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.
Friedman File entries follow, arranged in chronological order, from most to least recent.
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, you're 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 the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in response to an opinion piece by columnist Gideon Levy. Friedman tweeted (incorporating Haaretz's Twitter handle), “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 had 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 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”)