JERUSALEM — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for the new U.S. ambassador to Israel was warmly welcomed by many Israelis, who said they felt more comfortable with a vocal Jewish supporter of Israel in the top diplomatic spot.
Trump announced late Thursday that he will nominate a close friend, New York bankruptcy lawyer David M. Friedman, as his ambassador to Israel.
Israelis on the right, especially the Jewish settlers and their supporters, were almost giddy with news of the nomination, saying that they hoped the decades-long, bipartisan U.S. policy of condemning the Jewish settlements as “obstacles to peace” would soon end.
The diminished Israeli left was nervous, not sure what Trump’s pick would mean.
Palestinians were disappointed — but not surprised, they said. They have abandoned much hope that the United States will broker a deal for them.
Israelis who want to preserve the two-state solution, meaning one state for Israel and one future state for Palestinians, have been puzzling out what Trump may want to do in the long-running conflict.
Trump sent a clear signal with his choice of Friedman.
Friedman has close ties to Israel, writing as a columnist for right-wing Israeli news media outlets such as Arutz Sheva, the Jerusalem Post and others.
In a June column, Friedman compared the dovish pro-Israel lobbying group J Street in Washington to “kapos,” Jewish inmates of Nazi concentration camps who helped exterminate fellow Jews.
As an adviser to Trump, Friedman vowed that the incoming administration would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s contested capital.
Friedman serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that finances activities in the settlements.
Friedman, who grew up in Woodmere, N.Y., is the son of a prominent rabbi and owns an apartment in an upscale neighborhood of Jerusalem. He often spends Jewish holidays in Israel. The Trump announcement said he speaks fluent Hebrew.
Despite all of that, Friedman is not yet a well-known name to most Israelis.
Among Trump supporters in Israel, especially those Americans who have immigrated to Israel and now live in Jewish communities in the West Bank, his nomination sends a clear message that Washington will stop calling the settlements “an obstacle to peace” and may even embrace them.
Israeli commentators said that Friedman appeared to be the most overtly pro-Israel, pro-settler nominee in a generation.
Friedman has not only supported the settlements in the West Bank but he has also donated money to their construction.
Most of the world considers the settlements illegal under international law. Israel disputes this. There are now 400,000 settlers in 300 communities in the West Bank.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on Friedman’s nomination, saying the government should await his confirmation.
But Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, issued a statement of her own.
“This is good news for Israel. His position reflects the desire to strengthen the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and he understands the settlements were never the real problem area,” she wrote on Facebook.
Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, from the hard-line Jewish Home party, tweeted, “Good luck to David Friedman, the nominated U.S. ambassador to Israel. A good friend of Israel.”
Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, a former head of the Yesha Council, which represents the settlements, tweeted a photo with Friedman that welcomed him to the position.
Batya Medad, a U.S.-born blogger and resident of the Jewish settlement of Shilo in the West Bank, wrote, “Many of us can now breathe a sigh of relief, since Friedman is the sort of American we trust as a friend of the State of Israel and Jewish rights to live here.”
Martin Indyk, a former peace negotiator and now the executive vice president of the Brookings Institution, called Friedman “a great ambassador for the deep settler state.”
He asked: “But David Friedman needs to be U.S. envoy to all Israelis. Is he up for that?”
Friedman was closely tied to efforts in Israel to get out the vote among American expatriates who could vote for Trump.
In an impassioned speech to the small crowd at the edge of Jerusalem’s Old City in November, Friedman called Trump Israel’s greatest hope.
“Under Trump, the United States will never pressure Israel into accepting a two-state solution or any other solution that is against the wishes of the Israeli people,” he said, to cheers and few shouts of “Crooked Hillary!” according to a Reuters report.
Alon Pinkas, a former diplomat and adviser to Israeli prime ministers, said that based on Friedman’s previous comments, he wondered whether Friedman could put U.S. interests first.
“Based on what he has said in the past, it seems as though he is very opinionated on Israeli issues, even though his role is to advance U.S. policies and interests and not the other way around,” Pinkas said.
Oded Revivi, mayor of the Jewish settlement of Efrat and chief foreign envoy for the Yesha Council, said he met with Friedman two weeks ago in Washington.
“He is definitely a man with a great love for the State of Israel and the people of Israel,” Revivi said.
He said that during their meeting, Friedman took an ancient Israeli coin out of his pocket and told him: “When anyone asks me about the right of the State of Israel to exist, I show them this coin and show them how long the Jews were living in this part of the world and why they have a claim to this land.”
Revivi said, “It will definitely not be what we saw over the last eight years, that an outsider thought he knew better than us how to handle our affairs.”