What Is Wrong With This Picture?
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Something is very wrong with this picture. America’s Foreign Policy concerns in the Middle East are now being handled by Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel. The interests and concerns of the Jewish community concerning Israel’s problems with the Palestinians effectively are being handled by the American Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
David Friedman is a good bankruptcy lawyer who apparently was very effective representing a portion of Donald Trump’s real estate interests. Friedman is an Orthodox Jews, who had his own home in Jerusalem, was a strong supporter of right-wing Israeli politics, especially supporting Israeli settlements on the West Bank. In one of his first diplomatic appointments, Trump nominated Freidman to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel.
Historically, American foreign policy is developed in the State Department and the White House and implemented by America’s diplomats world-wide consistent with these directives. It appears now that the U.S. Ambassador in Israel has been given carte blanche to make statements and direct U.S. policy as pertains to Israel and her neighbors. In the past ten days alone Friedman has created a storm by mis-speaking or creating realities which deviate far from what U.S. policy has been in addressing the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Friedman chastised reporters for their coverage of the events in Gaza surrounding the protest and killings along the border, as if he were a right-wing member of the Israeli Knesset or a hardline American supporter of Israel. He critiqued the leading Israeli, left-wing, Israeli newspaper, Haaretz,, for its coverage not only of these demonstrations but for how they criticized him for being photographed holding a picture of the Old City of Jerusalem with the Holy Temple superimposed on the Dome of the Rock. Perhaps his most undiplomatic and least nuanced conduct was his attack on Democrats for being less supportive of Israel than Republicans. Such actions would be acceptable were Friedman a private, Jewish citizen, but not if he is the representative of the American people.
While this is transpiring, Israel’s Prime Minister is carrying the President’s message around Europe during his travels to the major capitals this week. (He even met with the U.S. Ambassador in Berlin.) While Netanyahu does have very similar views to those articulated by the President and certainly those of U.S. National Security Council director John Bolton, the tone and style of his meetings so far with both Merkel and Macron are very similar to Trump’s.
Admittedly, Bibi can do a better job delivering this message on Iran and Gaza than the President. While the substance is the same, Netanyahu is far more schooled and sensitive to diplomatic nuance. The bombastic character of the American President is totally inappropriate for dealing with international relations; including with Israel. The U.S.—or so Trump believes—can go it alone and the world be damned. Israel may well have very strong support from America’s current leader, but burning bridges and friendships in Europe could ultimately be very dangerous for Israel. In addition, American Presidents come and go. President Trump himself has demonstrated his ability to change mind in an instance. If Putin, for example, were to challenge Trump’s policies in some way, the President would not even think twice about turning on Israel.
Netanyahu and Friedman are making and carrying out U.S. policy. The problem is that the Ambassador should be carrying it out and Bibi should be making his own policy, not vice-versa. Neither the U.S. nor Israel is well served.