By Stephen Witt
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, considered something of an Israeli war hawk and usually known to weigh in on just about anything, has remained quiet on one of President-elect Donald Trump’s more controversial appointments – Long Island bankruptcy attorney David Friedman as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel.
Friedman, 58, does not believe in the long-held American policy of a two-state solution, and is president of the American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva, the American fundraising arm for the controversial West Bank settlement of Bet-El. Additionally, he has likened the ultra-Left lobbying group J-Street to “kapos”, Jews who cooperated with the Nazis in World War II. Friedman also believes that America should recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and not Tel-Aviv – something that America has refused to do since Israel annexed half the city following the 1967 Israeli War.
Friedman’s appointment has also furthered the growing rift among American Jews, who have always included a large number of Left-leaning liberal thinkers versus their Right-leaning, highly religious American-Jewish counterparts – a good number of which live in Brooklyn.
KCP contacted Schumer’s office numerous times in the past two days for a response and neither phone calls or e-mails were returned. Ditto for Brooklyn Congress members Hakeem Jeffries and Nydia Velazquez, while Congress member Yvette Clarke issued a “no comment”.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Schumer’s non-Jewish counterpart representing New York in the Senate, issued the following statement through her spokesperson Marc Brumer: “Senator Gillibrand has serious concerns about David Friedman’s nomination and will be looking to hear those concerns addressed during his confirmation hearings.”
Ultraliberal Congressman Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes the highly Left-leaning Upper West Side of Manhattan and Western Greenwich Village as well as the highly Right-leaning neighborhoods of Borough Park and parts of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, called Friedman’s appointment “an insult to the majority of American Jews”.
“The nomination of David Friedman as the new U.S. Ambassador to Israel underscores, yet again, the extremist agenda of Donald Trump and his administration. This is an appointment with dangerous consequences for both the United States and Israel, not only with respect to the prospect of an eventual negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but also with respect to the relationship between our two countries, and more generally, to regional stability,” said Nadler.
“Mr. Friedman’s views and comments about a two-state solution are not only a total break from decades of American and Israeli policy, but are fundamentally out-of-step with the views of the majority of American Jews. Support for a two-state solution is not only official U.S. policy, it is also the official Israeli policy when it comes to a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Breaking from this position undermines the longstanding diplomatic alignment between our two countries, and magnifies the risk to Israel’s long-term safety and security by increasing dangerous regional instability. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of American Jews, along with most American Jewish organizations across the spectrum—from AIPAC to J-Street—all support a two-state solution,” he added.
Locally, those who did not return phone calls or e-mails with their views on the appointment include Palestinian-American leader Linda Sarsour, a vocal pro-Palestinian rights supporter who is reportedly eyeing a run for the vacant City Council seat in Bay Ridge, and City Councilman David Greenfield, one of the more vocal supporters of Israel.
But Borough Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind who, like Friedman, calls the West Bank the biblical names of Judea and Sumeria, said he is thrilled with Friedman and everything he represents.
“Everyone wants peace [in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict], but to work out peace you must have a partner to make peace. Right now, there is no partner for peace. You have to realize 40 percent of the Palestinians are ruled by Hamas in Gaza and they are a terrorist organization. Their honest goal is the destruction of Israel,” said Hikind, adding Donald Trump is now the President-elect and he has a right to choose whomever he wants as ambassadors.
Countering that are the views of City Council members Brad Lander and Stephen Levin – members of both the City Council Progressive and Jewish Caucus. A Lander spokesperson referred the council member’s views on Friedman’s appointment to the very Trump-like answer of referring to his Tweets on the subject.
“Trump’s appointment of David Friedman is bad for Israel, for Palestinians, for American Jews and for the U.S.,” Lander stated in one Tweet.
Friedman is a nasty tribalist who has called Barack Obama an “anti-Semite”, and Jews like me “far worse than kapos,” Lander said in another Tweet.
Levin said he’s very concerned about Friedman’s appointment.
“I’m a big supporter of J-Street and have worked with J-Street and I’m very concerned with reports of his vilification of J-Street and Jewish-Americans that support the two-state solution,” said Levin. “I’ve been dedicated to a two-state solution my entire adult life. The only way we’re going to see peace in any of our lifetimes is through an affirmation of a national movement of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. I agree with the current (Obama) Administration that peace won’t come through the expansion of settlements beyond the Green Line and that settlements are an obstacle to peace. So I find the appointment very unsettling.”
– Kelly Mena contributed to this story
Disclosure: Stephen Witt is a Jewish-American supporter of Israel who was born in Chicago and raised in Skokie, Illinois, which at one time had the largest settlement of Holocaust survivors in the United States.