FILE – In this photo provided by Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP David Friedman, President-elect, Donald Trump’s choice for the ambassador of Israel. (Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman llp via AP, File)
NEW YORK – As President-elect, Donald Trump wanted to show that he was planning to destroy President Barack Obama’s approach to Israel, he can get his man to deliver a message to David Friedman, his choice for the ambassador of the USA.
The bankruptcy lawyer and the son of an Orthodox rabbi, is everything Obama is not: an ardent supporter of the Israeli settlements, the opponent of the Palestinian state and relentless defender of Israel’s government. So far to the right is Friedman that even many Israel supporters worry he could pressure Israel’s hawkish Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be more extreme, plunging the prospects for peace with the Palestinians in the process.
The heated debate over Friedman’s selection is playing out, just as fresh tensions between the U.S. and Israel, suspended last Friday by the Obama administration’s stunning move to a U. N. Security Council resolution giving condemned the Israeli settlements as illegal. The move to abstain, rather than veto, defied the years of the AMERICAN tradition of the shield of Israel of such resolutions, and called angry condemnation of Israel, the legislators of both parties, and especially Asset.
“Things will be different after Jan. 20th,” if he is not sworn in, Trump promised on Twitter.
Friedman, especially, is different.
The presidents of both parties have long advocated a two-state solution that provides for an eventual Palestinian state, and Netanyahu says that he agrees with it. Friedman is not. He called the two-state solution is merely a “story” that must end.
Under Obama, the U.S. has worked closely with J Street, an Israel advocacy group strongly critical of Netanyahu. Not Friedman. He accuses Obama of “blatant anti-semitism” and calls J Street ‘ worse than kapos,” a reference to the Jews who helped the Nazis caught fellow Jews during the Holocaust.
For decades, the U.S. has opposed the Israeli settlements built in the land seized in the 1967 middle east War. Friedman runs a non-profit that raises millions of dollars for Beit El, a settlement of the religious nationalists near Ramallah. Beit El is a right-wing news oulet and a yeshiva which the dean has provocatively urged Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to uproot settlers from their homes.
So it is not surprising that Friedman’s nomination has already sharpened the edges of a growing balkanization of American Jews, between those who want the U.S. to push Israel in the direction of peace and those who believe Obama’s approach left America’s closest middle east ally.
It is a debate to play out, even in the Temple at Jerusalem, in the vicinity of the Long Island-Queens border, where Friedman’s father was a rabbi for almost half a century.
“It is clear that David opinions do not appeal to everyone in the synagogue, and they appeal to others in the synagogue,” said Ken Fink, the synagogue president, and the old congregant. “But there is a huge amount of pride for the hometown boy.”
Thirty-two years before Trump election of President Ronald Reagan donned a yarmulke and noshed on chicken cutlets and noodle pudding on Rabbi Morris Friedman ‘ s home, after a speech in the Temple Hillel confirmation of the separation between church and state. Coming two weeks before Reagan’s re-election, the attempt to woo Jewish voters struck some as opportunistic, and they protested in the streets of the most Jewish town of North Woodmere.
Sitting at the Sabbath table with Reagan was David Melech Friedman, his second name means “king” in Hebrew. The rabbi’s son went on Trump bankruptcy lawyer, a vocal advocate for extreme right-wing policies in Israel, and now, Trump’s choice of the ambassador, despite the fact that no diplomatic experience.
In the announcement of his pick, Trump pointed out that Friedman’s bar mitzvah 45 years ago, was at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where Friedman is now the owner of a house. Although his father was an Orthodox rabbi, the synagogue belongs to the more moderate Conservative flow, which in the friedman’s more observant than many of the congregants.
Cindy Grosz, who said that they would have known Friedman for nearly 50 years, called on the major parties, with strong debates on Jewish issues held in his family’s sukkah, the outdoor hut Jews build during the harvest festival, Sukkot.
“He still has the same best friends he had for more than 30 years. That has not changed,” Grosz said.
At his midtown Manhattan law firm, Friedman opens his offices in the mourning who need a minyan — a quorum of 10 men in Orthodox Judaism to say the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer observant Jews say every day for a year after one of the parents dies.
And it was one of the parents dies, in a way, that it brought Friedman and Trump closer to each other. Over the years, Friedman has told friends the story of how the billionaire real estate mogul defied an oppressive snowstorm that had kept others away to “sit shiva” for Friedman’s father during the Jewish period of mourning.
Educated at Columbia University and the NYU School of Law, Friedman earned a reputation as an aggressive, high-stakes bankruptcy lawyer, to represent Asset when his Atlantic City casinos went through bankruptcy.
In the courtroom, he is known as a formidable opponent, said lawyer Tariq Mundiya, Friedman’s opponent in a number of cases. He said that he would have been aware of Friedman’s advocacy on Israel, but added, “If you are in the mist of the war with David, the last what you’re talking about the Middle East.”
If this is confirmed, Friedman is expected to be the face of Trump’s dramatic shift in attitude. While Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu was famously fraught, Friedman has said that Trump are the signs of Israel’s wishes.
Both Friedman and Trump is focused on moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking with decades of U.S. refusal to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the light of the Palestinians’ claim on east Jerusalem.
Outraged by Trump’s pick, left-leaning groups and Palestinian officials have suggested his confirmation could mean the end of a serious talks about peace.
Friedman and Trump’s transition team did not respond to requests for comment.
Netanyahu has stayed in the public nothing about Trump’s pick. But the persons in the vicinity of the prime minister said that he was happy with the appointment because he knows Friedman has a direct line to Trump. The people were not authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.
Associated Press writers Josef Federman and Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem and Tia goldenberg were well received in Beit El, West Bank, contributed to this report.
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP