David Friedman opposes two-state solution, backs undivided Jerusalem as capital and has acted for Trump’s failing hotels.
Donald Trump has named as his ambassador to Israel a pro-settler lawyer who has described some US Jews as worse than concentration camp prisoner-guards.
David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who represented the president-elect over his failing hotels in Atlantic City, served Trump’s advisory team on the Middle East. He has set out a number of hardline positions on Israeli-Palestinian relations, including fervent opposition to the two-state solution and strong support for an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
He has called President Barack Obama an antisemite and suggested that US Jews who oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank are worse than kapos, Nazi-era prisoners who served as concentration camp guards.
Liberal Jewish groups in the US denounced the appointment as “reckless” and described Friedman – a man with no experience of foreign service – as the “least experienced pick” ever for a US ambassador to Israel.
Yossi Dagan, a prominent Israeli settler leader and friend of Friedman, welcomed the news, describing him as “a true friend and partner of the state of Israel and the settlements”. Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Friedman had “the potential to be the greatest US ambassador to Israel ever”.
An indication of how Friedman views Israel came in a 16-point action plan he issued with another Trump adviser in November. It 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, 57, has worked with Trump for more than 15 years and advised the president-elect on the Middle East during his election campaign. He represented Trump after the umbrella company for his three Atlantic City casinos, Trump Entertainment Resorts, went into bankruptcy in 2009.
He said he was looking forward to taking up his post in “the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem”, indicating Trump’s determination to overturn years of US policy and move the embassy from Tel Aviv. The change would be a potentially explosive gesture in the Middle East, as the status of Jerusalem is one of the issues in the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Also controversial is Friedman’s presidency of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organisation that supports a large illegal West Bank settlement just outside Ramallah.
His links with Bet El, along with recent revelations that the family charity of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, gave money to one of the West Bank’s most hard-line ideological settlements, suggests the settler movement will have an unprecedented number of advocates in the heart of Washington.
Announcing the appointment in a statement, 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.”
The announcement appears to have caught Israeli analysts by surprise. The Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev said Friedman made Israel’s rightwing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, “seem like a leftwing defeatist”.
“From where Friedman stands,” he said, “most Israelis, never mind most American Jews, are more or less traitors.”
Friedman disagrees with the general international consensus that the settlements are illegal and he opposes a ban on settlement construction on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
He wrote in the Jerusalem Post during the US election campaign that Israel would feel “no pressure” under a Trump administration. “America and Israel will enjoy unprecedented military and strategic cooperation, and there will be no daylight between the two countries,” he said.
In a column for the Israel National News website, he compared the liberal Jewish US lobby group J Street to concentration camp prisoner-guards and described its supporters as “smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas – it’s hard to imagine anyone worse”.
He went further at the Saban forum earlier this month, saying J Street’s supporters were “not Jewish, and they’re not pro-Israel”.
The J Street president, Jeremy Ben Ami, said in a statement on Thursday: “J Street is vehemently opposed to the nomination of David Friedman. This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council tweeted: “Trump must stand for a strong US-Israel relationship and take it seriously. [There] hasn’t ever been a less experienced pick for US ambassador to Israel.”
Lara Friedman, of Americans for Peace Now, tweeted: “I don’t know about the Palestinians, but I know Jews who truly care about Israel’s security, democracy & place in the world are outraged.”
Like Trump, Friedman is an admirer of Vladimir Putin, and has portrayed the Russian president as fighting Islamic State in Syria despite little of the Russian war effort being focused on Isis.
“Vladimir Putin gets it,” Friedman wrote in November last year. “He may be a ‘thug,’ as he was recently described by Senator [Marco] Rubio, but he knows how to identify a national objective, execute a military plan, and ultimately prevail.”
By Peter Beaumont & Julian Borger