President-elect Donald J. Trump’s selection of David Friedman as United States ambassador to Israel is a serious mistake that should be rectified. Spoken and published statements by Mr. Friedman, a 57-year-old bankruptcy lawyer in New York, about Israel and American policies in the Mideast suggest he is unsuitable to represent America in one of the most high-pressure diplomatic positions in the world. This call to withdraw Mr. Friedman’s name also reflects a sober assessment of the damage that could be caused to American interests and to Mr. Trump’s presidency by the reckless words for which Mr. Friedman is already known.
American presidents have long bestowed diplomatic assignments on unqualified loyalists and campaign donors. The appointments to Israel, however, had been an exception because of the significance of the issues the ambassador must deal with every day. It is therefore regrettable that someone so lacking in experience and knowledge — and sadly, who appears to have little interest in broadening his understanding — will represent the United States in Israel.
Mr. Friedman is unqualified for the position, but more important, he holds extreme views on the very issues that he will need to manage as a diplomat. Mr. Friedman would be representing not the American people but a small, extreme minority of Americans who have in mind the interests of a small, extreme minority in Israel.
Mr. Friedman has been publicly arguing that Israel has a right to build settlements and annex parts of the West Bank. He believes that the United States should recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He considers pro-peace groups such as J Street the equivalent of the Jewish kapos who collaborated with the Nazis at concentration camps.
His appointment suggests that Mr. Trump is comfortable with these positions, which is extremely perilous and unwise. If Mr. Trump does not agree with Mr. Friedman, but has appointed him because of personal ties and loyalty, then it is clear that Mr. Trump either does not know or does not care that the Friedman appointment could severely damage the United States and his administration.
Through his other appointments thus far, Mr. Trump has made it clear that he wants to take American policy in an abruptly new direction. In the Middle East, especially in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Trump’s approach is a prescription for trouble and the loss of American credibility.
The consequences of acting upon Mr. Friedman’s public suggestions are clearly dangerous. Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem — not a pressing issue for most Israelis — will inspire riots across the Islamic world. The United States will rightly be accused of violating the very advice we have given to others to avoid taking unilateral actions on inflammatory issues.
It appears to me that Kurtzer is providing wise counsel on this matter.
Nominating Friedman is not only getting the U.S. involved in foreign entanglements but spreading gasoline on the foreign fire.