President-elect Donald Trump is facing widespread criticism for picking David Friedman to be the next US ambassador to Israel. For years, Friedman has served as president of American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which has raised millions of dollars to support illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Friedman, who has no diplomatic experience, has also worked as a bankruptcy attorney for Trump for the past 15 years. He supports Israel’s Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and says he doesn’t think it would be illegal for Israel to annex the entire Palestinian territory, despite the fact that it would be blatantly illegal under international law. During the presidential campaign, Friedman also said he opposes a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. For more, we’re joined by Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, and Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Stay in the loop
Never miss the news and analysis you care about.
AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Donald Trump is facing widespread criticism for picking David Friedman to be the next US ambassador to Israel. For years, Friedman has served as president of American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which has raised millions of dollars to support illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. According to a tax filing, Trump donated $10,000 to the group in 2003. Friedman, who has no diplomatic experience, has also worked as a bankruptcy attorney for Trump for the past 15 years. He supports Israel’s Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and says he doesn’t think it would be illegal for Israel to annex the entire Palestinian territory — despite the fact that it would be blatantly illegal under international law. During the presidential campaign, Friedman also said he opposes a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
DAVID FRIEDMAN: A Trump administration will never pressure Israel into a two-state solution or any other solution that is against the wishes of the Israeli people.
AMY GOODMAN: In accepting Donald Trump’s nomination, David Friedman said in a statement he aimed to, quote, “strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem,” unquote.
But Trump has been widely criticized for selecting Friedman. Daniel Kurtzer, who served President George W. Bush as ambassador to Israel, said, quote, “[Friedman] has made clear that he will appeal to a small minority of Israeli — and American — extremists, ignoring the majority of Israelis who continue to seek peace. Friedman’s appointment as ambassador runs directly contrary to Mr. Trump’s professed desire to make the ‘ultimate deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. The liberal advocacy group J Street said, quote, “This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk.”
We’re joined now by two guests. Here in New York, Rebecca Vilkomerson is with us, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. Joining us from France, Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Palestine National Initiative, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Rebecca Vilkomerson, your first response when you heard that Trump had nominated his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, to be the US ambassador to Israel?
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah, I think this appointment, or this appointment which needs to still be confirmed, of course, confirms our worst fears about what the Trump administration intends in terms of its approach to Israel-Palestine. Mr. Friedman is to the extreme right of — even in Israel, he’s to the right of Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I think that this really confirms that Trump’s approach to Israel-Palestine is going to really reinforce apartheid, promote annexation and not show any concern for the rights of Palestinians or for Israelis who really want peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what his positions have been over time? Is he someone that you have focused for — focused on at Jewish Voice for Peace?
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: You know, we haven’t focused on him, because he hasn’t been a public figure. He’s a bankruptcy lawyer, like you said. He’s the president of something called the Friends of Beit El. Beit El is a very extreme settlement in the West Bank. He raises money specifically for this settlement. That, of course, goes in the face of decades of US policy, or at least, you know, their supposed policy against settlements. Now, there is an argument to be made that this sort of rips the mask off of US policy, because US policy has been to condemn settlements while continually — continuing to financially support Israel. But I think the human cost is going to be extremely great, and we can expect that the Netanyahu government is going to try to take advantage of this appointment to really continue to push its policies of annexation and to continue to assault the rights of Palestinians.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to David Friedman in his own words. In October, he was interviewed on the Israeli network i24news.
NURIT ZUNGER: Will Donald Trump recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s sole capital?
DAVID FRIEDMAN: Yes. He said that countless times, that he will recognize the city of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital. And he’ll move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
NURIT ZUNGER: All right. So, Trump’s policies, as far as the Israeli Jewish American voter, why should Israeli voters, Israeli-American voters, vote for Trump?
DAVID FRIEDMAN: Well, if those who want to see a strong relationship between Israel and the United States with no daylight, those who want to see Israel protected at the United Nations, those who want to see the strongest level of military and strategic cooperation between the two countries, those who don’t want to see any daylight between the two countries, those that want to live in an environment where the United States doesn’t attempt to impose upon Israel a solution to the Palestinian conflict against the state of Israel, those that want to see Jerusalem recognized as the capital of Israel, you know, vote for Donald Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is David Friedman in October. I wanted to turn to Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Palestine National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. First respond to what he’s talking about, moving the capital — moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the significance of this, and then your response to his nomination.
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, when he speaks about moving the embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Jerusalem as a unified capital of Israel, he is practically — he and the American administration will be participating in the violation of international law. And that law says that no country can annex other people’s country, other people’s land by force. East Jerusalem is not recognized as part of Israel, and its annexation was considered by so many different UN resolutions as illegal. And by saying that he’s moving the embassy there, he’s practically participating in not only violating the international law, but also in violating a major international principle that has governed relations between countries since the Second World War, which is that it is inadmissible and unacceptable to allow any country to annex other people’s territory by force.
More than that, I think his appointment is a very serious not only mistake and a reckless act, but I would say, since he’s a specialist in bankruptcy, probably it is a bankrupt decision, because this would mean that the United States is sending a very clear message that it is totally biased to Israel, and not only to Israel, but actually totally biased to the most extreme elements in Israel. If you appoint a person who’s supporting illegal settlements, which is, again, a violation of international laws, if you support the appointment of a person that is against the two-state solution and allowing Palestinians to have their own independent state, this means you are supporting the appointing a person who is against peace. And definitely, this would send very bad and very dangerous message to Palestinians, to the Arabs, to the Muslims, to the whole world, to the whole world community, that the United States can no more and can never claim that it can play a positive role in any peaceful process or in any effort for two-state solution. This would mean that the United States is not only against Palestinians and their legitimate rights, but it would mean that the United States and its embassy in Tel Aviv — or in Jerusalem, if he moves it there — is going to be an embassy of a state that is against moderate even Israelis and against Israelis who want to have peace and who want to have stability in the region. This is a very dangerous move. It is irresponsible. And it would mean that the United States is also participating in violating international — the decision of the International Court of Justice, which said that every settlement in the Occupied Territories is illegal, the annexation of Jerusalem is illegal and that all these actions by Israel should be reversed according to international law.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to some comments David Friedman has made about Jewish groups in the United States. He has frequently attacked liberal Jewish groups here, including the advocacy group J Street, comparing supporters of the institution to kapos — Jewish concentration camp prisoners who were forced to collaborate with the Nazis during the Holocaust. In a piece published in June, he said J Street supporters were actually worse, writing, quote, “The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one? But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas — it’s hard to imagine anyone worse,” Friedman said. Well, on Friday, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami appeared on MSNBC.
JEREMY BEN–AMI: It’s dangerous and reckless for the president of the United States to put somebody who has shown an inability to have a civil discussion without immediately resorting to name-calling about the people that he disagrees with. There’s going to be a real split in the sort of institutional life of the American Jewish community. There are organizations that will go along with the leadership in this country and the leadership in that country, despite the fact that a majority of Jewish Americans in both countries don’t agree with the policies that are being implemented. And this is a real crisis in American Jewish leadership.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. Rebecca Vilkomerson?
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah, I mean, the kind of language that David Friedman is using about a big swath of the Jewish community is just reprehensible. It’s absolutely unacceptable. And the idea this is a person who’s going to be a diplomat representing the United States is, you know, really kind of absurd. And I think what’s really distressing is that — the idea that Donald Trump has selected this person to represent US interests, when clearly he’s not going to be representing at all what we know to be the majority of the American Jewish community.
And he’s used similar language, I have to say, about Muslims and Arabs. He speaks about Arabs in very broad terms. He has attacked Huma Abedin just because of her heritage. And so, he’s someone who, you know, has really expressed prejudice at every turn, offensive — you know, I’m not as concerned about the offensive language as I am about the policies, but in terms of what it reflects about how he’s going to approach his job, it just seems that he’s completely temperamentally not suited, but also he’s promoting these really, really dangerous policies.
AMY GOODMAN: At a Trump rally in Jerusalem in October, David Friedman claimed that top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin had close connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.
DAVID FRIEDMAN: How about her friends? You know, you tell a lot about people from who they hang around with. Who does Hillary Clinton get her advice from?
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: George Soros!
DAVID FRIEDMAN: George Soros, good, good.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Soros!
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: George Soros!
DAVID FRIEDMAN: Got it. I got it. George Soros. Good. You’re right. George Soros. Sidney Blumenthal, Max Blumenthal — Max Blumenthal, one of the most vile, anti-Israel haters on the face of the Earth. What about —
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Huma Abedin!
DAVID FRIEDMAN: Huma Abedin.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Yeah!
DAVID FRIEDMAN: Grew up in Saudi Arabia, close connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: And al-Qaeda.
DAVID FRIEDMAN: And al-Qaeda, right.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was David Friedman saying that Hillary Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, not only related to the Muslim Brotherhood, but al-Qaeda. Rebecca?
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to know what to say. I mean, this is just unprecedented territory that we have someone who’s supposed to be an ambassador to a country, that’s supposed to represent all the citizens of the United States and also be there to — you know, in a region that’s known for its long history of volatility and that is in desperate need of a peace process that’s going to bring rights to Palestinians and peace for Israelis and Palestinians together, that, you know, he’s using this kind of language. It just seems that it would be impossible that there would be any kind of positive movement. And I think we can expect exactly the opposite.
The only thing I can hope for is that this will help to organize opposition to Donald Trump, because we do know, from the last few years, that more and more Americans are supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. And like Mustafa Barghouti said, this is going to put the United States really at odds with the rest of the world. And so, the global movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, especially if Israel continues its policies of annexation, which it seems like it’s going to have free range to do under this government, will help strengthen that movement and help, ultimately, to advance the movement for Palestinians. But that is a — that’s a very small comfort at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: And which goes to this issue of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act and your concerns about it.
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah. So, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act was introduced into the Senate a couple of weeks ago, and it passed by unanimous consent on the same afternoon as it was introduced in the morning. And this was an act that was introduced by — that AIPAC and the ADL helped introduce. And it’s, you know, the culmination of several years of attempts to legislate the definition of “anti-Semitism” to include criticism of Israel, which is an enormous free speech issue. And it’s really an attack — this is specifically how the Department of Education would define “anti-Semitism” on campuses. So what it’s really trying to do is legislate the suppression of the movement for Palestinian rights on campuses. And in some ways maybe it’s a compliment to the movement and its growing strength. But again, it’s a big — it’s a big assault on free speech and on the ability to fight for these rights. And I think that we were — we were able to organize enough opposition that it didn’t get heard in Congress, although it was introduced in the House later, and so we’ll see what happens in the next session. But these are the sorts of things that we expect to continue to see going into the Trump administration.
AMY GOODMAN: David Friedman has said colleges are generally being far too lenient in allowing the pro-Palestinian community to deprive those in the pro-Israel camp of their First Amendment right to free speech. This is a serious constitutional deprivation, so it is something that must be looked at.”
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah, I mean, that’s — you know, these are the sort of policies I think we’re going to have to expect in the Trump administration. We’re all going to have to be really prepared to fight them.