Analysis: Trump’s Israel envoy in his own words

Four ‘Post’ op-eds by David Friedman reveal insights on ‘Judea and Samaria’ and jihad threat.

December 24, 2016 20:56
DAVID FRIEDMAN with Donald Trump in Manhattan.

DAVID FRIEDMAN with Donald Trump in Manhattan.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

‘If you are an American Jew who is thinking of voting for Hillary Clinton, I have the following suggestion: Spend a week in France, a country which has all but succumbed to uncontrolled Muslim immigration and failed leftwing policies.”

So wrote David Friedman in an op-ed published in this newspaper on October 20.

Between July and October of this year, Friedman, then an adviser to Donald Trump, wrote four op-eds for The Jerusalem Post.

Now that he has been chosen by the president- elect as the likely next ambassador to Israel, his words carry more weight.

In his first op-ed he stressed that concessions in the West Bank to Palestinians would mean “ceding that territory to Palestinian terrorists under the current circumstances makes about as much sense as giving Baghdad (or Paris) over to Islamic State.”

He argued that American Jews should reject the Democratic Party, which “abandoned Israel in so many ways,” because Israel was “under siege, as it is today from the boycott movement, the impending nuclearization of Iran and the presence of 100,000 missiles on the Lebanese border maintained by Hezbollah.”

He also highlighted Trump’s support for gay rights and law enforcement, but his main message was that Jews who support Israel had only one choice, and that was the GOP.

His second op-ed in early August was written after a trip to Israel. Friedman said he had been to the country 30 times over the last 10 years. He sought to tell readers which American candidate would be better for Israel.

Arguing that Barack Obama had tried to force Israel to make concessions, and that Hillary Clinton would not support “thriving cities” such as Ma’aleh Adumim, he said Trump would stand by Israel’s policies.

“He would not ask Israel to curtail development of Judea and Samaria. He recognizes how Palestinian hatred, violence and failed leadership pose enormous challenges to any peace deal.”

He kept up the argument that Israel was endangered. “Rarely a day goes by where that rogue state [Iran] does not either threaten to destroy Israel.”

He stressed that US “standing, prestige and authority,” had been eroded under Obama and that this threatened “my Arab friends” in the region. “Islamic Jihadism [is] as great a threat to the non-radicalized Muslim world as to Israel and the West.”

In his third op-ed he sought to link Clinton to “far-left anti-Israel supporters” such as Max Blumenthal and George Soros. Clinton had broken the “bond” between the US and Israel, he claimed, when she took the helm at the State Department, by encouraging Israel to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines.

“She broke the bond again just a few months later when she demanded that Israel immediately freeze any and all construction within Judea and Samaria, notwithstanding that the Palestinians were offering nothing in exchange for such a drastic concession.”

That op-ed portrayed Clinton as having a “well-established record of favoring the Palestinians.”

Friedman hammered home earlier themes, arguing that Clinton was weak on Iran and accusing the Clinton Foundation of receiving donations from “theocratic Arab nations.” Clinton also “won’t refer to Islamic terrorism by name,” he wrote. While “jihad” threatens America, “Israel doesn’t ask much of the US: Support at the UN Security Council, military cooperation and related strategic aid.”

His last op-ed appeared on October 20th, not long before the election, and was enticingly titled “First 100 Days,” although it focused little on Trump’s first 100 days and more on Clinton.

Friedman concentrated initially on the media, claiming, “If elected Hillary Clinton will owe her office to The New York Times.”

He argued that the Times, which “threatens the very core of American democracy,” was in league with Clinton. “Forcing a deal against Israel’s… would be the culmination of her lengthy career of anti-Israel advocacy and policy.”

He then provided a laundry list of Clinton’s relations to those hostile to Israel, including Suha Arafat, Max Blumenthal, Tim Kaine and Huma Abedin, whom he claimed “grew up in Saudi Arabia and has well-established ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The Republican Party has “the most pro-Israel platform by either party in American history,” the prospective envoy said. Friedman painted a disturbing picture of a Clinton presidency in which he claimed she would slowly bring pressure on Israel to reach a two-state solution.

“All of the rogue nations within the Muslim world, as well as Israel’s European critics, will be reinvigorated to accuse, threaten and castigate the Jewish state.”

To prevent this outcome he argued that American Jews, whose great grandparents “used to arise every morning” and pray to witness the “return to Zion,” should support Trump. “We have been entrusted a legacy by the greatest of generations that preceded us to ensure that Israel survives and flourishes as a light unto the nations and a permanent home for the Jewish people.”

Friedman’s articles highlighted several major themes. First among them was that Israel is in danger, either from Islamist extremists or from Iran and critics abroad in the US and Europe. In his view Iran will become a nuclear power and along with Hezbollah and others place Israel under siege.

At the same time Friedman refrained from using the words “West Bank” or any suggestion that there is a Palestinian entity or process leading to a two-state solution. He is implacably opposed to pressure on Israel for concessions.

There is “zero risk” for Israel under Trump, he wrote. “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.” On November 9 he told the Post that US-Israel relations would “grow like never before.”

Friedman indicated in numerous places that Islamist terrorism and “jihad” were major threats to the West and that Muslim immigration was also a problem. He suggested that immigrants from “Syria, Libya and Iraq,” were not properly “vetted.” He also called Islamism a threat to countries in the Middle East, but did not specify which ones, and argued that “theocratic” countries donated to the Clinton foundations.

Which countries are in the “non-radicalized Muslim world”? Perhaps Jordan and Egypt? One feature of the op-eds was their reliance on guilt by association to suggest that Clinton was anti-Israel. Max Blumenthal, the son of Sidney Blumenthal, who was close to the Clintons, was mentioned twice.

Clinton’s aide Abedin was also accused of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In both cases the connection was speculative.

Abedin once worked at a journal edited by her mother, who was accused of being connected to a group with connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. Whether the entire connection was “bogus,” as The Washington Post concluded, or simply family ties, as The Hill website claimed, is immaterial, because there was little evidence any of it would have underpinned Clinton’s policies.

It is clear from what Friedman wrote for the Post and others, that prior to being selected as ambassador, he went far beyond anything any former ambassador ever said about Israel.

Compare his comments to those of Dan Shapiro, who in January wrote that “too much Israeli vigilantism in the West Bank goes unchecked,” and “we are concerned and perplexed by Israel’s strategy on settlements.”

Past ambassadors have referred to West Bank “settlements” and “occupied areas,” as Daniel Kurtzer and Samuel Lewis did. For Friedman, language is also meaningful. In his parlance, “Judea and Samaria” is preferable to “West Bank,” and “Jewish presence” is preferable to “settlements.”

He only barely acknowledged in one article that there might be a “peace accord” and that Ma’aleh Adumim would “remain part of Israel.” His general line was that concessions to Palestinians would be dangerous for Israel.

It is unclear how Friedman’s views will mesh with the usual State Department concerns about Israeli actions. Besides Shapiro, he will be one of the only men to hold the post who was not a career foreign service officer. Unlike Shapiro, his background is not in government.

He also has personal ties to Jewish communities in the West Bank, such as Beit El.

This, along with his own views, are unprecedented for the post of an ambassador to Israel, but they are in line with the unorthodox views of Trump’s other picks, and the president-elect’s tendency to tap those from outside of government.

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