I think we all have lengthy lists of things we would like to do if we only had the time. For those of us who now have the time, and can check off some items without leaving home, we should seize the advantage.
For those with small kids at home, they are probably busier than ever. I hope that the experience brings parents and children even closer together. And for the elderly who are homebound without the weekly visits from grandchildren, I hope they can connect virtually during this rough period and stay healthy.
 
I noticed your tweets of late have included inspirational messages from the Bible.
I’m trying to help keep up people’s spirits. I think it’s very important and it’s something I can do to be productive.
Staying at home can cause excessive focus on yourself, which is not good for one’s mental health. For our own sake, we should try as best we can to help others even from within our isolation.

How is everyone feeling?
Thank God, everyone is fine. We all feel good and have no symptoms. Neither Tammy nor I have any living parents, so, unlike many of our contemporaries, we don’t have that worry.
 
Is the whole family staying home?
All but my daughter Talia, who lives with her husband in Tel Aviv and is working every day as a nurse. I worry that she will remain healthy. Because of what she does, she is the most at risk, but mentally she is the strongest because she is out every day helping people. We are very proud of her.
 
Have you been doing any reading while stuck at home?
This week I read a book on the Battle of Valley Forge and on the Exodus, which attempted to carry Holocaust refugees to Israel but was denied entry by the British. Both were incredibly inspiring. It is amazing what people of faith and commitment can accomplish even in the face of enormous challenges.