US President-elect Donald Trump will nominate David Friedman, his long-time attorney and campaign adviser on Jewish world issues, as US ambassador to Israel, his transition team said on Thursday night.
American Jewish groups responded mutedly to the appointment, and Israeli politicians treaded carefully, offering welcome to the new envoy who is sure to change the tone of operations out of America’s embassy. He may also change its location: Friedman often advocates for the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv, where it has been since the early years of the state, to Jerusalem.
Friedman “has been a longtime friend and trusted adviser to me,” Trump said in a statement announcing the decision. “His strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission and be a tremendous asset to our country as we strengthen the ties with our allies and strive for peace in the Middle East.”
Trump has promised broad support for Israel in the form of military assistance and foreign aid, and has endorsed moving the American embassy – a move that would seal US support for keeping Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, a move the Palestinian leadership says would sound a death knell for the peace process.
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pleased with the appointment, knows Friedman has the full confidence of Trump and looks forward to working with him closely.
As an adviser to the GOP nominee over the course of the last year, Friedman counseled a more conservative Israel policy. He frequently condemned the Palestinian Authority for its role in inciting terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and questioned America’s role in pushing a two-state solution on the Israeli government.
Friedman believes that Israel is a natural ally in Trump’s coming fight against Islamist extremism, and throughout the campaign repeatedly touted his candidate as a stable and reliable ally of the Jewish state.
Friedman, who specializes in litigation and bankruptcy law, said he would work tirelessly to “strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and looks forward to doing this from the US Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post in September, Friedman explained that his support for Trump throughout his unprecedented presidential campaign was personal. Trump’s friend and lawyer for 15 years, he took a genuine liking to his client roughly two years into their relationship, when Friedman’s father died.
In the middle of a blizzard, a long way outside New York City under bad travel conditions, Friedman was sitting shiva when Trump suddenly showed up at his door.
“He came by, spent about an hour with me,” Friedman said. “We talked about my father and talked about his father – about how much of an influence his father had over him. And you know, there was nobody around. He wasn’t trying to prove anything to anybody.”
Friedman also defended Trump when some Jewish groups took umbrage with his rhetoric concerning Jews. “If he’s guilty of anything, it’s of observing that Jews have been successful and they’re smart, and they’re engaging – you know?” Friedman said. “Okay, guilty.”
Friedman contributed several op-eds to the Post during Trump’s campaign. In his most recent piece on his vision of Trump’s first 100 days in office, he wrote, “Mr. Trump will do all he can to strengthen America’s partnership with Israel in combating the global war against Islamist terrorism... under president Trump, Israel will feel no pressure to make self-defeating concessions, America and Israel will enjoy unprecedented military and strategic cooperation, and there will be no daylight between the two countries.”
Some Democratic-oriented Jewish groups reacted to Trump’s choice of Friedman with fury on Thursday night.
“J Street is vehemently opposed to the nomination of David Friedman to be ambassador to Israel,” the organization said in a statement.
David Friedman speaking to Israeli settler delegation.
At a policy forum on Israel this month hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington, Friedman offered choice words for J Street, an organization focused on promoting a two-state solution. He questioned its commitment to Israel and its representation of Jewish causes, according to several attendees of the summit.
The National Jewish Democratic council took it a step further. “There has never been a less experienced pick for US ambassador to Israel,” it tweeted on Thursday night, and added that Trump “is not taking the US-Israel relationship seriously. Friedman not experienced enough to be” ambassador.
In Jerusalem, however, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely welcomed the announcement.
“The expressed intention to appoint Friedman is very welcome news for Israel. His positions reflect the desire to strengthen the standing of Israel’s capital of Jerusalem at this time and to underscore that the settlements have never been the true problem in the area,” a statement from Hotovely said.
Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, praised Friedman in a statement.
“David Friedman is a friend and a true partner of Israel and the settlements,” Dagan said. “This proves that Trump intends to be genuinely committed to Israel as was indicated during the campaign. This is a significant statement of intent this morning, and it is very encouraging.”
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On railed against Friedman’s nomination on Friday, saying his appointment would hurt hopes for a two-state negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.
“David Friedman is a catastrophic choice for the American ambassador,” Gal-On said. “I really love these Jews who live abroad and express their opinion on how the two-state solution is not attractive and the path toward peace is a failed idea, when we [Israelis] are sitting here and pay the cost of unnecessary war,” she said. “This is the best appointment Netanyahu could wish for.”
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