Undiplomatic Nominee

Jewish Light Editorial

Before proceeding to the important arguments for why David Friedman comprises a poor nominee for Ambassador to Israel, it’s first important to acknowledge that some of the reasons given against him are fairly weak.

For one thing, to say that Friedman has no diplomatic experience isn’t persuasive in the slightest. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of party loyalists, receive diplomatic posts from their presidents. There’s not really anything to see there. 

For another, to suggest that Friedman is only getting his job because of a personal relationship with President-elect Donald Trump is just another variation on the first reason above. A longtime bankruptcy counsel for the president-elect, Friedman has the trust and respect of the chief executive.

Finally, the recommendation by both Trump and Friedman to move the American consulate from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is exactly what several previous candidates have said and then passed on actually implementing. Unless and until the administration follows through with that action, we reserve judgment on the efficacy and ramifications of that decision.

Trump can choose appointees with whatever policy perspectives he finds appropriate. It’s the president’s job to nominate and it’s the Senate’s (and the media’s, and the public’s) job to review and evaluate. That’s the way the process works. If confirmed, Friedman’s successes and failures can and should be measured by the political response to his actions and words.

Having gotten those tepid arguments against Friedman’s appointment out of the way, let’s now identify the most important reasons why we think the choice of Friedman is a poor one and should be rejected:

1. It potentially undermines at least a quarter-century of settled diplomatic approach. The likelihood of Friedman and Trump abandoning the prospect of a two-state solution looms large. The Republican Party no longer fully embraces this solution in its platform and Friedman’s rhetoric certainly confirms the drift away from that long-accepted position. This is a bad thing as we’ve noted in past editorials.

2.  Friedman has been grossly disrespectful of his fellow Jews. From his comments lambasting the Anti-Defamation League and its leadership (“they’re morons”) to his calling J Street supporters “far worse than kapos,” Friedman is suggesting that it’s not really important to him for Jews in positions of authority to acknowledge there are different and myriad ways to support Israel and to be Jewish. His attitude is a notoriously anti-pluralistic one (or “grotesque and marginalizing,” in the words of David Schraub in Haaretz).

3. The appointment is a disconnect with the majority of the American Jewish community. The positions being espoused by Friedman about settlements, about abandonment of the two-state construct, and more, comprise a rejection of what a decent majority of American Jews believes about relations with Israel, with the Palestinian people and the need for a negotiated solution. While we certainly don’t support leading by poll results, what happens if the notion of “to be a Jew who loves Israel” in the eyes of America’s formal representative to Israel deviates substantially from what so many Jewish Americans think?

4. The appointment is an even larger disconnect with the large majority of young adult American Jews. Many studies have shown that while this demographic has a solidly Zionist component to it, that support is questioned by many young Jews who translate their civil rights and social justice beliefs to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Contrary to what some, including Friedman, appear to believe, one doesn’t have to be to the left of J Street to have concerns about the views and practices of the current Israeli leadership coalition. This is generally accepted as the most far-right ruling assemblage in Israel’s short history; what does the appointment of an ambassador who appears so insensitive to the concerns of so many young Jews mean to future support of, and love for, the Jewish State?

5. Friedman lacks the comportment to be an effective diplomat. He is a blustery, shoot-first-ask-questions-later guy; his comments about his fellow Jews, noted above, substantiate that. This approach fails in formal negotiations and has the potential to set back prospects for peace by a great distance. Moreover, his attitude insults the many professional U.S. diplomats who have studied, analyzed and implemented American policy regarding the Middle East. If Friedman’s approach is essentially to ignore their countless years of counsel and do his own thing, no matter his substantive policy views, there will be a wide chasm between the appointed ambassador and the professional staff that is needed to effect policy.

We hope Friedman’s future conduct proves us wrong. We hope that he can bring together diverse viewpoints in a constructive and meaningful way; that he can contribute to the quest for peace; and that he can leave the safety and security of Israel, through its partnership with America, stronger than where he found it. Frankly, we’re highly doubtful given his early rhetoric. But make no mistake, we very much want to look back and admit we were mistaken.