By nominating his bankruptcy lawyer as ambassador to Israel, President-elect Donald Trump is pulling off a transition trifecta: He is rewarding a loyal adviser; pleasing son-in-law Jared Kushner and his family; and paying back his biggest donor, Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who along with his physician wife, Miriam, donated at least $20 million to get Trump elected.
Like Trump’s nominee, New York attorney David Friedman, Adelson is a far-right supporter of Israel who opposes a two-state solution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Kushner and his family, as New Yorker Editor David Remnick pointed out on Friday, “have an intense interest in Israeli affairs…[and] are distinctly right-wing.”
In March 2015, Jim Rutenberg wrote a New York Times Magazine story questioning the commitment of Republicans to side-by-side independent states, one for Israelis, one for Palestinians — an American foreign policy position embraced by both parties and multiple presidencies practically since Abraham left Ur.
As Rutenberg wrote, one reason for concern was that “The most important Republican Jewish donor in the country, Sheldon Adelson, is passionately opposed to the formation of a Palestinian state, which he has compared to playing ‘Russian roulette’ with Israel’s existence.”
The quote comes from a 2013 panel discussion at New York City’s Yeshiva University in which Adelson also said, “There is no such thing as a Palestinian.”
A story on Friday in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz says that Friedman promised in a video address to Trump supporters in Jerusalem a few weeks ago that “a Trump administration will never pressure Israel into a two-state solution or any other solution that is against the will of the Israeli people.”
That’s a vastly different position than what Trump said 10 months ago when he vowed at an MSNBC town hall in South Carolina that he would be neutral when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Were he to win the presidency, he told Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski (now taking heat for being soft on the longtime friend of their show), he would be an honest broker in trying to achieve the elusive peace deal.
“Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” Trump said. "I have friends of mine that are tremendous businesspeople, that are really great negotiators, [and] they say it’s not doable. You understand a lot of people have gone down in flames trying to make that deal. So I don’t want to say whose fault it is — I don’t think that helps.”
But Trump’s hands-across-the-checkpoint attitude began to change as Kushner’s power within the campaign grew. For example, Kushner was the adviser within the Trump camp who sat down with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer when he wanted to connect with the candidate.
And as The New York Times reported: “It was in March, after Mr. Trump inflamed Jewish leaders with an improvised vow to remain ‘neutral’ in dealings with Israel and Palestinians, that Mr. Kushner emerged as an unchallenged force in the campaign.”
Late that month in an address to a packed and cheering audience of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Trump said: “When I become president, the days of treating Israel as a second-class citizen will end on Day One.”
Apparently, Trump is not waiting until Inauguration Day for a full-blown embrace of positions endorsed by right-wing Israelis and Jewish-Americans.
He has already said he would move America’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a symbolic move like likely to anger Muslims, who like Christians also claim the city as a holy site.
And by nominating an opponent of a two-state solution, Trump is putting himself to the right of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While he has sent mixed signals in the past, Netanyahu said just a week ago on 60 Minutes that he supports dual and contiguous states.
Friedman, a partner at the law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, also writes provocative op-eds for the Israeli website Arutz Sheva, which Remnick describes as being pro-settler, and for The Jerusalem Post. And he sometimes seems to be as much of a rhetorical bomb-thrower as Trump.
After a video surfaced during the campaign in which Trump joked about grabbing women by the genitals, Friedman didn’t just try shooting the messenger, he empted the magazine of an assault weapon. “If only the Times had reported on the Nazi death camps with the same fervor as its failed last-minute attempt to conjure up alleged victims of Donald Trump, imagine how many lives could have been saved,” he wrote.
As has been widely reported, Friedman has compared members of the liberal Jewish lobbying group J Street with the kapos who were forced by the Nazis to help put their fellow Jews to death. “Are J Street supporters really as bad as kapos?” he asked in an op-ed. “The answer, actually, is no. They are far worse than kapos… The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one? But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas — it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.”
So what if Friedman, who said in a radio interview that Trump wouldn’t “kowtow to lifelong members of the State Dept.,” is far from diplomatic? Or that he would scrap the possibility of a negotiated peace? The important thing is making the Kushners and Adelson happy.