In an interview from his new office in Jerusalem, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman wishes the people of Israel continued growth, together with the United States
A massive painting depicting the biblical “sin of the spies” hangs in the modest office of U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. “The spies didn’t lie,” Friedman explains his choice of this particular image to decorate the first ever U.S. ambassador’s office in the city of Jerusalem.
“When the 10 spies returned from land of Israel to the people who were waiting for them in the desert, they described the absolute truth,” explains Friedman. “So what was the sin? It was their lack of vision. And I promised myself one thing. I would have vision.”
It has only been about 15 months since Friedman, 60, assumed the role that he had eyed since early in U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign: ambassador to Israel. Despite his relatively short time in office, it is safe to say that during his brief term, and in many ways thanks to him, not only is there clearly a vision, it is also being applied. Relations between Israel and the U.S. have grown closer than ever and the bilateral cooperation is unprecedented.
This includes an end to the critical discourse that once emanated from the American administration against Israel; the shattering of the mendacious Palestinian propaganda—both in reference to the settlements and to the exaggerated numbers of “Palestinian refugees”; an impenetrable shield of American defense at the United Nations, including an American withdrawal from UNESCO and the Human Rights Council; unequivocal support for Israel’s right to defend itself and carry out offensive strikes in Syria and in Gaza; the placement of the Iranian threat at the top of the American agenda and relentless efforts to quash the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement; and above all else, the official recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the relocation of the American embassy there.
“Israel is maybe behind the United States the number two player in the world in cybersecurity, which is arguably the most important area for national defense that exists right now,” he says. “An economy that’s booming, that is 10 or 15 times greater than its neighbors.’ It’s managed to come up with massive amounts of energy that nobody expected. Despite the incredible diversity of its population, both within the Jewish community and outside to Arabs and Christians, it manages to maintain a noisy but robust democracy that works.
“Israel is a tremendous friend to the United States. It provides the United States with assistance that, in some respects, no other country can provide. Look what it did with Iran, what it discovered with the Iran warehouse. Nobody else was able to accomplish that. There are things that I can’t talk about specifically, but things where Israel has identified threats and helped us to eliminate those threats, that would have struck on our own soil. On American soil.
“So my point is to say that for a country the size of Israel, surrounded by all these threats that it has to face, where there is really no other democratic nation in the region, to be so successful and to direct its success and its friendship to such a great extent to the United States, back and forth, I think he [Trump] notices just how special it is and he admires it. He’s someone who admires accomplishments. He likes to win, he’s very good at winning, he likes people who win, he thinks that success breeds more success and he knows how difficult it is to succeed, so I think he has greater admiration for what Israel has accomplished, maybe even more than some Israelis.”
The ‘higher price’ question
Friedman, an accredited attorney specializing in bankruptcy and real estate, provided his legal services to Trump during one of the worst crises that befell the mogul’s business. The two have been collaborating ever since. Few people know that when Friedman was mourning his father’s passing, Trump braved a particularly heavy New York snowstorm, when no one else dared step outside, to comfort his friend. While Friedman, too, had comforted Trump when his own father passed away, he was moved by Trump’s heroic efforts to return the favor in such inclement weather. When Friedman insists that Trump is a “man of his word,” he is referring to this noble act among others.
The deep friendship between the two men prompted Trump to appoint Friedman as the ambassador, just as he had pledged to do. The appointment process wasn’t easy, particularly since the Reform movement, headed by Richard Jacobs, and the J Street lobby invested unprecedented efforts into preventing Friedman from being appointed. Shamefully, this was the first time in American history that anyone objected to the appointment of an ambassador selected by the administration, as non-Jewish senators noted during Friedman’s confirmation. But Friedman, a clever Jew, learned the rules of the game and sidestepped the minefield of the U.S. Senate. He even magnanimously decided to engage in dialogue with both Jacobs and J Street after he was named ambassador, despite their efforts against him.
Q: So what happens here in the day-to-day? Is this an embassy? A consulate? When will we have a fully functioning embassy here in Jerusalem?
“It’s definitely an embassy. It’s an embassy because this is where I work. You’re in my office, there’s no hiding that. We have about 60 people working on visas and passports, we have a smaller number of people working on some security issues. We have a guard force—it’s over 100 people right now. We are migrating the embassy slowly, in different phases.
“We’re going to start breaking ground in about a week or two on the next phase, which will maybe double the size of the space right now for the professionals who work in Tel Aviv to start moving over. We’ll probably move over 15 to 20 people within a year. And then we’re going to keep growing here and shrinking there until it’s complete, but it’s already very much an operating, functioning embassy.”
Q: Politics don’t go only in one direction. Do you think that there is a possibility that a future administration will reverse the decision to recognize Jerusalem and relocate the embassy back to Tel Aviv?
“I really can’t see that happening, no matter what party is in control. In order for an administration to reverse this, they would have to conclude that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel and Tel Aviv is. I think that would be a far more controversial thing to do than what the president did. It would be completely at odds with reality, and I don’t believe that there is any American politician of any party—of no party—who would take a position that is completely contrary to reality. So I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
By: Arial Kahana