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.

Beinart: Time to Talk to, not About Palestinians

Aug. 24, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Peter Beinart has a solution for the decades-old crisis in the Middle East: Start seeing Palestinians as human beings.

Once that happens, the controversial journalist told an on-line discussion Aug. 18, the movement to make Israel a fair and just society for all its citizens can start.

Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart

“The Jewish community talks about Palestinians, but does not talk to Palestinians,” he told the session. “That process of talking about people instead of to them is dehumanizing.”

One result of that process, he said, is the “omnipresent” Jewish view of Palestinians as terrorists – an idea that stifles any effort to bring the two communities together.

Beinart, an American journalist and commentator who appears frequently on CNN, has become a controversial figure after publishing a July essay arguing Jews must give up the idea of separate Israeli and Palestinian states in favour of a single nation with equal rights for all its citizens.

“The question isn’t, ‘are Jews willing to live in a country that’s half Palestinian,’ but ‘are they willing to live in a country where half of the population is disenfranchised?’” he asked.

Winning equal rights for Palestinians, he added, will be a result of the same kind of social movements that were led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States and Mahatma Gandhi in India.

“One state is more likely to produce that kind of movement than a divided entity,” he said. “One day things are going to shift on the ground because the Palestinians will not accept their denial of rights forever.”

Beinart admitted his argument isn’t likely to change the minds of Israeli leaders; it’s just human nature for those in power to be reluctant to give it up.

“When one group has all the rights and power, they’re very unlikely to want to change that,” he said. “We have to make Israelis understand they can’t continue to control millions of people who lack even basic rights.”

The Zoom event was jointly sponsored by JSpace Canada and Khouri Conversations. JSpace describes itself as a progressive voice for a negotiated Middle Eastern settlement while opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Khouri Conversations is a non-profit agency supporting the Canadian ideals of inclusion and multiculturalism.

Seeing Israel as anything other than a Jewish state is a tough concept for many to absorb, the panel heard.

For example, JSpace moderator Karen Mock, for example, said her organization remains dedicated to the idea of “two states for two people,” while also supporting a settlement based on “mutual recognition, peaceful coexistence and security.”

That position was echoed by Bob Katz, chair of the Toronto chapter of Canadian Friends for Peace Now.

“I am absolutely wedded to the two-state solution and it’s going to be very hard to shake me from that,” he said.

Katz added that an important step forward is to prevent Israel from expansion into the West Bank with more Jewish settlements and new infrastructure, such as a proposed medical school in the region.

“It’s critical for Jews here to convince Jews in Israel not to create new facts on the ground like that every time they turn around,” he said.


Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

Steve Arnold worked 42 years in Canadian journalism, retiring in 2016 from The Hamilton Spectator. He holds a BA in history and political science, an MA in public policy analysis and has received 25 awards for writing excellence. He now lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.