As Israel Surges Further Rightward, US Under Trump Follows Suit
Amid settlement expansion and clampdown on free expression, new U.S. ambassador represents worst case scenario for Palestinian rights
The United States appears to be marching in lockstep with the Israeli government's extremist surge with the likely confirmation of David Friedman, President Donald Trump's choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to approve Friedman on Thursday with Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey joining the panel's Republicans in a 12-9 vote. His confirmation now heads to the full Senate, where Democrats don't have the ability to block his nomination.
As Anna Massoglia, political researcher for the Center for Responsive Politics' Open Secrets project, noted on Twitter:
Senate Foreign Relations approved Ambassador to Israel David Friedman 12-9. Only D voting yes was Menendez—who he gave max campaign donation pic.twitter.com/MtYpQD0XRC
— Anna Massoglia (@annalecta) March 9, 2017
The nomination of Friedman, a hard-line conservative, provoked outrage over his views supporting settlement expansion onto Palestinian territory, his dismissal of the two-state solution, and his advocacy for moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (among other things).
Following the committee vote, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) said that Friedman's "dedication to advancing Israel's illegal settlement enterprise, his support for extremist Israeli policies, harsh attitude towards critics of Israel's occupation, and anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia should disqualify him from appointment as U.S. ambassador to Israel."
Notably, the committee's ranking minority member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) publicly denounced Friedman after he was swarmed by calls opposing the nomination, which JVP said was "a testament to the efforts of grassroots constituents who are working to hold their elected officials accountable to a vision of equal rights and justice for all people in the region."
Friedman's ascension to power comes at the same time that the Israeli government has moved to clamp down on free expression.
On Monday evening, the Israeli Parliament passed a law that bans entry to foreigners that publicly support the pro-Palestinian rights Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which also coincides with a massive expansion of settlement construction in the West Bank.
The new law also applies to those who speak out against the new settlements.
While it is unclear how Israel plans to implement the ban, Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer and political activist specializing in international human rights, said that is a clear violation of international human rights law.
"Countries have wide discretion to allow are deny entry to foreigners," Sfard told Mondoweiss. "However, international human rights law prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person's opinion and provides freedom of conscious and thought. The law is definitely a violation of both."
While the pro-Israeli lobby group J Street is concerned that that measure will "further isolate the country [and] validate Israel's critics," it coincides not only with the rise of Friedman but also with an effort within the United States to censor the BDS movement.
Following its passage, the U.S. State Department gave a muted rebuke of the law, which it defended as being the "sovereign" right of Israel.
"While we oppose boycotts and sanctions of the state of Israel, we also support firmly freedom of expression," said State Department spokesperson Mark Toner. "That said, it's—this is a sovereign decision for Israel to make regarding its borders."
For his part, Friedman co-authored a November 2016 op-ed which argued that the BDS effort should be "viewed as inherently anti-Semitic" as it is based on the "false notion that Israel is an occupier." The commentary also called on the U.S. to "take strong measures, both diplomatic and legislative, to thwart" the movement.