President Trump's controversial US Ambassador to Israel has demonstrated that APN was right to oppose his confirmation and subsequently call for his firing.
Based on his actions, statements, and our off-the-record conversations with informed insiders, it is clear that David Friedman is the chief architect behind the Trump administration's thinly concealed push to kill the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Friedman File is APN's comprehensive record documenting the deeds of the settlements enthusiast-cum-ambassador since he assumed his post.
Update on January 10, 2021
On January 10th 2021, reflecting on his actions as ambassador to Israel, Friedman told the New York Times, “I’m frankly somewhere between addicted and intoxicated with what I’ve been able to do, and how much joy it gives me.” This quote appeared in a long Times story assessing Friedman’s impact on Israel and its relations with the Palestinians during his term as ambassador to Israel. The writer, Times’ Jerusalem Bureau Chief David Halbfinger, later published on Twitter many other quotes from his interview with Friedman, which were not included in the story itself.
Friedman said that one of his main goals as ambassador to Israel was to lower the expectations of Palestinians regarding a future political arrangement with Israel. “A flood of refugees into Israel? Never going to happen,” he said. “Dividing Jerusalem? It’s just never going to happen. Israel giving up certain parts of its biblical heartland? Never going to happen.” Friedman said that the Trump administration had “injected a tremendously needed dose of realism into the Palestinian psyche about what’s achievable and what’s not.” He added that the Trump administration’s proposal for a permanent relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, which set requirements of financial transparency, human rights and other norms for the Palestinians to gain statehood, was actually “a gift to the Palestinian people” that would make their “quality of life far more bearable.”
Commenting on Israeli West Bank settlements, Friedman said that settlement construction is “an internal decision,” and that the United States ought not harp on this issue. Friedman said, “just to kind of virtue-signal that we think the Palestinians should have something more, made no sense to me.”
According to Halbfinger, Friedman told him it was pointless for the U.S. to ask Israelis for a settlement freeze, “because for them, I think a freeze of construction is the acknowledgment that the land doesn’t belong to them.” Israel, Friedman added, should come to the table “without the accusation that somehow it’s a thief and being asked to return things that it stole. Israel will not and should not come to the table on the basis of being an illegal occupier of stolen land.”
Friedman indicated to Halbfinger that he intends to continue his activity in support of West Bank settlements. He said, “I will stay in the space somehow, but I just don’t know how (…) I’ll try to maintain a voice.” Halbfinger ends his story with the following: “(Friedman) said he did not plan to seek Israeli citizenship just yet: ‘I’m going to stay American-only for at least four years,’ he said. ‘I want to give myself every opportunity to return to government.’”
On January 8th, 2021, two days after a mob incited by President Donald Trump stormed Washington’s Capitol in a violent insurrection attempt, causing the death of five people, Friedman issued an official statement, commenting on the events. In the three paragraphs he penned, there was not one word of condemnation or criticism of the violent rioters. He also did not bother to mention the man who incited the mob, which included neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.
On September 17, 2020, the Israeli-daily Israel Hayom published an interview with Friedman. As he typically does, Friedman used this interview to speak disparagingly about the Palestinian leadership. Friedman, for all practical purposes, is not only the United States envoy to Israel but also America’s ambassador to the Palestinian territories. He was asked if the Trump administration was seeking to “appoint” the UAE-based Muhammad Dahlan, a controversial Palestinian public figure and a staunch foe of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the new Palestinian leader. According to the original Israel Hayom text, Friedman replied "We're thinking about it,” and then added, “we have had no desire to engineer the Palestinian leadership." Shortly thereafter, Israel Hayom (a Netanyahu mouthpiece, distributed free of charge and funded by conservative Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson) issued a correction, saying that Friedman in fact said: “We’re NOT thinking about it.” It should be noted that Friedman has a long history of publicly criticizing the Palestinian leadership. He also has a history of correcting what he regarded as misquotes about the Palestinian leadership. In a 2018 interview with the Israeli newspaper Shvi’i, Friedman was quoted calling for replacing Mahmoud Abbas. He later claimed that he was “misquoted,” and that the Trump administration is NOT calling for replacing Abbas. The September 17, 2020 interview with Israel Hayom was conducted in English. A short English version was published here. A longer version, a Hebrew translation, was published here. Also in this interview, Friedman said that the halt on annexation of parts of the West Bank to Israel is but a “temporary suspension,” and that once the push for Israeli peace with Arab states is exhausted, “I think we can go back to (imposing Israeli) sovereignty (in the West Bank) in a manner that will be less controversial.”
On May 8th, two interviews with Ambassador Friedman were published in Israeli dailies. In an interview with the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom, a newspaper that strongly supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is distributed free of charge, Friedman went to great lengths to reassure the Israeli right that the chances of a Palestinian state materializing are slim. “I've had conversations with lots of people on the right,” Friedman said. I have great respect for them and I understand their point of view very well, it's a point of view that I share in many respects.” He continued, “I understand them, but [we are saying] you don't have to live with that Palestinian state, you have to live with the Palestinian state when the Palestinians become Canadians. And when the Palestinians become Canadians all your issues should go away.”
These comments are reminiscent of the infamous comment by Dov Weissglass, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s right hand, who in a 2004 interview with Israel’s Haaretz daily boasted that because of his negotiating skills, core issues that require peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians “will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns.” In his May 8th Israel Hayom interview, Friedman also absurdly stated that expecting Israel to “give up” portions of the West Bank would be like expecting the United States to “give up” its national icons. Said Friedman, “It's unreasonable to ask Israel to give it up. It's like asking the US to give up the Statue of Liberty. It's a small little thing but we're not giving it up – it's very important to us. Or Lincoln memorial, at any price! Because it's our national DNA. And [the same goes for] the Jewish people."
In the same Israel Hayom interview, Friedman said that the Trump administration is ready to recognize Israeli sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank. Once Israel determines the exact contours of the area it wants to annex, Friedman said, which “will not exceed 50% of area C.” He said, “we are not declaring sovereignty – the government of Israel has to declare sovereignty. And then we're prepared to recognize it along those lines.” In his interview with the Jerusalem Post, published on the same day, Friedman addressed the question of the Trump administration recognizing annexation by plainly saying, “We will be ready to address this issue if Israel is ready.” Alluding to what he has depicted in the past as a golden opportunity for Israel to capitalize on Donald Trump’s presidency, Friedman said, “We need to maximize mutual benefits of the relationship in ways I don’t think have happened before…The only limits are one’s imagination as to where we can go.”
April 14, 2020: On April 12th 2020, Friedman violated Coronavirus-related Israeli Health Ministry social distancing regulations by traveling to the Western Wall for a public prayer.
Israeli government guidelines mandated that residents stay within a radius of 100 yards from their home. Friedman’s home is more than a mile away from the Western Wall. The Ministry’s instructions were also to avoid a crowd of over ten people. A video shows 15 people in attendance (including two photographers).
A spokesperson for Friedman said that the ambassador’s attendance was in fact in accordance with the Israeli government’s regulations.
March 9, 2020: On March 3rd 2020, Friedman delivered a highly polemical speech at the annual Policy Conference of the Israel American Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). It was an aggressive partisan message that according to the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent made AIPAC’s leaders “unhappy.” Indeed, it was the only one of this conference’s plenary speeches that AIPAC chose not to feature on its web site.
At the opening session of the AIPAC conference, a day before Friedman’s speech, AIPAC’s former president, Amy Friedkin, told the 18,000 people attending the gathering: “We’ve asked all the speakers invited into our home this next three days to avoid the nasty partisan attacks that unfortunately dominate the current political dialogue in our country. We ask all who are going to be standing before you to do their best to stay affirmative and advance their case with respect for their opponents. We explain to each speaker before they appear that we are a bi-partisan highly diverse organization and the best way to persuade us is with facts, not fire.”
Ambassador Friedman either didn’t get the memo, or, more likely, faithful to his ultra-partisan extremist style, chose partisan fire.
The leitmotif of his speech was a rebuke of the Obama administration’s policy on Israel and an exercise in marketing Trump’s Middle East policies. He called the Obama administration’s abstention from a UN Security Council resolution on settlements “a great betrayal of Israel by the United States.” Alluding to the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, Friedman said that not everyone who commits to never compromise Israel’s security is a true friend of Israel. “You should ensure that they will not return to the disastrous Iran deal and you should make sure that they will not impose upon Israel their view as to how Israel should defend itself,” Friedman said. “If you get the wrong answers to these questions, I would suggest you run, don’t walk, from these so-called friends.”
Friedman again harnessed the Holocaust to assail past administrations, who supported Israeli-Palestinian peace deals – the only realistic deals – which entailed uprooting Israeli West Bank settlements. “We are all familiar with the ugly term judenrein. It was a term used by the Nazis for a place where Jews were not allowed. Well. Let me make something abundantly clear: under the Trump administration, the biblical heartland of Israel in Judea and Samaria will never be judenrein,” Friedman said, whipping up the crowd.
Ignoring the conference organizers request for avoiding divisive discourse, Friedman said, “I’ve wanted to say this for some time to my friends on the left: hating Donald Trump is not an Israel policy. If the only reason you don’t like our policy in Israel is that you don’t like our president, then regrettably we will remain unnecessarily and needlessly divided.”
February 9, 2020: At a Jerusalem press conference hosted by right wing think tank Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Friedman said that for the United States, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all settlements in the West Bank is, “a small price to pay” in exchange for Israel agreeing to freeze settlement construction in land outside the contours of existing settlements. Friedman also announced that he will be one of three Americans on a joint US-Israeli committee that would determine the dimensions and contours of Israel’s West Bank annexation.
Friedman used sweeping language to vilify the Palestinians and to glorify Israel. He said: “The Palestinians in fifty-two years have done nothing to create any kind of political movement that provides Israel with any sense of certainty or calm or assurances that the Palestinians won’t be a threat to Israel if they were to achieve statehood.”
Here is how Friedman depicted the occupation: “There are several million people living in Judea and Samaria, who do not accept Israeli rule, or claim not to accept Israeli rule, whose life is sub-optimal, given the challenges of security.”
Friedman was asked why it is that Israel would be permitted to annex vast parts of the West Bank immediately, regardless of negotiations or bilateral agreements, while the Palestinians would have to jump through hoops to be regarded as worthy of statehood. He replied that this approach “bridges the asymmetry between Israel and the Palestinians.” He explained, “this is a completely asymmetric relationship. Israel is a democracy. You could hold it to its word. It has an enormous relationship with the United States on multiple levels, and that relationship is very solid. It is in a position today to keep its part of the bargain. The Palestinians today are not in a position to keep any bargain. The Palestinians are not united. Their government is not democratic. Their institutions are weak. Their respect for the type of norms that we hold dear… are non-existent. And so you have to bridge that asymmetry by saying, well, if Israel is ready today, why shouldn’t they get what they are agreeing to today? If the Palestinians are going to be ready in four years, well they are going to get what they can get in four years. The only way, I think, to induce Israel to make the kind of commitments today that will have ramifications for years to come, is to provide them today with what they are entitled to in exchange for that.”
Friedman said that the US proposal is “a deal within a deal.” Within the overall US plan, he said, there is a deal that the US made with Israel. “If Israel maintains this optionality for four years, creates a four year settlement freeze with regards to the fifty percent of Area C that’s allocated to the Palestinians, if they achieve that freeze and agree to negotiate, using the plan as a basis for negotiations, as the Prime Minister has already done… then upon Israel applying its laws to the territory that is earmarked for Israel within Judea and Samaria, that is laid out in the map, upon them doing that, pursuant to the committee process that we just talked about, then the United States will recognize Israel’s application of its laws. So, we have the bigger deal and what I would call the implementing agreement.” He explained that the US recognition of Israel’s annexation is “an inducement for Israel to keep the other territory open for a future agreement.”
Recognizing Israel’s annexation, Friedman astonishingly said, is a small price for the US to pay. “It seemed like a small price to pay to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over this territory in exchange for this territorial freeze.” He added “this is something we obtained as a commitment from Israel in order to keep this option alive and we were willing to recognize its sovereignty in exchange.”
January 28-30, 2020: Shortly after President Trump released his “vision” for future
Israeli-Palestinian relations on January 28th, Friedman said Israel, “does
not have to wait” to annex settlements in the West Bank, prompting Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce his
intention to immediately introduce draft legislation for annexation to his cabinet. He was immediately contradicted
by the White House, which ruled that annexation would not take place before Israeli elections and would be subject
to discussions of an American-Israeli joint committee.
A day later, Friedman was interviewed by the Christian Broadcasting Network to sell Trump’s plan to evangelicals. When asked by the interviewer if Trump was put in the White House by God, if Trump is “exhibit a” of “God putting people in certain places for a time like this,” Friedman replied, “he sure is.”
Praising the prospects of Israel annexing large swaths of the West Bank, Friedman depicted the plan as opening up the bible,” to evangelical tourism, “bringing it back to life in ways that I think your listeners could not even have imagined.” He called it “an opportunity for biblical tourism that I think will grow and flourish in profound ways.”
January 8, 2020: He singled out Israel as having “a good claim” to the land. In his speech, hosted by a right-wing Israeli organization, Friedman exclusively referred to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, which is the way that the Bible denotes these territories and the way that Israel’s nationalistic right refers to them in modern times. Friedman compared Israel’s right to the land to past claims of Jordan and the Ottoman Empire, but not to those of the Palestinians. Friedman weaved a selective historic, religious, and legal narrative, which he presented as a foundation for what he depicted as the “Pompeo Doctrine.” The “doctrine” is a view first expressed in November 2019 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the Trump administration’s official policy, which regards Israeli settlements in the West Bank as being not per-se illegal. Friedman presented this change in American policy as correcting a wrong approach taken by past administrations and the international community. In his words, it “finally, moves the goal posts back on to the field” by clearly stating “that Israelis have the right, Jews have the right, to live in Judea and Samaria.” Friedman’s framing is a red herring, though. The question – addressed by former US administrations, Democratic and Republican – is not whether Jews have the right to live in the West Bank. Even Palestinian leaders have said that they would welcome Jews who want to reside in a future Palestinian state in the West Bank. The question is whether it is legitimate for Israeli governments to establish Jewish settlements in the West Bank and encourage Israeli citizens to settle in this occupied, disputed land as a means of jeopardizing the creation of a Palestinian state. The chief difference between past administrations and the Trump administration is that while past administrations embraced the two-state solution, this administration is actively working to undercut it. In his speech, Friedman depicted the Trump administration’s conflict resolution goal as finding “a practical negotiated resolution to the conflict that improves the lives of both sides.” Friedman spoke at a symposium held in Jerusalem by an Israeli right-wing organization, to celebrate Pompeo’s November 18th 2019 declaration that the US does not view Israeli West Bank settlements as illegal. Israeli speakers at the event spoke enthusiastically about the prospects and plans to annex the West Bank. Friedman told the crowd “Your help is very much appreciated, and your ideas are very much welcome.”
October 16, 2019: Friedman echoed PM Netanyahu’s pre-election pledge that no settlers will be moved from their homes in the context of a future peace deal. He indicated that the Trump administration’s “peace plan” will not stipulate the removal of settlements or settlers from the West Bank. In an interview with the right-wing Arutz 7, Friedman said: “I don’t believe that there is a realistic plan that can be implemented that will require anyone, Jew or Arab, to be forced to leave their home.” The interviewer followed up with a clarification question, “no uprooting,” he asked. Friedman’s reply: “No. It's frankly an inhumane process - speaking about Jews or Arabs. It failed in 2006, produced an extreme adverse reaction among Israelis. I think it's a failed policy, and not something that we would advance.” Asked about the Trump administration’s policy on Israel’s construction of West Bank settlements, Friedman said: “We have discussion and coordination, but the facts speak for themselves. We have not been critical of settlements in any absolute sense.”
September 28, 2019: Friedman all but endorsed PM Netanyahu’s pre-election pledge to annex the Jordan Valley in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. “We don’t see [Netanyahu’s statement] as being inconsistent with a political solution,” Friedman said of Netanyahu’s promise to annex unilaterally the strategic valley bordering Jordan, which comprises nearly 30 percent of the West Bank. “The US could have endorsed it, as it did with [Israel’s annexation of the] Golan,” Friedman stated, adding “I would not read much into the fact that we didn’t.” Regarding the release of Trump’s “peace plan,” Friedman indicated the US administration will “respect the Israeli democratic process through the coalition formation” and is prepared for the possibility the Palestinians will reject it. Asked whether releasing the plan during Trump’s re-election campaign could “cause problems for his Evangelical base if the plan includes Israeli concessions,” Friedman responded, “What we will propose will make Israel strong and safer, and it will be something that the entire pro-Israel community can embrace regardless of their religious persuasion.” On the alleged rift in the Democratic Party toward Israel, Friedman stated, “Let me not attack Democrats, let me attack liberals and progressives,” whom he faulted for “intellectual laziness.” He continued, “That level of education, thought, and study [to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] is a rarity among – I think largely – the liberal, progressive world.”
August 15, 2019: Friedman issued a statement of support for the Israeli government’s decision to ban Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering Israel and the West Bank. In the statement, Friedman argues that BDS “is not free speech” and Israel “has every right to protect its borders against [BDS] activists in the same manner as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons.” The Israeli government backtracked on its earlier decision to allow Tlaib and Omar to enter Israel, which required a waiver to Israel’s 2017 Entry Law. That law mandates that people who support boycotts against Israel and/or Israeli settlements will not be allowed to enter Israel -- and as a consequence, cannot enter the occupied Palestinian territories, to which Israel controls entry. The reversal by the Israeli government came after President Trump pressured Israel to bar Omar and Tlaib from entering the country. Top Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives are reportedly considering pushing for an inspector general investigation into Ambassador Friedman, following Friedman’s decision not to push the Israeli government to allow entry to the members of Congress. Read analysis by APN’s Debra Shushan of Netanyahu’s decision to bar Tlaib and Omar on nbcnews.com.
July 30, 2019: In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Friedman was asked whether the Trump plan would be based on a two-state solution. He answered: “...the issue we have is agreeing in advance to a state because the word ‘state’ conjures up with it so many potential issues” and “creates expectations that I think, you know, cause everybody to kind of retreat to their corners.” Instead, said Friedman, “we believe in Palestinian autonomy…extended up until the point where it interferes with Israeli security.” He dismissed concerns that Israel and the Trump administration have done anything that would push toward a one-state solution. Questioned about what Friedman has asked of Israelis in return for all the Trump administration has delivered to the Israeli government, Friedman indicated he spends a lot of time speaking with Israelis about improving conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. Pushed on his support for settlements and contravention of US policy against the US ambassador to Israel visiting settlements, Friedman responded that his “area of responsibility extends to Israel inside the Green Line, to the West Bank, and to Gaza… That is the United States policy.”
July 23, 2019: Friedman took to Twitter to defend Israel’s demolition of ten Palestinian residential buildings in Wadi al-Hummus in Palestinian Authority-controlled territory (Areas A and B) just outside the Jerusalem municipal boundary. Friedman tweeted in defense of Israel’s actions, echoing the Israeli government’s claims that the structures were “illegal” (despite receiving building permits from the Palestinian Authority) and the demolitions were carried out on national security grounds.
July 8, 2019: At the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) annual summit, Friedman delivered a twenty-minute speech that framed US-Israeli relations in biblical terms. Speaking to the evangelical Christian group that boasts of being the “largest pro-Israel grassroots organization in the United States” with over five million members, Friedman depicted President Trump and his administration as blessings from God. He asserted, “The United States will be blessed because it acted in support of Israel.” He led the Christian audience in a revised version of “Dayenu” (“It Would Have Been Enough”), the song of gratitude Jews sing to God for all the gifts God has bestowed on the Jewish people, such as giving them the Torah and the Sabbath, and leading them out of slavery in Egypt. At CUFI, Friedman led Christians in praising Trump for his purportedly pro-Israel actions, including recognizing that “Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are not obstacles to peace,” moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, closing the PLO mission in Washington, and slashing funding for UNRWA.
June 30, 2019: Ambassador Friedman wielded a sledgehammer at the dedication ceremony for the Path of the Pilgrims, an Israeli tourist tunnel that runs under the Palestinian village of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem. The tunnel is the project of settler organization Elad, the force behind the City of David tourist site. Elad's avowed mission is to “Judaize” East Jerusalem. Friedman’s participation – alongside US Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt, Prime Minister Netanyahu, right-wing megadonors Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, and Senator Lindsey Graham – signaled Trump administration support for strengthening Israeli control of the Holy Basin. In an interview with Fox News, Friedman appealed to Christian evangelicals, stating that the tunnel “brings the Bible back to life” and that “we know Jesus took this road.” He told the Jerusalem Post that “enormous support for the City of David by the American public” is “yet another example – and a great one – of the recognition of the Judeo-Christian values upon which both nations were founded.” Asked by the Post whether Israel could be asked to relinquish control over Silwan or the City of David in a peace deal, the US ambassador replied, “I do not believe that Israel would ever consider such a thought. The City of David is an essential component of the national heritage of the State of Israel. It would be akin to America returning the Statue of Liberty.”
June 23, 2019: After touring the Israeli-occupied Jordan Valley with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, Friedman tweeted that he “saw up front the extraordinary importance of Israel’s control of this territory to the security of Israel and the entire region.” Together with the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley constitutes almost 30% of the West Bank.
June 19, 2019: Together with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Friedman unveiled the gold-lettered sign marking the dedication of the “village” of Ramat Trump / Trump Heights. Netanyahu’s gift to Trump in return for Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan prior to Israel’s April 2019 election, the non-existent village consists of nothing more than the large gilded sign in the middle of a field in the occupied Golan Heights.
June 8, 2019: In an interview with the New York Times, Ambassador Friedman expressed support for Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. He stated, “I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.” When pressed on how the Trump administration would react if Netanyahu were to annex portions of the West Bank unilaterally, Friedman responded: “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves. These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge.”
May 31, 2019: Delivering the keynote address at Yeshiva University’s graduation, Ambassador Friedman criticized President Obama’s handling of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Friedman likened the Obama administration’s approach to the negotiations to treating Israel as “a thief returning to the scene of a crime.” Friedman stated that Israel should negotiate with the Palestinians “even though Israel did not steal their land.”
May 14, 2019: Speaking at an event organized by the evangelical Friends of Zion Museum to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem, Ambassador Friedman stated,“Israel has one secret weapon that no other country has. Israel is on the side of God and we don't want to underestimate that.” Friedman described the new US embassy in Jerusalem as a shrine where tourists “got on their knees and... prayed to God that they have seen this day.”
April 28, 2019: Video surfaced of Friedman asking prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel to bless President Trump’s re-election. During a visit to the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Friedman asked Rabbi Baruch Dov Povarsky for the blessing “because what we see on the other side is very frightening.”
March 26, 2019: In a speech to the AIPAC Policy Conference (watch here, read here), Friedman explained his relentless efforts to push his Israel-Palestine agenda while Trump occupies the White House. Friedman told AIPAC, which prides itself on maintaining bipartisan support for Israel, that Trump is “Israel’s greatest friend to inhabit the White House,” and asserted that if you don’t see the “power and truth” of Trump’s “successes” on Israel, “you may want to check your pulse.” Friedman explained his drive to take advantage of Trump’s presidency to pursue his agenda: “How can we kick the can down the road and leave this to our successors? Sure, that would be easier. That doesn’t make it right. Can we leave this to an administration that may not understand the existential risk to Israel if Judea and Samaria are overcome by terrorism in the manner that befell the Gaza Strip after the IDF withdrew from this territory? Can we leave this to an administration that may not understand the need for Israel to maintain overriding security control of Judea and Samaria and a permanent defense position in the Jordan Valley?... Can we run the risk that one day the government of Israel will lament, why didn’t we make more progress when U.S. foreign policy was in the hands of President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Bolton, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and even David Friedman? How can we do that? The answer is, we can’t… We will continue to pursue peace, because we believe we can be trusted to have the correct perspective and approach.”
March 13, 2019: In a first for the annual publication, the State Department’s 2019 human rights report scrubbed all mention of the Israeli occupation and referred to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-controlled” as opposed to the traditional “Israeli-occupied” terminology. The use of language in the 2019 report was closely overseen by Ambassador Friedman, who tasked an aide with going through the text “with a red pen, crossing out the word ‘occupation’.” Friedman first pushed for these changes when he reportedly asked the State Department to cease referring to the West Bank as “occupied” in the 2018 report, which made only 4 references to the Israeli “occupation” and “occupied territory” as opposed to 36 mentions in the 2016 report.
March 11, 2019: Ambassador Friedman tweeted that there is “compelling evidence” for the “strategic importance of Israeli control” of the Golan Heights along with a picture of himself, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Senator Lindsey Graham. This foreshadowed Trump’s recognition of Israeli annexation of the Golan, which followed on March 25.
February 21, 2019: Ambassador Friedman offered a further glimpse of his vision of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence while attending a powwow in Jerusalem sponsored by the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, an organization that promotes economic “partnerships” between settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Although he claimed the conference endeavored to "encourage business development in Judea and Samaria” and “the prosperity of people who live there, most of them Palestinian residents," the conference was widely shunned by Palestinian political and business leaders.
January 15, 2019: William Barr, President Trump’s attorney general nominee, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Ambassador Friedman had attempted to recruit him to Trump’s personal legal defense team. Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, said, “if I was still in the White House and in charge of ethics, I would have called the ambassador and asked him not to do this. I would have told him - this could be perfectly legal and ethical, but it stinks. It doesn’t look good. Ambassadors should spend their time representing our country abroad where they are stationed, not lining up lawyers for a president who is under investigation.”
December 12, 2018: Asked about the “challenge of being US Ambassador and an observant pro-Israel Jew,” Arutz Sheva reported that Friedman responded by saying “he serves America first in his position, but that there is no problem because Donald Trump sees US and Israeli interests as identical.”
December 6, 2018: At a candle lighting ceremony at the Western Wall on the fifth night of Chanukah, Ambassador Friedman said that President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, exactly one year before, “resonated throughout the world” and was Israel’s “most significant political victory since the recognition of the State of Israel by President Harry Truman on May 14, 1948.”
October 31, 2018: Following the massacre of 11 Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, Ambassador Friedman spoke at an event hosted by the Anti-Defamation League. Likely motivated by the anger directed toward President Trump by many American Jews who held the president at least partly responsible for the mass shooting, Friedman said of Jews that, “We can never allow ourselves to be divided over the pointless exercise of assigning blame to anyone but the killer himself.” The ambassador, who had in the past famously referred to liberal American Jews as “kapos,” appealed to his co-religionists to “redouble our resolve to love each other, to respect each other, and most importantly, to unite against the true forces of hatred and evil and eradicate them forever.”
October 24, 2018: Ambassador Friedman called himself an “unapologetic right-wing defender of Israel” in his opening remarks to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) in Tel Aviv. Friedman went on to assert that the Jewish Diaspora “needs to give Israel a break... Israel is no longer the little brother. Israel is the big brother now.”
October 18, 2018: The Trump administration announced the closure of the US Consulate in Jerusalem, which had functioned as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Under a new arrangement, US relations with Palestinians will be conducted by a Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the US Embassy to Israel. Ambassador Friedman will lead US relations with both Israelis and Palestinians, and he will be responsible for overseeing reports on West Bank settlements (formerly carried out by the Jerusalem consulate). With this highly consequential move, the Trump administration is signaling that it sees Israel and the West Bank as a single administrative entity. See APN’s commentary on the decision here and read the Haaretz op-ed by APN’s Ori Nir and Debra Shushan here.
October 16, 2018: Ambassador David Friedman participated in a business conference in the West Bank settlement of Ariel hosted by the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, marking the first official visit by a sitting US ambassador, as a representative of the US government, to a West Bank settlement. Previous administrations scrupulously maintained a policy under which US ambassadors to Israel did not cross the Green Line. The mayor of Ariel, Eliyau Shaviro, commented on Facebook: “This is a blessed milestone in direct continuation of the historic transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.” Friedman tweeted about the event: “People want peace & we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening?”
October 4, 2018: In an interview with Arutz Sheva, Ambassador Friedman stated that the Trump administration believes Israel should continue settlement construction. He said, “Our view is that, to the greatest extent possible, settlement growth should be from the inside-out… the president has indicated that, to the greatest extent possible, maintain the option in Area C for land to be made available, but don’t stop settlement construction either.” This statement is in violation of a long-standing US policy, maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations, that all settlement activity is objectionable and is an obstacle to peace.
September 7, 2018: Ambassador Friedman gave an interview to Israel Hayom. 1) He said that Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem was not made in exchange for Israeli cooperation or “goodwill” regarding the peace process: “We would hope to get reciprocal consideration, but no specific demand. No demand, frankly, of any kind. There is absolutely no quid pro quo.” 2) Friedman said regarding settlements, “We don’t tell Israel what to do and what not to do. It’s a sovereign country and they have to make those decisions. They don’t need to seek permission from the United States. So when settlements are announced or planned, US consent is not an element of that process.” 3) Friedman said that while the US is not currently discussing recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, “I can’t imagine a circumstance where the Golan Heights will be returned to Syria...I cannot imagine frankly a circumstance where the Golan Heights is not a part of Israel forever.” 4) Friedman said that it is unlikely that any future administration will reverse Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In his words, “no matter what party is in control...it would be completely at odds with reality and I don’t believe there is any American politician...who would take a position that is completely contrary to reality.”
September 4, 2018: In a Rosh Hashanah speech, Ambassador Friedman defended President Trump’s decision to defund UNRWA. He argued that the US “has thrown more than $10 billion in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians…[and] found that these expenditures were bringing the region no closer to peace or stability, not even by a millimeter.” Friedman praised the Trump administration for “slay[ing] the sacred cows of the calcified thinking that has held back progress on the Palestinian front,” including the “conventional wisdom…[that] if you wanted to solve a problem, you threw money at it.” He characterized US aid to the Palestinians as a bad investment: “To spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund stipends to terrorists and their families, to expend funds to perpetuate rather than to mitigate refugee status, and to finance hate-filled textbooks - I ask you, how does that provide value to the United States or the region?” Read the Haaretz op-ed by APN’s Debra Shushan here.
August 28, 2018: Ambassador Friedman gave a private telephone briefing to members of the American Jewish Congress where he remarked about the Middle East: “[I]t’s a different world, and you have to be strong here, there is no other way to gain respect in this part of the world...you can’t talk your way, you just have to be strong…” Friedman also asserted that “there is no capacity to have peace with the Palestinians unless there’s peace with all the Palestinians, including the million and a half in Gaza,” because “there should be ideally one government [for the Palestinians]...if you go around the PA and somehow try to restructure Gaza without them, your giving a tremendous prize to Hamas...with all the failings of the PA if the choice is Hamas we pick the PA.” On Israel’s controversial Nation-State Law, Friedman said: “Israel is a democracy and it has a right to pass laws and govern its people” and "there’s a basic law of human dignity and nothing in the Nation-State Law overwrites that.”
June 16, 2018: Politico revealed that in October 2017 Ambassador Friedman discouraged the State Department from enhancing scrutiny of military aid to Israel in accordance with the Leahy Law. State Department officials had requested that US embassies in the Middle East increase monitoring to detect possible violations of the law, which forbids provision of US weapons, training, funding, and other aid to foreign military units found to have committed “gross violations of human rights.” In an email, Friedman wrote that he did “not believe we should extend the new [guidelines] to Israel at this time. He continued, “Israel is a democracy whose army does not engage in gross violations of human rights” and “has a robust system of investigation and prosecution in the rare circumstances where misconduct occurs.” Friedman concluded that, “It would be against [US] national interests” to take action that might prevent Israeli access to military equipment, “especially in a time of war.”
May 31, 2018: In an interview with The Times of Israel, Ambassador Friedman asserted, “There’s no question Republicans support Israel more than Democrats.” He stated that Democrats “have not been able to create support within their constituency for Israel at the same levels that the Republicans have.” Friedman continued, “There is a large Democratic constituency right now that is not pro-Israel. They have to acknowledge it, and they have to fix it, or try to fix it.” In Friedman’s words, “Israel should never be a partisan issue... I am going to continue to work as hard as I can to keep it bipartisan.”
May 22, 2018: Ambassador Friedman was photographed at the headquarters of Achiya, an ultra-Orthodox Israeli nonprofit the US Embassy supports, with an aerial depiction of Jerusalem featuring a Jewish temple in place of the Dome of the Rock. Friedman said when he saw the photo that he was “more mortified than any Palestinian.” The US Embassy released a statement that claimed the image was thrust in front of the ambassador who was caught unaware, demanded an apology from Achiya, and reiterated US support for the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
May 15, 2018: The day after the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, which was the bloodiest day of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza war, Ambassador Friedman gave an interview to Breitbart. Friedman placed blame for the carnage on Hamas and the media. He said, “If I could give a word of advice to the media, if they purport to care so much about the Palestinian cause: this coverage of Palestinians running to the fence, burning tires - it’s the fuel or lubricant for further malign behavior. . . because to me this is a public relations event.” He charged that “no country in the world would tolerate enemy combatants breaching its border with the intention of killing citizens,” and that “Israel continues to be judged by a different standard than any other nation in the world.” Read APN commentary here.
May 14, 2018: Ambassador Friedman delivered the opening speech at the ceremony marking the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. He said, “Make no mistake: Today's historic event is attributed to the vision, the courage, and the moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude: President Donald J. Trump.” The Congressional delegation present at the opening ceremony consisted exclusively of Republican legislators. At Friedman’s invitation, two controversial evangelical pastors, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress - who were disavowed and even condemned by past Republican presidential candidates for their views - delivered benedictions. Simultaneously, dozens of Gazans were shot dead by Israeli snipers, with many more wounded, as the celebration unfolded. Some networks used split-screen coverage to capture the day’s events. Read APN’s commentary on those events here and a Haaretz op-ed from APN’s Debra Shushan here.
May 10, 2018: It emerged that the foundation which Friedman formerly headed, Friends of Beit El Yeshiva (a religious institution in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah) financially supported Komemiut. Among the activists in this extremist group are those who support expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank, call on Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs, and extol Baruch Goldstein (who massacred Muslim worshippers in Hebron). It is unclear whether Komemiut is the same organization as an identically named group on the US State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations. After initially confirming that the organization to which Friedman’s foundation donated funds was the one on the terror list, Komemiut’s leader Mussa Cohen later denied the connection.
April 20, 2018: The State Department released its annual human rights report for 2017. The 2017 report, which differs from the 2016 report in several respects, appears to reflect the influence of Ambassador Friedman, who in December 2017 reportedly asked the State Department to stop referring to the West Bank as occupied. There are important differences between the 2017 and 2016 reports in its discussion of Israel and the Palestinians. 1) Whereas in the 2016 report there is a section entitled “Israel and The Occupied Territories,” the analogous section in the 2017 report is labeled “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza.” 2) The Golan Heights is treated differently in the 2017 report. Whereas in the 2016 version the Golan Heights was discussed in a subsection on “The Occupied Territories” (along with the West Bank and Gaza), in the 2017 report it is included in a subsection on “Israel and the Golan Heights.” 3) The 2016 report refers to either the occupied territories or the Israeli occupation 36 times while the 2017 report only makes 4 references to the Israeli occupation and occupied territory.
March 28, 2018: In an interview with Israeli newspaper Shevi’i, Ambassador Friedman said that “if Abu Mazen is not interested in negotiating, I am sure that someone else will want to,” and that “if Abbas creates a vacuum, I am convinced that someone else will fill it, and then we will move forward.” Ambassador Friedman tweeted: “I was misquoted in various reports stemming from an interview that published today. The United States is not seeking ‘to replace’ Mahmoud Abbas. It is for the Palestinian people to choose its leadership.”
March 6, 2018: In his speech at the annual AIPAC policy conference, Ambassador Friedman railed at the pro-Israel, pro-peace community by lambasting the catchphrase. He stated that “Pro-Israel and pro-peace sounds like a completely reasonable position. My friends, it is not. Using that phrase plainly implies that there are people who are pro-Israel and anti-peace or even God forbid, pro-Israel and pro-war. . . Pro-Israel and pro-peace is nothing more than a redundancy. . . It is no less than blasphemous to suggest that any Jew or any Christian is against peace.” Read APN’s commentary on Friedman’s AIPAC speech here.
February 18, 2018: Ambassador Friedman reportedly told a closed-door meeting with members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that “400,000 West Bank settlers “are not going anywhere...and significant evacuation could result in a civil war.” Friedman explained his reasoning, indicating that the IDF is increasingly being lead by “religious Zionists” with a strong commitment to what they see as their “God-given land.”
February 9, 2018: Ambassador Friedman attacked Israeli newspaper Haaretz in response to an opinion piece by columnist Gideon Levy. Friedman tweeted “What has become of .@Haaretz? Four young children are sitting shiva for their murdered father and this publication calls their community a ‘mountain of curses.’ Have they no decency?” Gideon Levy criticized Friedman’s donation of an ambulance to the West Bank Settlement of Har Bracha.
December 26, 2017: Israel Broadcasting Authority reported that Ambassador Friedman had asked the State Department career diplomats to stop referring to the West Bank as “occupied.” While Friedman’s request was rebuffed initially, the State Department agreed to discuss the issue due to Friedman’s insistence. A spokesperson for the US embassy in Israel called the IBA report “misleading” and “twisted.” However, the State Department’s annual report on human rights for 2017, published in April 2018, all but omitted reference to the Palestinian territories being occupied.
December 13, 2017: One week after President Trump announced the US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there, Ambassador Friedman lit the menorah for the second night of Chanukah at the Western Wall. Friedman said, “it is a huge honor for me and I am extremely excited to be standing here at this holy site and to light the second Chanukah candle in Jerusalem, the holy city and the capital of the State of Israel.” This added a religious dimension to the Jerusalem announcement. It also provided reason to surmise that the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty extends into East Jerusalem, where the Western Wall is located. Read APN’s commentary here.
December 7, 2017: The day after President Trump’s announcement that the US would move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Ambassador Friedman told Fox News that “what [Trump] did yesterday was to simply speak the truth, and to develop for the first time a foreign policy based upon reality rather than fantasy.” He added, “The president didn’t want the Israelis to show up at the bargaining table and be forced to negotiate for something that they already had.” As for subsequent protests which erupted across much of the Muslim world, Friedman said, “We understand and expected the emotional reaction, the disappointment, but people who are demonstrating today did not listen carefully enough to the president’s speech. . . . The president remains committed to a peace process, to a good faith negotiation of all the final status issues.”
November 12, 2017: At the Zionist Organization of America’s annual gala headlined by Steve Bannon, Ambassador Friedman attacked former President Barack Obama for committing “perhaps the greatest betrayal of Israel by a sitting president in American history.” He was referring to Obama’s decision not to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed the status of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territory. Friedman began his remarks by describing a photo of his 15-year-old daughter wrapped in an Israeli flag standing on the railroad tracks at the entrance of Auschwitz. “No picture better represents who we are, what we are, and what we are fighting for,” said the US ambassador. ZOA presented Friedman with its award for “outstanding diplomacy.” Read APN’s commentary here and a Haaretz op-ed by APN’s Debra Shushan here.
September 28, 2017: In an interview with Walla! News, Ambassador Friedman claimed that the settlements are a part of Israel and that Israel only occupies two percent of the West Bank. “There was always supposed to be some notion of expansion into the West Bank, but not necessarily expansion into the entire West Bank, and I think that’s exactly what Israel has done.” Friedman strayed further from long held official US policy when asked what the two-state solution meant to him: “I’m not sure. To me, I’m not focusing on the labels. I’m focusing on the solutions.” When asked for a response to Friedman’s comments, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert indicated that his statements were not to be taken as a shift in official US policy. Read APN’s call for Trump to fire Ambassador Friedman here and related commentary here.
September 1, 2017: In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Ambassador Friedman referred to the “alleged occupation.” Given longstanding US policy according to which the West Bank is recognized as occupied territory, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert had to clarify that the US official policy had not shifted and that Friedman’s comments were not reflective of US policy.
August 7, 2017: Aryeh Lightstone began working as Senior Advisor to Ambassador Friedman. Lightstone had previously headed Shining City, a “dark money” organization which in 2015 gave about $1 million to Im Tirzu. Famous for its vicious 2010 campaign against the New Israel Fund (in which Im Tirzu published an anti-Semitic cartoon of then-NIF President Naomi Chazan with a horn on her head), Im Tirzu in late 2015 released a video depicting four Israeli anti-occupation and human rights activists as “foreign agents” and abettors of terror against Israelis. When Lightstone took up his post working for Friedman, he was still owed money by Shining City. This prompted concerns from ethics experts, one of whom indicated that Lightstone could be “very susceptible to undue influence,” given the possibility that an anonymous donor could channel money to Lightstone without reporting the payment.
March 22, 2017: The Senate confirmed David Melech Friedman as US ambassador to Israel by a narrow margin (52 to 46) with the support of every Republican and two Democratic senators. Read APN’s statement on his confirmation here.
February 16, 2017: In his confirmation hearing, David Friedman told the Senate Foreign Relations committee, “I want to assure you that I understand the important difference between a political contest and a diplomatic mission.” He walked back many of the controversial and offensive statements he made previously against American politicians and progressive American Jews. The transformation led Senator Robert Menendez to ask Friedman if he was undergoing a faux “nomination conversion.” Senator Bob Corker remarked on the apparent move to “recant every strongly held belief” Friedman had previously espoused.
Prior to Friedman’s confirmation hearing:
- APN’s comprehensive list of Friedman’s public statements prior to nomination
- APN’s press release on his nomination
- The Hill op-ed by APN’s former Director of Policy and Government Relations, Lara Friedman (“David Friedman Is the Wrong Choice for US Ambassador to Israel”)