Ambassador David Friedman: The Unexpected Star of AIPAC Policy Conference 2018

Nikki Haley, the Indian-American, Trump-appointed, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, was unquestionably the Rock Star of the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference. Every mention of her name by any speaker brought roars of approval – only to be far surpassed by the cheers for her during her own appearance, even though there was really nothing much new in her actual comments compared to what most AIPAC attendees had heard her say – to great acclaim – before. I heard many, many comments in the crowds that she ought to be a Presidential candidate. If nothing else, such a connection demonstrates just how starved the pro-Israel community has been, and for so long, to find a diplomat who would truly stand up for Israel at the U.N. – and how paltry efforts of prior U.S. Ambassadors appear in contrast.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer took on the unenviable task of being the next speaker following Ambassador Haley, and met that challenge well. He gave a rousing speech, pugnaciously pointing out that settlements or borders that are not the obstacles to peace, but rather the consistent refusal of too many Palestinians and too many Arabs to accept the presence of any Jewish state on any borders. http://www.policyconference.org/article/transcripts/2018/schumer.asp.

And yet the one speaker that seemed to me to stand out among the rest was the most unexpected, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. http://www.policyconference.org/article/transcripts/2018/friedman.asp.

While many AIPAC attendees knew of him and the debates that surrounded his confirmation as Ambassador as well as those that have followed it, few have heard him speak. His speech was not electric – it was understated. It did not have the guaranteed standing ovation inducing lines built in by other political speakers, all of whom seemed required to mention the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem (pause for ovation) and that the move would be in May (pause again for ovation). Mr. Friedman mentioned these points too, but his presentation was quieter and far more nuanced. It included some things that most of us probably did not know, such as that he is the first U.S. ambassador to Israel to ever attend Israel’s celebration of Yom Yerushalayim. It did not include some of those topics that made him a controversial nominee in the first place – such as support for settlements.

But his main theme was that being “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” is a redundancy, that it is a fallacy to suggest that anyone who is pro-Israel is anything other than pro-peace. Subsequent news coverage and statements by J-Street (whose motto is: “pro-Israel, pro-peace” – and which vehemently opposed Mr. Friedman’s nomination as Ambassador) suggest that Mr. Friedman’s statements were a dig at J-Street – and they may well have been intended as just that. But I can tell you that sitting in the room, listening to Mr. Friedman deliver it in real time, it did not feel like that. It did not feel like a standard stump speech. It felt like, for lack of a better word, love.

And, intending full respect to J-Street – I know many members and respect their honest beliefs that they are pro-Israel, Mr. Friedman is right that peace is both a core Jewish and a core Israeli value, regardless of one’s political affiliation or perspective. It is hurtful and wrong, and perhaps even (as he said) “dangerously misleading,” to suggest that anyone who does not agree with a particular prescription for how to achieve peace is therefore somehow anti-peace or pro-war – and Mr. Friedman is perfectly correct when he argues that the phrase itself implies just that.

So, go back and follow the link above and read his speech for yourself (or even better, watch the video). Filter out, if you can, the praise for the Trump administration if that annoys you, but read it for its own content. I hope you’ll agree that it articulately captures a true desire for peace among all and to celebrate the things that bring all pro-Israel advocates together rather than to highlight those things that divide us. As I’ve written before, polarization and the hubris of certainty are the true enemies – especially of peace.

I was pleasantly surprised and impressed when I heard Ambassador Friedman. Perhaps you will be too.

About the Author
David H. Levitt practices intellectual property and commercial litigation law in Chicago, and is a pro-Israel activist.
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