Monday, April 3, 2017

Trump appoints pro-settler ambassador to Israel

The US Senate approved the appointment of David Friedman, president Donald Trump's former bankruptcy lawyer to be the United States' ambassador to Israel.

The Senate approved Friedman by a margin of 52 to 46. Two Republicans of the 52 in the Senate did not vote and 2 of 48 Democrats voted for Friedman's appointment. The Trump administration has been slow in appointing new ambassadors. More than 70 posts remain open.
The appointment is a clear indicator of the pro-Israel attitude that the Trump administration will take in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Friedman's nomination was welcomed by the Israeli right. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu also tweeted that Freidman "will be warmlly welcomed as President Trump's representative and a close friend of Israel."
Friedman is an orthdox Jew and the son of a New York rabbi. He is a bankruptcy lawyer and has worked for Trump for 15 years. He has worked for Trump on hotel bankruptcies. He joined the Trump presidential election campaign last year. He acted as adviser on Israel. Friedman has long been a supporter of Israeli causes. He supports building settlements on Palestinian land in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. He was a donor to the US branch of Ateret Cohanin, a right-wing Israeli group that settles Jews in East Jerusalem, especially al-Aqsa the most sensitive Islamic site in the area. He is president of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions, that raises millions of dollars annually for a settlement that is close to Ramallah a Palestinian city.
Friedman has described some US Jewish progressive groups as "worse than kapos" a reference to Jewish collaborators who worked as guards at Nazi prison guards. Friedman also dismisses the two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict a position at odds with the long-standing support of the US for a two-state solution. Trump has softened his criticism of the building of more Israeli settlements and has also suggested that he was open to an alternative one state solution. Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein voted against Friedman describing him as too divisive to serve in a very sensitive diplomatic position. However, the Republican Jewish Coalition praised the appointment claiming that Friedman would strengthen the relationship between the US and Israel.
Friedman supports an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Friedman has also called President Obama an antisemite. Friedman has no experience of foreign service. Liberal Jewish groups denounced the appointment of Friedman and called it "reckless" and the "least experienced pick" ever for a US ambassador. However, Yossi Dagan, an Israeli settler leader welcomed the news and said he was a true friend and partner of the state of Israel and settlers. Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America said that the Friedman had "the potential to be the greatest US ambassador to Israel ever".
With another Trump adviser, Friedman drew up a 16-point action plan that included “ensur[ing] that Israel receives maximum military, strategic and tactical cooperation from the United States” and a declaration of war on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and pro-Palestinian campus activism." Friedman spoke of looking forward to taking up his post in "the US embassy Israel's eternal capital Jersualem". The present embassy is in Tel Aviv. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem could be an explosive action.
In announcing the appointment Trump said: “[Friedman] has been a long-time friend and trusted adviser to me. 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.” Even some Israeli journalists were surprised at the appointment of Friedman. Chemi Shalev a columnist for the liberal publication Haaretz said: “From where Friedman stands, most Israelis, never mind most American Jews, are more or less traitors.” Chemi even claimed that Friedman was to the right of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Friedman disagrees with the international consensus that the settlements are illegal. He opposes any ban on settlement construction either on the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Friedman has even said that calls for settlers to leave the West Bank amount to ethnic cleansing.Friedman has said that under a Trump administration Israel would feel no pressure and added: “America and Israel will enjoy unprecedented military and strategic cooperation, and there will be no daylight between the two countries."

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