Friedman no diplomat
In the machinery of the Holocaust, in the places where Jews and others were murdered by the millions, certain prisoners were compelled or volunteered to help the Nazis in the arduous business of genocide. These people were called Kapos, reviled by Jew and Nazi alike, and few of them survived. The word, though, lives on, its origins obscure but its meaning clear: the vilest human being imaginable. This, though, is what David Friedman called members of a liberal Jewish group. Friedman is Donald Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel. Really. There is more. Friedman has called Barack Obama an anti-Semite. This is not merely a calumny, it is an absurdity, evidence of an unsound mind and, if I may, just a bit of racism. Friedman also has linked Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s former aide and a Muslim, to the Muslim Brotherhood. This accusation ranked very high on the Washington Post list of most outrageous campaign lies.
Friedman for months has been saying that he would be Trump’s choice for the Israel post. Until now, his diplomatic experience has been limited to representing Trump as his bankruptcy lawyer, virtually a life-time sinecure. His appointment likely has the support of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who had the wisdom to be born rich and who, apparently on account of his being an observant Jew, has been given the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio. Trump says Kushner will bring peace to the region, you will be relieved to know.
From Trump, the naming of Friedman is a double insult. Trump has offended the liberal Jewish community, which didn’t support him anyway. This is a community that in general opposes additional West Bank settlements, favors a two-state solution and has little in common with the religious or nationalist zealotry of the settler movement.
But the insult to the Arab world may be of more consequence. Friedman not only supports additional settlements and seems opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, but he wants to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv, where it has been for decades, to Jerusalem. But Israel’s annexation of all of Jerusalem following the 1967 war has never won international recognition. American policy has always been that moving the embassy can only be done as part of an overall agreement. That agreement is not even close.
A traveler in the West Bank or, for that matter, anywhere in the Arab world, is bound to see posters of Jerusalem. It is where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and only Mecca and Medina exceed it in holiness. If the U.S. moves its embassy to Jerusalem, the Arab world would take it as a slap in the face. The Islamic State will use it as a recruiting tool. Violence is almost certain to erupt — possibly another intifada. People will die — Israelis and Arabs, certainly, and probably Americans too. Friedman has been a frequent visitor to Israel. He appears to know nothing, though, about the region.
It’s not yet clear if Friedman is speaking for himself or for the incoming Trump administration. But he has been a long-time associate of Trump’s and so it’s logical to think he and the presidentelect see eye to eye on Israel. He certainly has Trump’s proclivity for invective, insult and ugly lies and he seems to embody Trump’s desire to throw everything up in the air and challenge conventional wisdom. Sometimes that’s a good thing. In the Middle East, it can cost lives.
Friedman has aimed his Kapo insult at “J Street,” a liberal Jewish organization that favors a two-state solution and has opposed the settler movement. These positions, while eminently reasonable, are anathema to right-wing Israelis and their American Jewish counterparts. They, however, are a minority — both of Israelis and American Jews. For Friedman to have likened J Street to “worse than Kapos” is more than just a revolting insult. It takes moderation off the table. It delegitimizes what has been American policy and the desire of the mainstream American Jewish community. Friedman is hardly a diplomat. He’s a zealot with a political potty mouth.
The Senate will get a crack at Friedman. This is a nomination that must be rejected. He is a danger to peace in the Middle East, to American lives, to moderation and to civil discourse. As for his Kapos crack, Friedman cannot repudiate it because he has both said it and written it. If the Senate approves his nomination, it will have endorsed calling Jewish liberals and moderates the equivalent of those who helped the Nazis. I can think of nothing worse.
RICHARD COHEN writes for The Washington Post. firstname.lastname@example.org.