President-elect Donald Trump announced Thursday he will nominate bankruptcy attorney David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman, who has no prior diplomatic experience, is an outspoken supporter of Jewish settlement on the Israeli-occupied West Bank and has questioned the need for a Palestinian state.
According to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Friedman is an Orthodox Jew who maintains a part-time residence in Israel. He is a regular columnist for the Israeli news website Arutz Sheva, which is identified with the settler movement.
In a statement from the Trump transition office announcing his nomination, Friedman indicated he is prepared to upend decades of U.S. policy regarding the location of the U.S. embassy, which is now in Tel Aviv:
"I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem."
The U.S. position has long been that the legal status of Jerusalem is yet to be determined. A law passed by Congress in 1995 requires the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem but allows presidents to waive that requirement, which all have done. During his campaign, Trump pledged to move the embassy.
Friedman's nomination was greeted by a storm of commentary — pro and con.
Arutz Sheva quoted settler leader Yossi Dagan: "David Friedman is a friend and a true partner of Israel and the settlements."
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told Ha'aretz:
"[Friedman] has the potential to be the greatest U.S. Ambassador to Israel ever. No previous ambassador appreciates the political, historic, legal and religious rights of the Jews to Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem like David. Yet he respects and understands the beliefs and hopes and dreams of the political left in Israel and America."
The New Israel Fund, which supports progressive social programs in Israel, had this reaction:
"[Friedman] represents extreme fringe views that are appalling to most American Jews. Those of us concerned about Israel and the cause of peace there should be alarmed that Mr. Friedman will be representing America's interests."
And Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the U.S., told Ha'aretz:
"The position [Friedman] advocates is more extreme than any government of Israel has stated. We have serious concerns about someone who says annexing the West Bank to Israel is a viable way to preserve Israel's Jewish and democratic essence."
Friedman must be confirmed by the Senate. Several left-wing U.S. Jewish groups — among them Americans for Peace Now and J-Street — say they will work to defeat his nomination.