US ambassador-designee to Israel, David Friedman, by all accounts is a charitable man, deeply involved in the Jewish community who gives his time and his resources to many worthwhile endeavors. While I do not know Mr. Friedman personally, we lived in the same community for 25 years, in a bucolic suburb of New York City that is home to a large population of Modern Orthodox Jews. In small towns like ours, where idle gossip is often an over utilized commodity, I never heard a bad thing said about him.
The fact that he was selected by the president-elect for an ambassadorship is not unprecedented; presidents have appointed friends and campaign contributors to such posts since the beginning of the republic. Mr. Friedman is getting resistance by many because his personal views on the Israel – Palestine conflict are considered hard line and pro-settlement, and because of his lack of diplomatic experience for a position of such great import on the geo-political map.
I have faith that Mr. Friedman will carry out his duties admirably with the same professionalism and thought with which he built his successful legal career. I hope and believe that he will carry out the policies of his president whatever they might be. I am, however, concerned about some of the statements that he has made against Jews and supporters of Israel who don’t agree with his views, particularly J-Street, of which I am not a member but certainly sympathize with. However, in all fairness I and other liberals have resorted to name-calling in espousing our positions — it’s just that I’m not getting appointed to anything, certainly not a diplomatic post. And had I been, I would get the same criticism from the other side of the aisle.
Let me be clear, Mr. Friedman is not the problem; the mainstreaming of far-right minority views regarding settlements and the Israel -Palestine conflict, particularly by the American Orthodox community, is. Orthodoxy has mainstreamed causes that are supported by only a minority of Israelis and for which we would blast Arab-Americans for supporting, on the opposite side of the spectrum. For the past few decades now, a coalition has grown between the settler movement in Israel and the US Orthodox community, from where they get the most sympathetic hearing and raise the most funds. Mr. Friedman is not an extremist; he’s espousing the views he hears in rabbinic sermons, in Orthodox media, and at the Shabbat tables of like-minded friends. Hey, that’s politics.
Mr. Friedman will enter into his position, where experts with a bit more knowledge than he on the subject, like Professor Matti Steinberg, a former advisor to the director of the Shin Bet whom I interviewed in Jerusalem recently, have a different view on settlements, annexation, and the two state solution than he does. Professor Steinberg, like many in the Israeli security establishment, does not see the conflict as a security issue, but as a demographic one. According to Steinberg, if you include Gaza and Judea and Samaria, the demographic breakdown of Arab to Jew is 50-50. If you exclude Gaza, it is more like 60% Jewish vs. 40 % Arab. Within the Jewish population there is a good percentage that are anti-Zionists, thus making the character of the state with the territories included in it to be a minority Zionist one in a land whose whole foundation is Zionist. That is a realistic and frightful proposition, one that has not been resolved by many smart and well-intentioned people from all sides of the political spectrum both in Israel and the United States.
I think it’s safe to say that mass transfer of Palestinians out of Judea and Samaria is not an option, so Israel is left with only two options, one bi-national state or two states. A bi-national state will lead to the end of the Jewishness of the state, while the outlines of two states have been floated around since partition in various forms or another, and seems to be the only reasonable settlement.
It is now that I give a nod to those who say Israel has no willing partner with whom to make peace, and for now, that is partially correct. But what if that were to change? What if, ultimately, Palestinians agree to all of Israel’s demands, including demilitarization, no return of refugees, security assurances in the Jordan Valley, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and a formal end of conflict? Would that be enough? I would argue that, yes, it would and that a majority of settlers would peacefully leave. President-elect Trump has called a resolution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict the “ultimate deal.” I wish him well in trying to resolve it. The issue with Mr. Friedman’s appointment will only be if he tries to thwart those efforts. Insults to peaceniks aside — he shows no signs he would. This kapo is ready to give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Maybe, just maybe, tough-talking Jews might be the ones who can finally pull off a deal.