Three Concerns the Senate Committee Should Raise with David Friedman

February 16, 2017

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Ambassadors are on the front lines of diplomacy, where they can head off conflict or be the cause of the next war.  They must not have any conflicts-of-interest or appearance of conflict and definitely not be involved in unlawful activities, especially not a war crime.

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer, as his advisor on Israel and to be U.S. Ambassador to the State of Israel. David Friedman’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set for this Thursday, February 16, at 10 am.

When the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reviews presidential nominees they have an obligation not to act as a rubber stamp, but closely examine Mr. Friedman’s competency, ethics, business dealings and charities to guarantee he is qualified and there are no conflicts-of-interest.

Senate committee members should question Friedman vigorously on the areas outlined below, and press him to commit to protecting human rights:

1. David Friedman is not only un-diplomatic, some of his comments are hateful and dangerous.

As mentioned above, ambassadors are on the front lines of diplomacy, where they can head off conflict or be the cause of the next war. Friedman has a history of inflammatory statements. Just a few months ago, Friedman called moderate American Jews, specifically supporters of J Street, a political organization of American-Jews that describes itself as “pro-Israel and pro-Peace”, “worse than kapos.”

Calling someone who is Jewish a “kapo” is an extreme slur. “Kapos” were Jews in Nazi concentration camps put in charge of other prisoners. “Kapos” are considered traitors to their faith and their people. In today’s environment, this smear could be considered a green light for extremists to threaten those considered moderate. By espousing his extreme opinions publicly, Friedman put these individuals at risk of potential harm.

2. Friedman advocates for positions not only counter to long-standing U.S. policy, but that would very likely lead to increased human rights violations and violence.

The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 mandates that the U.S. Embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or risk a massive cut in State Department funding, but every sitting President since Clinton has postponed the move based on the national security concern that it is a provocative move that would ignite violence in the region, even globally. Historically, civilians bear the brunt of violence in the region and gross violations of both human rights and humanitarian law increase in frequency.

Friedman not only supports moving the embassy to Jerusalem, which could lead to widespread violence and human rights violations, but has said that he considers settlements “legal”, in contravention of international law. In fact, Israel’s long-standing settlement policy amounts to a war crime.

Friedman has also publicly advocated forcibly annexing occupied territory in contravention of international law and U.S. policy. This, again, is another action that is not only illegal, but would lead directly to human rights violations and the likelihood of violence.

3. Friedman is complicit in the ongoing, illegal activity of Israeli settlements – unethical, but also a conflict-of-interest.

The U.S. government re-affirmed its long-standing position that Israeli settlements built in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territories have “… no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law” by abstaining from voting on UN Security Council resolution 2334. Secretary of State Kerry’s explicitly confirmed the established, U.S. position in his statement on Middle East Peace December 28, 2016.

However, Friedman is not only a strong supporter of settlements, but serves as president of American Friends of Beit El Institutions, an organization that raises about $2 million a year for the illegal Israeli settlement and its extremist yeshiva. The settlement is well known as extremist in its ideology of expansion into the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the yeshiva, which combines Jewish learning with army service, is headed by a militant rabbi who advocates disobeying orders in the name of an extremist interpretation of Judaism. Trump himself made a $10,000 donation to Beit El in Friedman’s honor.

David Friedman appears to be actively complicit in illegal Israeli settlements that have been the cause of widespread human rights violations, death and dispossession. These serious areas of concern need to be clarified, and the Senate hearing is the place to do the clarification.

The Senate must rigorously question Friedman about these areas of concern.  Senators who are voting on Friedman’s confirmation must ask the question, “Is this nominee for the Ambassadorship willing to uphold and adhere to international human rights standards?”

** To see if your Senator is on the Foreign Relations Committee, go here.  Let them know your concerns about Mr. Friedman’s apparent conflicts-of-interest, fundraising efforts for illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and urge them to rigorously question him, and secure  his public commitment to international humanitarian law and human rights.