The advertisement is deceptively simple – a darkened image of Donald Trump smiling next to David Friedman, overlaid with four block-lettered words, the last in red: “He Called You Kapos.” This is J Street’s latest ad campaign, a stark reminder of the abuse that Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel has showered on liberal Jews and almost anyone else who doesn’t fall into his narrow right-wing world view.Friedman is the wrong pick for this position, plain and simple. There are dozens of qualified and dignified conservative alternatives to Friedman, who would ensure that the Republican Party and Netanyahu get exactly what they want without the same disgusting level of extremism and, yes, anti-Semitism.
David Friedman’s “kapo” remarks have been spread throughout the Jewish press and have even hit the mainstream news. But this is not the only case where he has come close to anti-Semitism. When The Washington Post released a tape of Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault in October, the media scooped the story gleefully. In response, Friedman targeted The New York Times, writing a grotesque and gratuitous Holocaust reference into his attack on the paper: “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.”
Of course, Friedman is not the first to rely unnecessarily and even falsely on Holocaust imagery to prove his point. Netanyahu is famous for it, as are American right-wingers. But wielding the Shoah as a political tool to bash those you disagree with and, worse, to defend a man who bragged about sexual assault on tape is a behavior that is ill-suited for the American ambassador to Israel.
Indeed, this position has immense symbolic importance to the American Jewish community. The problem isn’t that Friedman is divisive among Jews. We have always understood the value of arguing and debating. Friedman, however, is not just divisive. He is offensive, and he stands in marked contrast to the vast majority of American Jews.
Again using gratuitous accusations of anti-Semitism, Friedman compared President Obama’s push for the Iran deal to the infamous Dreyfus Affair, while most American Jews actually supported the deal. At the same time, Friedman has repeatedly denied that Donald Trump is responsible for any of the horrid anti-Semitic acts being carried out in his name. It’s not a coincidence, however, that Jews voted Democrat in much higher margins this year than in previous years – some 78 percent of American Jewish voters chose Hillary Clinton for President.
Most notably, Friedman doesn’t believe in the two-state solution, the prime tenant of U.S.-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian relations since the 1990s. Friedman has said, “There has never been a ‘two-state solution’ – only a ‘two-state narrative.’” For what it’s worth, 81 percent of American Jews would disagree with him.
But what’s at stake here is more than just a diversion from American Jewish attitudes on Israel. The two-state solution is the primary hope for a just and lasting peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without it, the inevitable outcome is a return to occupation – even resulting in annexation and the creation of a de facto apartheid state with two laws for two peoples – and continual intifada.
The United States has traditionally occupied an important role in moderating Israeli and Palestinian positions and pushing both sides towards a peaceful solution. David Friedman will not carry on that tradition. He will unabashedly side with Israel in every dispute. Even his plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem violate 68 years of foreign policy orthodoxy in favor of Israel. These actions can only lead to more violence and crackdowns.
David Friedman’s tenure as American ambassador to Israel would be a disaster for Palestinians, for Israelis, and for American Jews. But there is still hope. Although no amount of protesting will get Trump to rescind his decision – the controversy surrounding Steve Bannon has made that clear enough – there are other ways to block his appointment.
The best method is to stop his confirmation in the Senate. Jewish groups like J Street and IfNotNow are already working on a series of activism and lobbying campaigns to block the incoming administration’s agenda. These resources should now be turned towards opposing Friedman’s confirmation, by protesting and lobbying Senators on both sides of the aisle to stand up for what is right. Democrats have already begun speaking out against Friedman, but there are also Republicans who value the integrity of the two-state solution and U.S.-Israeli relations too much to let Friedman destroy them.
Friedman must be stopped. No ambassador to Israel should be permitted to denigrate Jews and abandon the hope of peace. It will take concerted effort from all spheres of the Jewish community, but this disaster can be averted.
Marc Daalder is a junior at Amherst College majoring in History. He is a Scribe contributor for the Jewish Daily Forward and has also been published in the Financial Times, the Chicago Reader, In These Times, and the student publication AC Voice.