President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday nominated David Friedman — an attorney and campaign adviser who backs moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — as ambassador to the Jewish state.
“The bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I’m president,” Trump said in a statement.
“As the United States’ ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries.”
A source in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the premier was “pleased” with the appointment.
“He knows David Friedman has the full confidence of President-Elect Trump and looks forward to working closely with him,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In a Trump transition team statement Thursday announcing his appointment, Friedman said he wanted to work for peace and looked forward to “doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
During the campaign, Trump met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and afterward pledged to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital” if elected.
Trump has not repeated that promise since winning the presidency on November 8. But this week his adviser Kellyanne Conway called the move “a very big priority” for him.
The move would break with Washington’s policy of maintaining its diplomatic presence in Tel Aviv.
The US and most UN member states do not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — the city’s status is one of the thorniest issue of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Trump did not specifically comment on the potential relocation in the statement Thursday. He said Friedman would “maintain the special relationship” between the US and Israel.
During the campaign Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer, voiced support for settlement expansion in the West Bank and is known to have close ties to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
He also serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, supporting the Jewish settlement of Beit El north of Ramallah, which is home to some 6500 people.
Israeli right welcomes pick
Marc Zell, an Israeli-American lawyer, and the chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, celebrating as a “true miracle” Friedman’s ambassadorship “in Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish People,” in reference to Trump’s contentious campaign promise.
A senior Israeli government official and settler groups also welcomed Trump’s pick.
“Friedman’s appointment is good news for Israel,” said Israel’s deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely in a statement. “His positions reflect the will to strengthen the status of Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, at this time and an understanding that the settlements have never been the real problem in the region,” Hotovely wrote.
The Yesha council, which represents the more than 400,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, also praised the new ambassador-designate.
“Friedman has a deep love for all of the land and people of Israel, including those in Judaea and Samaria,” the group’s foreign affairs spokesman Oded Revivi said in a statement on Friday, using the biblical term for the West Bank. “His knowledge and wisdom of the issues will strengthen the bridge between our great nations.”
Israel’s left was less welcoming, however, with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz calling Friedman “an extreme right-winger” by Israeli standards.
“He makes (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu seem like a left-wing defeatist,” the paper wrote.
Netanyahu’s coalition government is seen as the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
The Palestinian government has so far not formally responded to Friedman’s appointment. Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) secretary general Saeb Erekat was due to address journalists on Friday evening.
‘Nomination is reckless’
The leftist pro-Israel, US-based organization J Street sharply criticized Trump’s nomination of Friedman, calling the choice “reckless.”
“This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk,” the group’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.
“Friedman should be beyond the pale for Senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel.”
“J Street activists demonstrate in favor of two-state solution”
Friedman has repeatedly clashed with J Street, and in June, accused supporters of the lobbying group of being “far worse than kapos” in a column for the far-right Israel National News website.
“The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one,” he wrote, referring to Jewish prisoners who aided the Nazis during the Holocaust.
“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.”
Speaking before the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum earlier this month, Friedman declined to take back his comparison, charging that Jew aligned with J Street are “not Jewish, and they’re not pro-Israel,”according to The New York Times.
Asked during the campaign whether he believed in a two-state solution, the basis of more than two decades of peace negotiations, Friedman had said Trump was “tremendously skeptical.”
“A Trump administration will never pressure Israel into a two-state solution or any other solution that is against the wishes of the Israeli people,” Friedman told a Trump rally in Jerusalem in October.
The Israeli right has welcomed such statements and seized on Trump’s victory to promote its cause — including, for some, a call to bury the two-state solution once and for all.