US Ambassador to Israel David M Friedman has been denounced as an "extreme fundamentalist ideologue" for making remarks that appeared to endorse a religious conflict. "Israel is on the side of God," declared Friedman during a celebration yesterday marking the anniversary of the move of the United States embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
Friedman, a benefactor to the illegal settlement movement and an opponent of a Palestinian state, began his controversial remarks by extolling Israel's relationship with the US, which he believed was getting "stronger and stronger and stronger".
After describing Jerusalem as a "new shrine" at a celebration reportedly sponsored by an American evangelical group, Friedman – who is Trump's former lawyer – said: "Israel has one secret weapon that not too many countries have: Israel is on the side of God. And we don't underestimate that."
Unsurprisingly the remarks invited strong condemnation. Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator of Christian origin and member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's Executive Committee was reported by New York Times saying: "I can't believe it. I can't believe this extreme fundamentalist ideologue is an ambassador."
Ashrawi — who on Monday said that she had been denied a US travel visa for the first time because of her criticism of the Trump administration and Israel — according to the Times noted that the event at which Friedman had made the remark, with its echoes of religious warfare, was held in a hotel a stone's throw from the walls of the Old City, where Crusaders and Muslims had slaughtered one another for centuries.
Friedman's predecessors, Daniel C Kurtzer, was quoted saying that the remarks were out of bounds. "As the ambassador of the far-right Orthodox Jewish community in the United States, Friedman's comment makes sense," but "as the supposed ambassador of the United States government and all its people, it is an extremely inappropriate comment," said Kurtzer who was Washington's ambassador in Israel under both Republican and Democratic presidents.
Saeb Erekat, the PLO's chief negotiator weighed in by questioning the reference to God as a secret weapon. "So Israel has now two secret weapons: Nuclear and A Biblical Ambassador. God will not tolerate being referred to or described as a weapon," he wrote on Twitter.
In a second tweet Erekat denounced Freidman for echoing sentiments that are normally held by religious extremists. "What ambassador Friedman is telling Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, that God is against them (or that they're enemies of God). This was never an American position," he added.
Dr. Saeb Erakat:
What ambassador Freedman is telling Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, that God is against them (or that they're enemies of God). This was never an American position . https://t.co/NTIOs68r48
— Dr. Saeb Erakat الدكتور صائب عريقات (@ErakatSaeb) May 14, 2019
In his speech Friedman made light of the killing of Palestinians that coincided with the opening of the embassy. "In the entire city of Jerusalem that day, I don't think more than 20 people got up to protest," he said adding, "I think more people were unhappy about the food they were eating in various restaurants than they were about the move of the embassy to Jerusalem."
Friedman's appointment was met with alarm by liberal Jews who described his selection as "a boon to the far right". Writing in the Guardian Jeremy Ben-Ami denounced Friedman for using "the embassy as a personal bully pulpit to reshape US policy and advance his personal far-right agenda". Ben-Ami, who is the President of J Street, a liberal advocacy organisation in the United States, asked if it was "appropriate for the US ambassador to Israel to act more like the lawyer and spokesman for Israel's settlement movement than a representative of American interests".