The nomination of David Friedman to be the next ambassador of the United States to Israel has stirred a fierce debate, focused primarily on Friedman’s well-documented bombastic rhetoric and his views on settlements, the occupation, and the Palestinians — views that are at odds with decades of bipartisan U.S. policy.
As the Senate gets ready to consider Friedman’s nomination, what has been largely overlooked is the fact that, based on his own very clear and public record, Friedman is by any objective standard disqualified from serving as America’s diplomatic envoy to any country, and especially to Israel.
An ambassador is the representative of America — its people, its government, and its president — in a foreign country. Having routinely maligned and slandered fellow Americans, civil servants and leaders, and in the most despicable terms, Friedman has disqualified himself from serving in such a role.
As has been noted, Friedman has repeatedly defamed fellow American Jews, calling them “kapos” and “worse than kapos.” A "kapo" was a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps that was assigned to supervise other prisoners. Friedman also labeled one of America’s most respected organizations fighting anti-Semitism, hate, and discrimination “morons.” But it doesn’t stop there.
Friedman slandered a sitting American president and secretary of state, calling President Obama and Secretary Kerry anti-Semites. He smeared former president Bill Clinton as, “more dangerous to the interests of Israel than any president since Eisenhower.” He defamed former senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, referring to her “lengthy career of anti-Israel advocacy and policy” and implying that she takes advice from agents of the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda.
And less than a year ago, he vilified American diplomats and civil servants, including generations of Americans who served honorably under presidents from both parties, suggesting that longtime bipartisan American policy in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace was reflective of the “hundred-year history of anti-Semitism” of the same State Department in which he is now nominated to serve.
For a private citizen, such behavior would merely be contemptible. From a man who would be the highest level American envoy to a foreign nation, this record of behavior is disqualifying.
His disqualifications go even deeper. The primary mission of an American ambassador is to represent, promote and defend American interests to the government and population of the nation in which he serves. Given his longstanding and very public involvement in Israeli domestic politics, Friedman would be in a singularly problematic position carrying out this role.
His involvement includes working personally to raise millions of dollars for settlements. It also includes writing a regular column for a right-wing Israeli media outlet – a column in which he has repeatedly taken controversial positions vis-à-vis Israeli domestic issues, including, notably, attacking 20% of Israel’s population (its Arab citizens) as “disloyal.”
Indeed, Friedman, who owns a home in the country where he would be posted, long ago crossed the line from merely being a private American citizen who cares about and supports Israel, to being a player in Israel domestic politics – a player affiliated with specific Israeli parties, political figures, and political agendas. The crossing of that line was on clearest display in an oped in an Israeli outlet in which Friedman repeatedly used the words "we" and "us" when referring to Israelis and settlers, something he did again in a recent videotaped meeting with settlers.
It is possible Friedman would argue that when he says "we" he means not Israel or the settlers, but Jews everywhere; if this is his defense, not only is he disqualified from serving as America’s ambassador to Israel, but he will have done more to undermine loyal American Jews working in public service than anyone since Jonathan Pollard.
And to be clear: this identification of Friedman as being as one with the settlers goes both ways: in a recent article in the Forward about Beit El – the settlement Friedman has long worked to support — a Beit El spokesperson quipped, “We think that David Friedman is going to be our representative in the United States.”
An ambassador’s job is to represent and to serve, exclusively, the American people and the policies and interests of the United States. As someone who openly identifies with the interests, agenda and ideology of a portion of Israel’s own population and political leaders, Friedman is categorically disqualified from serving in this role.
Indeed, based on his own words and his very public record of leadership and activism, there is a very real question of whether Friedman would be willing or able to distinguish between American interests and the specific set of Israeli interests he has worked for decades to promote.
Lara Friedman is the Director of Policy and Government Relations for Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of Israel's Shalom Achshav peace movement. APN's mission is to educate and persuade the American public and its leadership to support and adopt policies that will lead to comprehensive, durable, Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace, based on a two-state solution.
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