President-elect Donald Trump announced Thursday that he will nominate New York bankruptcy lawyer David M. Friedman as his ambassador to Israel, saying in a statement issued by his transition office that Friedman’s “strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission.”
Friedman said in the statement that he would work “tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries . . . and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
Trump has indicated that he would overturn more than two decades of presidential waivers overriding the 1995 law mandating that the U.S. Embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move weighted with heavy religious and political significance. Jerusalem’s status is contested by Palestinians and most of the world’s nations, which recognize lines drawn after the 1967 war.
A senior Trump adviser on Israel during the campaign, Friedman has been outspoken in describing as “legal” Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which every U.S. administration since 1967 has considered illegitimate.
In an interview last summer with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he said Trump would support Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. He has called liberal Jews supporting a two-state solution with the Palestinians “worse than kapos,” a reference to Jews in World War II concentration camps who were assigned by Nazi guards to supervise forced labor and camp administration.
Liberal Jews have returned his views in kind. J Street, the Washington-based organization that supports a two-state solution, said it was “vehemently opposed” to the nomination.
“As someone who has been a leading American friend of the settlement movement, who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials . . . Friedman should be beyond the pale for Senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.
Calling the proposed nomination “reckless,” Ben-Ami said it puts “America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk. Senators should know that the majority of Jewish Americans oppose the views and the values this nominee represents.”
For decades, most U.S. Jewish leaders have urged Israel to seek a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would establish a separate Arab state alongside Israel.
President Obama’s failed 2013 peace effort contained an understanding that the border along the West Bank would not be the exact 1967 lines officially demanded by Arabs. Instead, it would be drawn with “mutually agreed swaps” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to reflect the reality that some Israeli settlements are too established to be removed.
Settlements have expanded under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also says he wants a peace deal.
Friedman represented Trump in bankruptcies surrounding his Atlantic City casinos and has said they have been friends for 15 years. Trump, in the statement, called him “a long-time friend and trusted advisor to me.”
Involved in a number of philanthropic activities in Israel, Friedman is president of an American group set up to support Beit El, a settlement located east of the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The settlement has also received charitable contributions from the foundation headed by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
In a column for the Jerusalem Post before the election, Friedman wrote that a Hillary Clinton presidency would ensure U.S. demands for an immediate suspension of settlement activity, giving “new life . . . into all of the worst anti-Israel and anti-Semitic movements” and flooding the United States with “Syrian and other refugees,” some of whom “will turn to domestic terrorism.”
“In contrast,” he wrote, “there is virtually zero risk that the foregoing parade of horribles will occur under a Trump administration. Quite the contrary, 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.”
A founding partner of the New York law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres and Friedman, Friedman is a 1981 graduate of New York University School of Law. The transition office statement noted that his bar mitzvah was held at the Western Wall in Jerusalem 45 years ago, and described him as “a fluent speaker of Hebrew and a lifelong student of Israel’s history.”
Anne Gearan contributed to this report.