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.

The Abraham Accords: Winners and Losers

Sept. 24, 2020 – By JON ALLEN

The recent UAE-Israel-U.S.A. agreement takes the immediate prospects of Israel’s illegal annexation of part of the West Bank off the table in exchange for full diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain has followed suit, and others – Oman, Sudan and Morocco – could soon. These accords have been variously described as breakthrough peace agreements, an arms deal, and a stab in the back of the Palestinian people.

Clearly, where one stands on this agreement depends on where one sits. For the UAE, the U.S. and Israel, this is a good deal, with multiple benefits. For Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Palestinians it’s either unwelcome or very bad news.

For the UAE, the accords bring into the open a relationship with Israel that, until now, has flown under the radar. The deal will allow the transfer of strategic defence and intelligence equipment, technology and training that could reinforce its credibility as a leading Gulf state, and help defend itself against its existential enemy, Iran.

The accord also puts the UAE in the good books of the U.S. Congress, the Trump Administration, and Joe Biden. In return for helping Donald Trump dig himself out of his failed Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and depending on the will of the next Congress, the agreement could pave the way for the sale to the UAE of F-35 stealth fighter jets, radar scrambling aircraft, and other American defence equipment.

For the U.S., the agreements are also a plus. By diverting attention from Trump’s “deal of the century” that was going nowhere, and by helping Israel obtain two breakthrough recognition agreements, Trump solidifies his support among the right wing of the U.S. Jewish community and among American evangelicals. The billions that the UAE may spend on F-35s and other materiel are bonuses.

Finally, by taking annexation off the table, the deal removes potential acrimony between the Netanyahu government and the Biden campaign, and between Biden and the right wing of the Jewish community. 

That said, foreign policy issues rarely play a major role in U.S. elections, and these accords are unlikely to give Trump much of a bump in the polls or a fast track to the Nobel Peace Prize that he so desperately seeks.

For Israel, establishment of full relations with important Gulf states – and the legitimacy that confers – and the hope that more could follow, is huge. If the accords lead to a strategic relationship centred on confronting Iran, that development could signal an even greater shift in the region. And that could come without Israel having to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians – the previous sine qua non to any recognition by Arab states.

Finally, the deal was a personal victory for Netanyahu and a brief respite at a time when he is being criticized at home for his failure to manage the economy and the COVID crisis.

Possible downsides of the agreement for Bibi include incurring the wrath of the pro-annexation settler movement. For Israel, a concern is the possible shifting of the strategic balance in the region as a result of the sale of sophisticated equipment to the UAE and other Gulf states that could potentially challenge Israel’s qualitative military edge.

In the medium term, if the agreement convinces Israelis that they can now somehow ignore the Palestinian question, such a notion could pose an existential threat to the nation’s future as a democratic state and the home of the Jewish people.

As mentioned, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia lost ground as a result of the accords. Turkey, which has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1949, attacked the UAE for its act of recognition. Turkey also is in conflict with the UAE in both Libya and Yemen, and finds common cause with Iran on various issues, including support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The deal clearly poses challenges on all these fronts.

Of course, Iran is Israel’s strongest and most vocal enemy. By boosting Israel’s legitimacy, breaking ranks among Arab and Muslim nations, and allowing the UAE to enhance its defence capabilities, the deal poses a direct threat to Iran’s credibility in the region at a time when U.S. sanctions, COVID, and a failing economy are already weakening Iranian leadership.

Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, also lost some ground. The Saudis’ disastrous forays into Yemen and Libya, coupled with the Jamal Khashoggi assassination, had already put the prince in the U.S. Congress’ bad books. The UAE departed Yemen last year in part to disassociate itself from the Saudis. By offering recognition to Israel without meeting the Arab Peace Initiative’s preconditions, the UAE further disassociated itself from the Saudis. Finally, if Congress does approve the sale of weapons and planes, the UAE will have an enhanced strategic relationship with both the U.S. and Israel that could leave the Saudis playing second fiddle for a time.

As suggested, however, this agreement bodes the worst for the Palestinians. To this point, the quid pro quo for any Arab recognition of Israel was a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians based on the Arab Peace Initiative. The Abraham Accords instead trade removing the threat of annexation – an illegal act that was heavily criticized by the international community – for full diplomatic relations.

To add insult to injury, all efforts by the Palestinians to bring the issue before the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council failed miserably. No consensus on criticizing the agreements could be achieved. Palestinian hopes that the Arab street in the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia might react strongly also were dashed. The only notable protests occurred in the Territories themselves.

Indeed, the only two positive elements of the accords for the Palestinians are that they united Palestinians (Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad) in their opposition to them, and that they staved off legislated annexation, at least for now.

The accords’ long-term prospects are harder to predict when it comes to the Palestinians. The UAE and Bahrain claim that they have not forgotten the Palestinians. Will they and others now pressure Israel to begin negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on realistic terms? Will they oppose further settlement expansion? What role will Mohammed Dachlan, a pretender to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ throne and an important adviser to the UAE, play in the future?

I agree with some who say it is crucial for the Palestinian Authority to replace its sclerotic leadership with new blood through open and transparent elections, to bring forward its own proposals for a two-state solution, and to dispel the notion that the Palestinians are only able to say no.

I disagree, however, with those who suggest that the time is now ripe for such a move. No legitimate proposal for a two-state solution that requires compromises on both sides will be negotiated as long as Netanyahu remains prime minister. He has made clear more than once that Palestinian statehood will not happen on his watch. Moreover, the blatantly pro-Israel terms of Trump’s so-called peace plan belies any hope that his Administration might act as an honest broker in such a negotiation.

Rather, the Palestinians should reform their political class, develop a serious draft peace proposal, consult with key Arab states and American allies on the substance and the process going forward, and act boldly once both Trump and Bibi have left the scene.


Jon Allen

Jon Allen is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and served as Canada’s ambassador to Israel from 2006 to 2010.

AMIA Bombing Remembered in Canada, but Justice Lags

July 20, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A quarter century after 85 people died in the terrorist bombing of a Jewish centre in Argentina, two of Canada’s major Jewish organizations and some leading politicians continue to demand justice for the victims.

No one was ever charged or convicted for the July 18, 1994 attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) centre in downtown Buenos Aires – a fact many believe means that the scars from the event can never heal.

“We have seen a quarter century of justice denied in this case,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in a July 16 YouTube commemoration of the attack. “An entire generation has passed without a single perpetrator being brought to justice for this crime.”

On the morning of July 18, 1994, a van loaded with explosives was driven at the front entrance of the seven-storey headquarters of the Argentina-Israel Mutual Association in the capital, Buenos Aires.

The AMIA building housed all of Jewish Argentina’s major organizations, as well as a theatre, library and a job bank. It was where community members went to arrange a funeral, and it housed the precious records of a hundred years of Jewish life in the country.

When the dust cleared, 85 people had been killed and 300 injured. It remains the deadliest antisemitic attack in Argentina’s modern history.

It is widely believed to have been carried out by terrorists linked to Iran, with suspected involvement from Argentina’s then-president Carlos Menem, who is of Syrian descent (last year, a court cleared Menem of covering up the attack, but the court jailed the retired judge who led the investigation into the bombing, along with an ex-intelligence chief).

Alberto Nisman, a state prosecutor who tried to investigate the incident, was murdered in 2015 on the day he was expected to testify before Argentina’s congress that the attack was carried out by Hezbollah terrorists, with help from Argentine accomplices.

The current government of Argentina continues to push, without success, for a full accounting from the previous regime. Despite that failure, the country’s ambassador to Canada told the B’nai Brith memorial the incident has not been forgotten.

“This was a disgusting and cursed attack,” Eugenio Curia said. “This was a real crime against humanity.

“Our government has been pledging its commitment to find the people responsible for this attack,” he added. “The idea is to prosecute and condemn the people responsible for this, but we need other state friends to achieve this.”

That commitment to pursue some form of justice for the victims of the attack was echoed by Canadian politicians taking part in the event.

Peter Kent, Conservative MP for Thornhill, said it is clear the government of Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Hezbollah were involved in the attack. Despite this, he accused the Liberal government of continuing to stall on a Conservative motion to have the IRGC declared a terrorist organization.

Earlier this year B’nai Brith launched a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to force action on the issue. It accuses the government of “failure to carry out the will of Parliament.”

For Manitoba Conservative MP Marty Morantz, that determination is important in facing up to the wave of antisemitism sweeping the world today.

“Antisemitism has not gone away and is unfortunately on the rise today,” he said. “We must be clear that there is no room in Canada for this kind of intolerance and discrimination.”

Away from political outrage, the attack remains a vivid scar on the memory of people who lived through it.

Anita Weinstein, for example, told the B’nai Brith event she had walked into the building that morning heading for her second floor office at the front of the structure.

“A few minutes later, I remembered I had to see a colleague at the rear of the building, and that made the great difference for me,” she said. “As soon as I got there we heard a loud explosion and material started to fall from the ceiling. There was an intense darkness and cloud of dust that covered us and we could hear panic and shouting everywhere.”

In a separate commemoration event on Facebook, representatives of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) remembered the attack as the event that changed the world for Argentine Jews.

Nico Slobinski and Graciela Najenson both work for CIJA in Winnipeg now. In 1994, however, they lived in Buenos Aires and felt the pain of the attack.

“There was a cloud of dust and smoke that could be seen for miles that day,” Soblinski recalled. “That same dark cloud that descended on downtown Buenos Aires descended on all of us.”

Soblinski said he lost close family friends among the 85 dead, and recalled how the attack added to his family’s desire to seek a safer home in the world.

“We had many conversations around the dinner table about this new, pervasive feeling we now had that we were no longer safe in this place we had called home for four generations,” he said.

Najenson recalled the Jewish community’s new obsession with security after the attack, and the effect that had on her.

“We had to realize that now there were always barricades in front of the building that were there to protect us, but this was not the way we should live,” she said.

In 2014, Yitzhak Aviran, Israel’s ambassador to Argentina from 1993 to 2000, said that the perpetrators of the attack had, for the most part, been eliminated by Israeli security forces operating abroad.