The recently published book SLEDGEHAMMER, by former United States ambassador to Israel David Friedman, presents an insider’s view how the wheels of government and bureaucracy work when dealing with the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. It reads like a thriller and brings insights into the inner workings of those entrusted with the levers of power. The book is an excellent primer for students and adults who are interested in learning about Israel, beyond the often-misleading headlines.
According to Friedman he chose the title Sledgehammer because Israeli and American officials decided to use a diplomatic sledgehammer to shatter the decades old model of Palestinian intransigence and instead pursue peace with other Arab and Muslim nations. It worked, as attested to by the Abraham Accords signed by Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The breach in the wall of Arab and Muslim obstinacy additionally opened the normalization of relations with Sudan, Kosovo, and Morocco.
The book brings contextual clarity to those misconceptions born of ignorance, distortions, and outright lies. For example, Arab leaders who protest that they should not have to pay the price for the Holocaust ignore the following pertinent historic facts. Arabs were supportive of the Mufti of Jerusalem who was complicit in Hitler’s genocidal plans against the Jewish people. And Jews are indigenous to the Land of Israel; they first settled there 3,700 years ago, which was 1,400 years before the introduction of Islam to the region.
A phrase in the Israeli National Anthem, “to be a free people in our own land,” resonates with Jews who treasure Israel and respect her as the only Democracy in the Middle East. Yet, a self-proclaimed “pro-Israel” group, J Street, has not been averse to opposing policies Israel’s duly elected government painstakingly cobbled together. Rather than supporting the citizens of Israel who pay taxes, serve in the army, and contend with its burdensome bureaucracy, J Street lobbies American leaders to impose J Street’s agenda on Israel. They went as far as to encourage the Democratic Party to drop its provision from prior platforms which recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed and J Street’s wrongheaded efforts failed.
Friedman cited a survey done by The New York Times where it asked Democrats and Republicans to rank the countries by their importance to the United States. The Republicans ranked Israel at 5 and the Democrats at 28. It was then Ambassador Friedman realized he had his work cut out to strengthen the American-Israel relationship, but he had no idea how difficult a task it would be. His first inkling was when a senior US State Department staffer advised him, “Don’t be so Jewish. You represent the Unites States of America. Tone-down the Judaism in your work.”
He also credits Jared Kushner for forging a foreign policy initiative called Vision for Peace. When presented, to everyone’s shock Saudi Arabia, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, immediately bought into it. Astonishment followed shock when a bevy of countries agreed that the Vision for Peace process should go forward with modifications. The countries were Egypt, Qatar, United Kingdom, Austria, Australia, India, France, Italy, Brazil, Columbia, Poland, Paraguay, Denmark, Chili, Czech Republic, Japan, Hungary, South Korea, North Macedonia, and Kosovo.
The only outright opposition to the Vision were the Palestinians, Iran, Turkey, J Street, Jeremy Corbyn, and every one of the 2020 Democratic candidates. Despite their opposition, the Vision for Peace became the forerunner of the Abraham Accords.
Friedman laments the idea suggested that Israel needs to be more appealing to the wants of American Jews, but rarely hears that American Jews should try harder to understand Israel. He suggests an effective way to bring a greater understanding between Israelis and American Jews of the Diaspora would be for the 60% of American Jews who never visited Israel, to book a flight, and visit their ancestral homeland, or better yet, return home and live there.
As the United States Ambassador to Israel, Friedman said his primary mission was to bring a better understanding between America and Israel as to the priority of goals that would strengthen their bonds and support Israel’s immediate and long-term security needs, while opening new avenues to bring stability and peace to the region. As such, his accomplishments range from impressive to historic, which includes moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and most notably achieving the impossible – facilitating the Abraham Accords.
SLEDGEHAMMER is a compendium of professionally written firsthand accounts of policy conflicts, arbitrage, and the reconciliation of strategic and tactical differences between the United States and Israel. It takes the reader behind the closed doors of the Oval Office, Halls of Congress, and into the very heartland of Israel’s diverse population of ideas, ideologies, and ethnicities. The book is worth the time it takes to read, and now is the time to read it.