The US ambassador to Israel is a boon to the far right. He must be stopped

Its time for the US Senate to call to task an ambassador who has violated every conceivable diplomatic norm, writes Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of J Street

The US ambassador to Israel is a boon to the far right. He must be stopped

Its been over a year since David Friedman longtime settlement movement benefactor and opponent of the two-state solution took office as the US ambassador to Israel.

In that time, Friedman has used the embassy as a personal bully pulpit to reshape US policy and advance his personal far-right agenda precisely the course he pledged to the Senate foreign relations committee he would not follow.

It is time for the Senate to bring Friedman back to DC for tough questioning. They should start by asking how its appropriate for the US ambassador to Israel to act more like the lawyer and spokesman for Israels settlement movement than a representative of American interests.

As ambassador, Friedman has regularly tipped the scale to validate Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, alienate moderate Palestinian leaders and undermine the prospects for a two-state agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an administration where climate change deniers regulate the environment and xenophobes shape immigration policy, it may not shock that a West Bank settler is upending American policy on the conflict.

But its on the Senate charged with serving as a check and balance on the executive branch to call to task an ambassador who has violated every conceivable diplomatic norm, shattered US credibility as a mediator and poured fuel on the fire of the explosive Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Time and again, Friedman has asserted the legitimacy and legality of the settlements, contradicting longstanding US policy. He told the media, falsely, that settlements are part of Israel and that Israel is only occupying 2% of the West Bank (in fact, roughly 80% of the West Bank is under Israeli security control). In late 2017, he reportedly requested that the state department cease using the terms occupation and Israeli-occupied territories to refer to Israeli rule in the West Bank. Hes stated that the settlers arent going anywhere.

Earlier this month, the ambassador told the US press that they should keep [their] mouths shut instead of reporting on Israeli actions in Gaza. But its Friedman who hasnt been able to control his own outbursts publicly attacking not only the media, but Palestinian leaders, Democrats and pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.

In the weeks since presiding over the US embassy opening in Jerusalem, Friedman seems to be angling for even more influence. Hes reportedly pushing to be given control of the US consulate in East Jerusalem, which has traditionally facilitated US relations with the Palestinian Authority. That move would be widely understood as further downgrading Palestinian diplomatic ties to the US and as another clear step by the Trump administration away from pursuit of the two-state solution.

And in a new report this week, it was revealed that Friedman refused to comply with the state department inspector generals call to improve legally required human rights vetting of foreign militaries receiving US aid, saying it shouldnt apply to Israel.

Friedmans actions, and his influence over Trump administration foreign policy, represent a boon for a far-right minority of Americans Jews, Christian evangelicals and neoconservative hawks that aim to monopolize our political and communal discourse on Israel and shape the future of the Middle East.

Their vision is both simple and breathtakingly destructive: limitless expansion of Israeli settlements and with it, permanent control over Greater Israel. Palestinians must give up on their hopes for statehood and civil rights. The two-state solution must be prevented at all costs. Israel should ignore the vast majority of American Jews, Democrats and the international community and rely instead on the backing of Christian evangelicals and authoritarian leaders.

For years, Friedman and his allies supported the rise of the Israeli right from outside government. Now theyve been handed actual power over US policy and theyre using it to undermine the values and policies that have long formed the heart of the US-Israel relationship.

If theyre allowed to have their way, the consequences will be disastrous.

The Israeli government will push ever closer to full annexation of the West Bank, closing off the possibility of a two-state solution. Israels democratic institutions and norms will be steadily stripped away by leaders reliant on militant nationalism. Palestinian moderates will lose influence and credibility, while extremists gain strength. Millions of progressive Americans and American Jews will turn away from a country they see as increasingly authoritarian and intolerant.

To prevent this nightmare future, responsible lawmakers should use their constitutional authority to hold David Friedman accountable. To narrowly secure confirmation, Friedman promised the Senate to put aside his personal views and act as a serious representative of US interests and policy. Clearly, he has broken that promise.

Senators should call the ambassador to Washington to explain himself in public hearings. They should send a clear message that our government will not tolerate ambassadors who use their position to obstruct diplomacy, inflame tensions and advance their own geopolitical goals.

At a time when basic norms of governance are being shattered, the Senate cannot afford to lose sight of the lasting damage that Friedman and his associates are doing to our national interest, to Israel and to the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

  • Jeremy Ben-Ami is founder and president of J Street

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