Tuesday, January 31, 2017

To Marco Rubio: Oppose Nomination of David M. Friedman

January 30, 2017

Hon. Marco Rubio
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Re: Nomination of David M. Friedman to be
U.S. Ambassador to the State of Israel

Dear Senator Rubio:

I urge you to oppose the nomination of David M. Friedman to be the U.S. Ambassador to the State of Israel. You voted for Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State because you found him to be personally qualified and because you felt it appropriate to give the President the benefit of the doubt in that instance. This was not an unreasonable decision despite your openly expressed doubts about his nomination. I urge you to follow the same approach in considering the Friedman nomination. If you do, you will not be led to the same conclusion. This nominee does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.  

On Facebook, you cited Mr. Tillerson’s “impressive record of leadership” given his role at ExxonMobil. What is the comparable test for a diplomat? Robert D. Blackwell, deputy assistant to the President and deputy national security advisor for strategic planning under President George W. Bush, has written the top two “ideal qualities of a successful diplomat” are to “possess an abiding interest in and passion for the art and craft of diplomacy and international relations” and to “demonstrate an analytical temperament” (which he defines as the opposite of “ideological predisposition and rigidity”).  From what is known of Mr. Friedman, these are not his personal characteristics. They are important for an ambassador to a minor country in a placid region. They are extremely important for one appointed to be a diplomat in the most volatile region of the world.

Being a successful diplomat in Israel requires more than loudly siding with one extreme or another within Israeli society. It requires an understanding and appreciation of the incredible diversity of opinion within Israeli society and an ability to inspire confidence among Arab nations of many different stripes. But there is nothing about Mr. Friedman that suggests that he any capacity to demonstrate the characteristics needed of a U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Indeed, rather than possessing the demeanor of a skilled diplomat, he is intemperate to the extreme. He has engaged in vile name-calling against fellow Jewish Americans who do not share his views on the current Israeli Government’s policies, calling them “far worse than kapos—Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps” He has said they are “not Jewish.” As a Jewish American who loves Israel but thinks Mr. Friedman’s policies imperil its long-term security, I consider these to be offensive and disqualifying attacks, and so should anyone who believes in free and open discussion of important issues, not to mention common decency. Mr. Friedman has not limited his personal attacks to fellow Jews: he has attacked anyone in U.S. politics with whom he disagrees as Anti-Semites, including one hundred years’ worth of U.S. diplomats. 

Whether one agrees or disagrees with this or that policy, it takes a special—and thoroughly unacceptable—individual to demonize all those with whom he disagrees. Perhaps one who operates through insult and unalloyed aggressiveness would be one’s choice as his or her own lawyer, but you and I both know that winning against such a lawyer is often far easier than against a quiet, reasonable opponent who picks his or her fights carefully and never engages in ad hominem. There is no question that such would be the overwhelmingly better makeup of a successful diplomat in a sensitive diplomatic post.

Even aside from his disturbing rhetorical tendencies, Mr. Friedman’s strident opposition to the two-state solution and his support for the most extreme elements within Israel’s settlement community disqualify him as a useful representative of the United States. We do not know the details of President Trump’s policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although Mr. Tillerson, at his confirmation hearings, supported the two-state solution. We know for certain that Mr. Friedman’s mind is closed to that policy and to the concomitant need to stop expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, which Ronald Reagan recognized was a prerequisite to the hope for peace in that land, based on a secure democratic Jewish state true to the Zionist vision. The alternative—maintenance of the status quo in the hope that Israelis can outlast Palestinians living under Israeli military command, or outright annexation, which will destroy both Israel as a secure democratic Jewish state—is the true illusion. 

David M. Friedman stands in favor of open-ended settlement activity and possibly, annexation, which can lead only to anti-democratic measures and a permanent state of war. He relies, for example, on wholly discredited claims that the number of Arabs in the West Bank is vastly overstated. This is an incredibly thin reed on which to lean Israeli security. Mr. Friedman also stresses the need to build the Palestinian middle class and couples this with the claim that they don’t care whether they are ruled by Jews or Arabs. The belief that there is a non-political bloc of middle-class Palestinians around whom an entire One State policy can be built may be the ultimate in illusionistic thinking, because it would seemingly eliminate the need to be concerned about Palestinians who will kill Israelis for political reasons. Sadly, it is extremely unlikely that, no matter what, a core of Palestinians will be opposed to the recognition of a Jewish state. And it must be remembered that the Arabs can lose every war with Israel but the last one. Israel cannot afford to lose a single one. 

The truth is that U.S. policy has been and continues to be in favor of a two-state solution not because of anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic prejudices. Rather, cold realism dictates this policy. The two-state solution is not an invention of liberals or Democrats. It reflects a basic reality that has long been recognized by fair-minded observers as the only method to provide for a secure, democratic Jewish state. It is supported by hundreds of former Israeli security and military leaders. President George W. Bush explicitly supported it.  As you know, it was recently supported by Mr. Tillerson in his testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee. Indeed, its roots reach back at least as far as 1982, when Ronald W. Reagan was President.

Thus, in a November 2016 paper, for example, Repairing the U.S.-Israel Relationship, Robert Blackwell wrote that one of the “core policy proposals to repair, redefine, and invigorate the partnership” between the U.S. and Israel is to

agree on a set of specific, meaningful measures that Israel will take unilaterally to improve Palestinian daily life and preserve prospects for a two-state solution, linking continued U.S. willingness to refrain from or oppose international action on Israeli settlements or the peace process to Israel’s implementation of such positive, concrete steps.

45 years ago, In September 1982, President Reagan outlined American policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was based on the recognition of a need for Palestinians’ “recognition of Israel’s right to a secure future” and steps leading to eventual Palestinian political independence. Importantly, Mr. Reagan stated unequivocally that “[f]urther settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.” That statement is as true today as it was true then, and Mr. Friedman’s main belief is in the inviolability of further settlement expansion.

Mr. Friedman’s unacceptable beliefs are not limited to his views on settlement policy: he is also harbors dangerous ideas about Russia and Vladimir Putin. He has written: “Vladimir Putin gets it. He may be a ‘thug,’ as he was recently described by Senator Rubio, but he knows how to identify a national objective, execute a military plan, and ultimately prevail.” .

Finally, accepting Mr. Friedman because of a belief that he is broadly acceptable to the American Jewish population is not only an improper test—Jewish voters or donors should not have a hold on U.S. policy towards Israel—but is based on a belief that is completely out-of-date and out-of-touch with reality. Polling of Jewish Americans consistently shows that views such as those of Mr. Friedman are in the minority. Nevertheless, as I have stated, the issue should not come down to whether this appointment is popular or not; it should be decided on its merits. 

You admirably stated in your Facebook post announcing your support of Mr. Tillerson: “Our foreign policy is at its best and most effective when it is grounded in the moral principles and values that have defined us since our founding,” including “democracy and human rights.” David M. Friedman’s views do not pass this fundamental test. He is an extremist being nominated for a position where extremism is the enemy of achievement. If President Trump can achieve the goal of a separate, secure Jewish State, he will deserve the praise of the world. He will not be able to do so through the ministrations of Mr. Friedman if the Senate confirms his nomination. 

Senator, you have the opportunity to do something extremely constructive and courageous when considering the Friedman nomination. Most people understood why you voted in favor of Mr. Tillerson. Presidents do deserve the benefit of the doubt on their nominations, but that benefit stretches only so far. Please do not give the President of the doubt on his nomination. Mr. Friedman does not deserve it.

Sincerely yours,

{Splendid Spitter}

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