David Friedman’s conduct as US ambassador to Israel should alarm all those who care about US policy in the Middle East and the basic norms of American diplomacy. With his comments today, he has once again disturbingly blurred the lines between his role as ambassador and his long-standing status as a benefactor and promoter of the Israeli settlement movement and the Republican Party.
In comments to the Israeli media, Friedman made the highly partisan and inappropriate claim that “There’s no question Republicans support Israel more than Democrats.” He also once again undermined and confused longstanding US policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, arguing for their legitimacy and stating “I don’t believe the settlements are illegal.”
This is just the latest of many occasions in which Friedman has used his position to promote his own personal views and positions, rather than the interests and policies of the United States.
Among other alarming actions and statements, the ambassador has: reportedly requested that the State Department cease using the terms “occupation” and “Israeli-occupied territories” to refer to Israeli rule in the West Bank; falsely told press that “settlements are part of Israel” and that Israel is “only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank;” maligned Americans who describe themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace; invited anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim pastor Robert Jeffress to speak at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem — while failing to invite any Democratic lawmakers.
During his confirmation process, Friedman was met with an unprecedented level of opposition for a US ambassador nominee — with 46 Senators voting against him. To secure a slim majority of votes, he was forced to renounce almost his entire record. Yet his actions since then show that Friedman has clearly broken his promises to senators to behave diplomatically and prudently in his new post and to put aside his own personal agenda.
J Street urges senators to carry out a thorough investigation of Ambassador Friedman’s conduct in office. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should ask Friedman to account for his many broken promises, and to clarify whether his many statements on Israeli settlements reflect official US policy or his own personal views.
If his comments do reflect official changes in policy, then Friedman must clarify how and why the administration decided to make those changes: Does he confer with and answer to the State Department? Do his statements fully reflect the views and opinions of the president?
Friedman should also be asked to clarify how and why American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva Center, the pro-settlement charity that Friedman headed, funnelled thousands of dollars to the right-wing extremist group Komemiyut — which has the exact same name and similar ideology as a group that had been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and Canada.
Friedman’s conduct continues to compromise longstanding US interests and insult many American citizens and elected officials. Instead of helping to pursue peace, he has exacerbated regional tensions and confusion over US policy. For the sake of US interests and the long-term health of the US-Israel relationship, this situation in which an American ambassador continues to publicly advocate for and advance his own political agenda cannot continue.