What ultimately makes for a good Ambassador?

A good Ambassador is someone who possesses a deep knowledge and concern for the history, politics and future of both the country he or she represents and the one to which he or she serves as liaison. David Friedman, whom I have had the honor of knowing for the last several years, fits the bill. He is a proud and patriotic American, never taking for granted the opportunities this country has given him and his family. He is also extraordinarily knowledgeable, in a real and practical way about Israel, and for his entire adult life has been personally invested in the American-Israel relationship. Friedman travels to Israel several times a year, owns a home there, supports many wonderful Israeli charities and has had a number of his own children studying abroad in Israeli schools. He’s got what you call “skin in the game”, unlike most career diplomats who certainly have more experience in international affairs, but are often less knowledgeable and invested in the host country.  American interests in Israel can be better represented by someone who speaks the language, understands the culture and more importantly has a personal stake in the outcome of the relationship between the two countries.

Friedman’s “skin in the game” will also enhance his credibility amongst Israeli’s who have become increasingly skeptical of American diplomats shaping policy from a perspective which, in their view, is out of sync with the realities on the ground in Israel. The likelihood of American interests being realized in Israel, including moving the peace process forward, will only improve if the Israeli people trust America’s Ambassador to Israel.

Although concerns regarding Friedman’s lack of diplomatic and foreign policy experience are valid, David possesses the core attributes necessary for an Ambassador.  He is bright, articulate, honest and likable and his 35 years as a courtroom litigator for one of the top NYC law firms will no-doubt serve him well in this position.

Much of the negative press about Friedman seems to revolve around his strong support of the settlements and his negative comments about the Jewish lobby group J-Street. Those are his views and he does not shy away from them but, in my mind, they don’t in any way diminish his capacity to be an excellent Ambassador. We need to distinguish between views with which we may personally disagree and what ultimately makes for a qualified candidate for a government position. Friedman for sure can carry out the duties of his office, even if his own views conflict with the historically anti-settlement views of the State Department.  In  addition, we often make the assumption that someone with more right leaning political tendencies will be more of an impediment to peace than anything else, when in fact history has proven just the opposite. Indeed, the only peace treaties Israel ever made with her Arab neighbors were concluded under  more right wing Israeli governments.

Would it be better if Mr. Friedman had a degree in Middle East affairs, had worked in some government position or perhaps held views more consistent with previous State Department positions on Israel? Maybe, but I’d take someone with skin in the game over an Academic or State Department bureaucrat any day.