David M. Friedman
|David M. Friedman|
|United States Ambassador to Israel|
Assumed office |
May 15, 2017
|Preceded by||Dan Shapiro|
David Melech Friedman|
August 8, 1958
|Spouse(s)||Tammy Sand (m. 1981)|
Columbia University (BA)|
New York University (JD)
David Melech Friedman (born August 8, 1958) is an American bankruptcy lawyer and the United States Ambassador to Israel. He joined the law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman (then known as Kasowitz, Hoff, Benson & Torres) in 1994, where he met and represented Donald Trump, then chairman and president of The Trump Organization. He served as an advisor to Trump during his successful presidential campaign. In December 2016, President-elect Trump's transition team announced that Friedman was Trump's nominee for ambassador. His nomination was met with support from conservative Israeli and Jewish American activist groups, and opposition from liberal advocacy organizations, particularly J Street. He was confirmed by the full Senate on March 23, 2017, with a 52–46 vote, officially sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence on March 29 and presented his credentials on May 15.
Early life and education
Friedman was one of four children born to Morris S. Friedman (d. 2005), a Temple Hillel rabbi and Addi Friedman, a high school English teacher. He grew up in North Woodmere, New York. His father was a rabbi at Temple Hillel, a Conservative synagogue in North Woodmere, and served as the head of the New York Board of Rabbis. His mother was a high school English teacher.
He earned his bachelor's degree in anthropology from Columbia University, graduating in 1978, and his law degree from New York University School of Law, graduating in 1981. He has been a member of the New York State Bar Association since 1982.
Legal and philanthropic career
In 1994, he left the now-defunct law firm Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon to form the bankruptcy practice at Kasowitz, Hoff, Benson & Torres. Friedman was promoted to name partner in 1995, and the firm was renamed Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman. As the head of the creditors' rights and bankruptcy practice group, Friedman advised and represented Donald Trump and The Trump Organization in bankruptcies involving his Atlantic City casinos.
Friedman volunteered to head American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that advocates against a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and provides around $2 million per year to the Israeli settlement Bet El. The organization also received donations from the family foundation of Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law. In 1999, Friedman dedicated the Friedman Faculty House. The settlement runs the Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva, where Friedman is a columnist. In his writings and statements, Friedman repeatedly argued in support of Israeli settlements, declaring them legal. He has also contributed to United Hatzalah ("united rescue"), an Israeli organization that provides emergency medical services, and Aleh Negev, a village for disabled Bedouin and Jewish people in southern Israel.
Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign
Friedman advised Trump on Israel-related and Jewish issues during his presidential campaign, co-chairing Trump's Israel Advisory Committee along with Jason D. Greenblatt, an executive vice president for The Trump Organization. During the presidential election, he donated a total of $50,000 to the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. Four days prior to the election, Friedman and Greenblatt released a joint statement promising to move the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, one of Trump's campaign promises. Other presidential candidates, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Hillary Clinton, had also promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem during their campaigns. Moving the embassy would be a significant departure from U.S. policy. Since the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, the U.S. officially maintained that Jerusalem's final status should be decided by direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians; it did not recognize Jerusalem as Israeli territory. Relocation would be in accordance with the Jerusalem Embassy Act, passed by Congress in 1995, which required moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999. The executive branch has consistently waived implementation of the act, arguing it would have a negative impact on national security. On June 1, in accordance with his predecessors, President Trump signed an executive order keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv instead of relocating it to Jerusalem.
Nomination for U.S. Ambassador to Israel
On December 15, 2016, the transition team of President-elect Donald Trump announced that Friedman had been selected to be the nominee as the United States Ambassador to Israel. Friedman's nomination was controversial; some American Jewish, Israeli, and Palestinian individuals and advocacy groups argued against his nomination. Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, said that moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and annexing West Bank settlements would lead to the "destruction of the peace process" and send the region down a path of "chaos, lawlessness, and extremism". Friedman had said in an interview for Haaretz during the campaign that Trump would be open to Israel annexing parts of the West Bank. The U.S. has opposed Israeli settlements in the West Bank since 1967.
The liberal advocacy organization J Street "vehemently opposed" Friedman's nomination. During the presidential campaign, Friedman had attacked J Street supporters, writing in Arutz Sheva in May 2016:
Are J Street supporters really as bad as kapos? The answer, actually, is no. They are far worse than kapos—Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps. 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.
When asked about his comments on J Street at the Saban Forum in early December, Friedman had stood by his statements, saying that J Street supporters were "not Jewish, and they're not pro-Israel". The advocacy organizations Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu, the Israel Policy Forum, and the New Israel Fund also opposed the nomination. Six Democratic members of the House of Representatives, including Jewish representatives Jan Schakowsky, Jerrold Nadler, John Yarmuth, and Steve Cohen, urged their colleagues in the Senate to vote against Friedman.
Other Jewish and Israeli groups and individuals supported Friedman's nomination. Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy at the Orthodox Union, commended Trump for the nomination as a change in the relationship between Israel and the United States from the relationship under the Obama administration. Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Friedman "has the potential to be the greatest US Ambassador to Israel ever". The Republican Jewish Coalition and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, both supported the nomination. Israeli politicians Tzipi Hotovely, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dani Dayan, the Consul General of Israel in New York, and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett all praised Friedman and welcomed his nomination. The Yesha Council, the umbrella organization governing West Bank settlements, also supported the nomination, saying Friedman had a "deep love for all of the land and people of Israel, including those in Judea and Samaria," the Biblical names of the area of land which is referred to internationally as the West Bank.
Friedman's confirmation hearing was held on February 16, 2017. The hearing was contentious; protesters from Americans Muslims for Palestine and the Jewish group IfNotNow were arrested after interrupting the proceedings several times. Friedman said he believed a two-state solution is the best way to resolve the conflict. He had previously questioned the need for it, stating as a representative for the Trump campaign, "a two-state solution is not a priority.... A two-state solution is a way, but it's not the only way." He had also called it a "scam" and a "damaging anachronism" in a February 2016 column for Arutz Sheva. He also agreed to sell off his business interests in the region and end his support for the expansion of Israeli settlements. He apologized for his past language towards J Street, maintaining his differences of opinion with the organization. Yael Patir, the Israel director of J Street, did not accept the apology.
Several Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee criticized Friedman's fitness for the position, while the Republican members generally expressed their support. On March 9, 2017, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination in a 12–9 vote. All Republicans voted in favor, along with Democrat Bob Menendez from New Jersey. Friedman was officially confirmed on March 23. All Democratic and independent senators except Bob Menendez and Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, voted against him. 50 out of 52 Republican senators voted for him; two Republicans did not vote. On March 29, Vice President Mike Pence officially administered the oath of office, swearing in Friedman. He succeeded Leslie Tsou, who served as the interim chargé d'affaires after Daniel Shapiro left the position on January 20.
Friedman is an Orthodox Jew and is fluent in Hebrew. He has been married to his wife, Tammy Deborah Sand, since 1981. They have five children and seven grandchildren. Friedman’s daughter, Talia Friedman, officially became an Israeli citizen at Ben Gurion Airport on August 15, 2017. In 1984, Friedman met President Ronald Reagan when Reagan visited Temple Hillel. Reagan was the first sitting president since George Washington to visit a synagogue. Friedman became friends with Donald Trump in 2005, after Trump paid him a condolence call during his sitting shiva for his father.
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