David Friedman, the newly appointed United States Ambassador to Israel, is on a crusade. Two weeks before the elections, he wrote an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post that reveals his unflinching fervor: “As American Jews numbering some six million souls… we have been given an opportunity that our ancestors could not have dreamed of…. Instead of having to confront the challenges of murderous enemies… we have been entrusted a legacy by the greatest of generations that preceded us to ensure that Israel survives and flourishes as a light unto the nations and a permanent home for the Jewish people.”
Friedman’s crusade has three primary aims: to fortify Israel’s colonial project, undermine the US-Iran nuclear deal, and to vilify liberals, particularly Jewish ones.
The first two objectives are revealed very clearly in a 16-point action plan, written by Friedman and Jason Dov Grennblatt this past November.
First, the plan declares that the “US will recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and Mr Trump’s Administration will move the US embassy to Jerusalem.” Simultaneously, the two-state solution is presented as defunct, not due to the geographic reality created by over half a million Jewish settlers taking over Palestinian land, but because “Palestinians are unwilling to renounce violence against Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state”.
The problem is, in Friedman’s view, that the two major Palestinian political parties “regularly promote anti-Semitism and jihad”. Such explanations clearly elide the everyday violence experienced by Palestinians, while giving a green light for their ongoing dispossession.
However, the 16-point plan also insists that in order to allow Israel to continue its colonial project unhindered, it is paramount to undermine the international institutions that have attempted to curb Israel’s rights-abusive policies.
Friedman accordingly suggests that the “US should cut off funds for the UN Human Rights Council” and “should veto any United Nations votes that unfairly single out Israel,” while working with the European Union to oppose “special labeling requirements on Israeli products or boycotts on Israeli goods”.
Indeed, “the US should view the effort to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) Israel as inherently anti-Semitic and take strong measures, both diplomatic and legislative, to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel”.
While anti-Semitism is a recurring trope in the new ambassador’s lexicon used as a political weapon to deflect criticism, it is crucial to understand that Friedman is not only a fiery rhetorician but also a savvy strategist. Indeed, he did not wait for his appointment to become proactive in assisting the messianic Jewish settlers. In order to help redeem the land of Israel where Jewish people “have lived… for 3,500 years,” Friedman joined the American Friends of Bet El, an NGO that raises funds for the West Bank settlement.
As the organisation’s president, he succeeded in soliciting money from the family charity of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and thus solidify the connection between the incoming administration and Israel’s illegal settlements.
Undermining Iran nuclear deal
His second objective as ambassador will be to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu undermine the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Following Netanyahu’s cue, Friedman depicts Iran in the document “as the leading state sponsor of terrorism – putting the Middle East particularly, but the whole world at risk by financing, arming, and training terrorist groups operating around the world”.
This, Friedman concludes, is a violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed with Iran and justifies the implementation of “tough, new sanctions”.
In addition to retracting the Iran deal, Friedman recommends that the Trump administration strengthen the “unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel” by ensuring that Israel receive “maximum military, strategic and tactical cooperation from the United States”.
He consequently recommends cancelling the clause in the Memorandum of Understanding, recently signed by the Obama administration and the Israeli government, which limits the US Congress from giving financial support greater than the $3.8bn it has already promised to provide annually for the next 10 years.
Delegitimising Jewish liberals
Finally, Friedman’s third objective is to delegitimize liberals, or anyone who will stand in the way of his crusade. This objective has been most clearly seen in the language he uses to malign those who disagree with his political agenda.
He has depicted media outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post as a fifth column, President Barack Obama is labeled an anti-Semite, while Jews active in the pro-Israel lobby J Street are deemed “worse than kapos: Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps”.
Why, one might ask, are they worse than kapos?
Friedman explains: “The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one? But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas – it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.”
What is particularly frightening about Friedman – like quite a few of Trump’s other picks – is that he is on a sacred mission. Thus, anyone who disagrees with his first two objectives is characterised as an apostate, either an anti-Semite or Jihadist, or an apologist for one or the other or both.
As someone who has witnessed what US interventionism has wrought in the Middle East since the dawn of the new millennium, Friedman’s appointment is not only extremely scary, but, like the crusaders of old, it foretells much bloodshed to come.
– Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation and co-author of The Human Right to Dominate.