Amb. David Friedman’s Unforgiveable Misstep

Oct. 7, 2020

By DAVID H. GOLDBERG

U.S. President Donald Trump takes great pride in being a rule breaker, and in the fact that his administration has taken an approach to policymaking that has been, to put it mildly, contrary to traditional methods.

This non-traditional approach is certainly reflected in the Trump Administration’s approach toward Israel and the Middle East, and the list is substantial: Recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; that the presence of Israeli civilians living on the West Bank does not violate international law; the promotion of a peace plan that favours Israel over the Palestinians, in part by seemingly supporting the application of Israeli sovereignty over a significant area of the West Bank; midwifing the historic Abraham Accords involving formal recognition agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, and doing so without the involvement of the Palestinians – thereby belying the longstanding belief that regional peace is dependent on a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Value judgments aside, one must acknowledge that the above achieved the desired goal of demonstrating Trump’s determination to do diplomacy his way, by speaking painful truths and shake players from their complacency.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman has played a key role in formulating and facilitating the implementation of the “Trump Doctrine” vis-à-vis the Middle East. An Orthodox Jew and a bankruptcy lawyer by profession, Friedman is a longtime personal friend and political supporter of the president. He has proven to be an effective advocate of Trump’s strategy of shaking up Middle East diplomacy. Consistent with Trump’s policy, he has been a strong critic of the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to return to the negotiating table. He also has been a vocal supporter of the interests of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, for which he has reportedly occasionally been rebuked by the U.S. State Department.

However contentious his behaviour might be considered, Friedman was performing his professional duties. However, by recently adopting an overtly partisan position on the U.S. electoral process, he exceeded his professional boundaries and must resign.

In an interview on Oct. 6 with the UAE-based media outlet Al Ain News, Friedman cautioned that a victory in next month’s presidential election by Joe Biden would have an adverse effect on the region, especially with regard to efforts to curb the threat of Iran.

Linking then-Vice President Biden to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal pushed by the Obama Administration, “something that President Trump – and I share his view – thinks was the worst international deal the U.S. has ever entered into,” Friedman implied that a Biden victory would precipitate a U.S. re-entry into the Iran deal and to a weakening of sanctions against Iran’s efforts to expedite the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

“We worked really hard to get Iran, I think, to a much better place. I would hate to think a new administration would undermine that but, regrettably, if Biden wins, I think they might,” Friedman added. “If Biden wins, we will see a policy shift that, in my personal opinion, will be wrong and will be bad for the region, including for Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait,” he continued.

As an American citizen, Friedman has every right to express his personal opinion about policy issues driving the current U.S. electoral cycle. But he must do so only as a private citizen, not as a senior government official, and most certainly not as one of the most visible U.S. ambassadors.

The Trump Administration may pride itself on having broken many rules, but this one it cannot. Ambassador Friedman must go.


David Goldberg
David Goldberg

David H. Goldberg PhD, the author of eight books on Israel, formerly served as director of research and education for the Canada-Israel Committee and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Erin O’Toole On Record as Pledging Embassy Move

Aug. 24, 2020 – New Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has in the past indicated he is a strong supporter of Israel and would move Canada’s embassy there to Jerusalem.

Following a six-hour delay to fix glitches with the ballots, O’Toole handily won the Conservative Party leadership early Monday, taking 57 percent of the votes on the third and final ballot, compared to 43 percent for second-place contender Peter MacKay.

In a video posted to Facebook last month, O’Toole repeated his pledge to move Canada’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and the modern presence there just cements this. The Knesset, the Supreme Court and Foreign Ministry are all in west Jerusalem,” O’Toole said.

Canada-Israel relations have “weakened and wavered” under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he added.

“I stand with Israel,” he said. “Yesterday, today and always.”

This past February, MacKay backtracked on his position on moving Canada’s embassy in Israel. On day after he was quoting as saying he would not commit to such a move as leader, MacKay said it had “always been my personal view that Jerusalem is the undisputed capital of the State of Israel and that is where Canada’s embassy should be and under my leadership, will be located.”

O’Toole, a former party foreign affairs critic, wasted little time in staking out his position.

“Under Stephen Harper, Canada stood out as a resolute friend of Israel. Sadly, under Justin Trudeau, this strong support has weakened. We need a principled Conservative leader who will make Canada a true friend of Israel once again,” O’Toole said at the time.

“I have been absolutely clear about this and my views have not changed. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The strong presence of the Jewish people there is thousands of years old.

“I believe that we need more of a presence in the ground in Jerusalem. It’s crazy that our ambassador has to drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to meet with government officials just to preserve a diplomatic fiction. It’s time to recognize reality and move our embassy,” O’Toole said.

Earlier this year, all Canadian political parties came out in opposition to Israel’s contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank, particularly the Jordan Valley. Israel has since postponed those plans.

The CJR reached out to Conservative leadership frontrunners MacKay and O’Toole. Only O’Toole replied, saying, “We don’t support any unilateral action whether it involves the Palestinians using the [International Criminal Court] against Israel, or the Israelis annexing disputed territory. Canada supports and remains committed to a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict.”

When he ran for the leadership in early 2017, a contest won by Andrew Scheer, O’Toole was an unstinting supporter of Israel, even in a field of 14 strongly pro-Israel candidates.

At the time, O’Toole said he supports “Israel as a democratic, Jewish state with secure borders… Israel has been ready to sign a final peace deal several times. Each time, the Palestinian leadership has walked away from the table. Palestinian leaders still refuse to accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. It is this, and not the settlements, that is the obstacle to peace.”

O’Toole said he’d advance peace by establishing an exchange program between the Canadian Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces, “and vocally opposing efforts to isolate Israel, such as the recent United Nations resolution that the Trudeau government remained silent on.”